Until now, I’d seen all of Eleanor Parker’s readily available films (the ones on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD) except Escape Me Never. She made two films with Errol Flynn, playing the lead in the other, Never Say Goodbye, and a supporting role in Escape Me Never. Ida Lupino plays the lead female. Parker plays the other woman, who’s married to Gig Young, who’s playing Flynn’s brother. It makes little sense and the whole film hinges on an agreement with the viewer never to question Flynn being irresistible.
The film is set in Venice in 1900. While the Venice sets, gondolas, canals and all, are quite nice, Lupino spends her first scene talking in 1940s slang. I’ve never seen Lupino in anything before and Escape Me Never certainly encourages me to be wary about seeing her in anything again. It’s not just the slang–or the special lighting she gets–or even her accent appearing and disappearing… she’s just really annoying (though her ludicrous costumes might contribute). Flynn is bad as well, somehow he’s impossible to take seriously as a tortured composer. Gig Young is fine, but looks and acts like he belongs in a different movie–one actually set in 1900….
Eleanor Parker–in one of her most glamorous parts–is so completely lost I can’t even mount a grand defense, which is fine, since it’s the studio’s fault. A few years before, Warner had given Parker the villainous role in Of Human Bondage (which she essayed brilliantly), but in Escape Me Never, her character’s not responsible for her objectionable actions and so the character has no depth. It’s probably Parker’s shallowest role, but it fits the film’s opinion of women. Women, it observes, are only of value for the reasons Flynn (and Flynn alone) says… There’s even a line about it. More than one, probably.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone speaking the film’s dialogue and conveying any sense of quality. Thames Williamson’s script is occasionally so ludicrous, along with Lupino’s shoddy performance, I was convinced the film was a farcical comedy. The scenes of Flynn, Lupino, and Young walking through the mountains, dressed in lederhosen certainly seems like it belongs in a farce. When the film moves its focus to a mountain resort (incredibly modern-looking for 1900 in Italy), the farce stops amusing and the viewer realizes it’s supposed to be serious. Escape Me Never came at the end of the studio system–Flynn and Lupino were on their way down while Parker and Young were moving up–and it’s a fine example of the system’s failings. It’s another one of those films I always had available on hand, but never watched for no good reason, only to watch it and wonder why I ever did, the original avoidance turning out to be fortuitous.
Directed by Peter Godfrey; screenplay by Thames Williamson, from the novel by Margaret Kennedy; director of photography, Sol Polito; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Errol Flynn (Sebastian Dubrok), Ida Lupino (Gemma Smith), Eleanor Parker (Fionella MacLean), Gig Young (Caryl Dubrok), Reginald Denny (Mr. MacLean), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. MacLean), Albert Bassermann (Prof. Heinrich), Ludwig Stössel (Mr. Steinach) and Milada Mladova (Natrova).