by Thomas McNulty
The legendary Errol Flynn (1909-59) was one of the great action stars of his era, and his many classic films have come to epitomize the adventure films of the 1930s and ’40s. Like most baby boomers, I discovered Flynn on television when his films became a staple of both late night and Saturday morning matinee programming. By then Flynn was gone, but the films he made between 1935 and his death in 1959 became an obsession with me. I was hooked from the moment I first saw “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” his classic 1938 Technicolor masterpiece.
I began collecting Flynn memorabilia in 1971. The first piece of memorabilia I purchased was a 1939 “Dodge City” lobby card. I paid $7 for it. Many years later, I was offered $500 in cash for that card and I declined. I still own that lobby card today. Lobby cards are 11-inch by 14-inch posters usually printed on card stock. They are the smallest and more desirable of original movie posters and in some cases the more affordable option. By comparison, the standard move poster (27 inches by 41 inches) are also highly prized but can be expensive to restore and frame. There is certainly no shortage of collectors who focus on one sheets (27 inches by 41 inches) window cards (14 inches by 22 inches) or inserts (14 inches by 36 inches), and I also collected these sizes as well. But lobby cards have always been my favorite; they are easy to frame and display.
Lobby cards are comprised of a “Title Card,” which is often the most desirable in the set, and 8 to 10 “scene cards.” The value of lobby cards varies dramatically depending on the popularity of the film, the star’s appeal and its condition. Obviously, lobby cards prior to 1945 are often in short supply because of the paper drives during World War II.
Current prices for Errol Flynn lobby cards from 1935 to 1945 can swing dramatically between a few hundred dollars and $1,200. Most of Flynn’s lobby cards for his films from 1945 to 1959 range between $35 and $250. I have seen very low prices for lobby cards from his 1950s films posted on eBay. Some of Flynn’s films were re-issued over the years prior to being sold to television in the mid-1950s. These reissues included new posters and lobby cards, which are also highly sought collector’s items. Over the years, I collected lobby cards and posters from most of Flynn’s films, but eventually I began to concentrate on my favorites.
Flynn’s defining role in 1935’s “Captain Blood” set the tone of his career, and lobby cards from this film are incredibly expensive; I rarely see cards from “Captain Blood” under $800.
This may seem outrageous given the economic recession, but “Captain Blood” cards are rare and highly collectible. Most cards in reasonably good shape are listed at $1,000 or higher. High quality reproductions selling for $14 to $25 are equally popular for Flynn fans on a limited budget.
“The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) is considered by many, including myself, as Flynn’s best film and one of the all-time great adventure films in Hollywood history. Any original lobby card or poster from “Robin Hood” sells at exorbitant prices. I purchased a few original lobby cards in the early 1970s and paid about $10. At the time, I thought I was being robbed. You will be lucky to find any collectible poster in good shape for less than $900 from this quintessential film. The good news is that quality photographic reprints from this film are easy to find on the Internet. The cottage industry of Hollywood reprint posters has quickly become the preferred method of collecting as these old posters age. Restored posters can be expensive and I’ve seen original posters priced high go unsold while collectors invest in reprints. This is a common trend and applies to all of the films mentioned here.
“Dodge City” (1939) was Flynn’s first Western and a truly grand entertainment. Co-starring Olivia de Havilland, it remains a textbook example of classic Hollywood epic filmmaking. The first lobby card I purchased was from this film. The $7 I paid is a pittance compared to prices today.
“Virginia City” (1940) was Flynn’s second Western and co-starred Randolph Scott, another personal favorite. The film also featured Alan Hale and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams as his sidekicks. Also on hand was Humphrey Bogart as a swarthy Mexican. “Virginia City” is an underrated film and nearly epic in scope; one of the first lobby cards I purchased was from this film. Hollywood really doesn’t know how to make fun Westerns like this any longer and original lobby cards and posters sell at premium prices. I’m lucky I own several because I couldn’t afford the inflated prices in today’s topsy-turvy market.
“Santa Fe Trail” (1940) was Flynn’s third Western, pairing him up once again with Alan Hale and Guinn Williams, but it’s Ronald Reagan’s appearance as George Armstrong Custer that adds another level of interest to this rousing adventure. Contrary to his critics, Reagan was an excellent actor and starred in many fine films. “Santa Fe Trail” was the first of two co-starring roles with Flynn. Reagan and Flynn worked well together; they shared an on-screen chemistry and camaraderie that works well in this pre-Civil War adventure. Olivia de Havilland once again adds her beauty and charm, and best of all is Raymond Massey in an over-the-top performance as John Brown. I recently had my one-sheet poster from this film fully restored. Original lobby cards and other memorabilia demand the highest prices at auctions.
“The Sea Hawk” (1940) rivals “The Adventures of Robin Hood” as Flynn’s best film and poster material from this movie is also at a premium level. Reprint posters from this film have also been popular since they began to surface in the late 1960s when the nostalgia craze was booming. Another quintessential collectible for the Errol Flynn fan and general movie buff, “The Sea Hawk” epitomizes adventure films.
“They Died With Their Boots On” (1941) is Flynn’s finest Western and a classic film. Wildly inaccurate, its fictional depiction of George Armstrong Custer relies on myth rather than facts, but Flynn is superb as the doomed general. Olivia de Havilland, in her last appearance with Flynn, adds poignancy to the proceedings. The scene card shown [on page 30] is perhaps the most prized by collectors. Custer with gun in hand, alone on the battlefield and surrounded by his dead troops, has never been so dramatically portrayed than by Errol Flynn. I have never seen this card for sale for less than $900, and I only own a quality reproduction. It is rare, perhaps due more to its aesthetic and historic value than to the paper drives that made such items scarce. When collectors get their hands on this card they simply don’t sell them. I am always on the hunt for this card at an affordable price.
“Desperate Journey” (1942) re-teamed Flynn with Reagan in a wartime propaganda film that’s better than it should have been. Described by critics at the time as a “Rover Boys” adventure, Flynn, Reagan and company are shot down behind enemy lines and fight their way back to the front lines. It’s implausible, sometimes silly, action-packed and incredibly fun. Lobby cards from the 1950s reissue are easier to locate than originals, and for a lot less money.
“Gentleman Jim” (1942) is a bio-pic of boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett with Flynn in the title role. Another personal favorite, this was the third lobby card I purchased all those years ago when they were affordable. I rarely see original “Gentleman Jim” lobby cards offered for sale. “Gentleman Jim” is an outstanding boxing film and one of Flynn’s best performances.
“Objective Burma” (1945) is a classic war film and one of the best films about World War II produced during the war itself. A gritty study of men in combat, “Objective Burma” lobby cards are more plentiful than the other titles mentioned here. Some cards can be procured for well under $80.
Lobby cards from “San Antonio” (1945) are also fairly easy to find at low prices. Another Western, here Flynn is at his charming best in a wild and woolly gunslinging romp that hasn’t lost its Saturday matinee appeal after all these years.
“Adventures of Don Juan” (1948) is considered Flynn’s last truly great swashbuckling film and the lobby card shown here is the best in the set; it can be found anywhere between $80 and $199 depending on its condition. Other lobby cards in this set average between $35 and $80, but this is the one to find. The image of a grim-faced Flynn with a sword in his hand makes this a must-have collectible.
“Rocky Mountain” (1950) was Flynn’s last feature-length Western. Its darker tone and poignant ending are in stark contrast to the upbeat action films he made a decade earlier. Co-starring his soon-to-be wife, Patrice Wymore, “Rocky Mountain” lobby cards are affordable and readily available now and again on eBay and other Internet auction sites.
“Against All Flags” (1952) was a swashbuckler Flynn made at Universal Studios and co-stars Maureen O’Hara in a great role as Spitfire Stevens. Anthony Quinn turns in another solid performance as the villain. Lobby cards and even the one-sheet are available at reasonable prices. I’ve seen a one-sheet in Good condition sell for as low as $35 on eBay. An entertaining albeit minor film, the lobby cards and other posters make for great decor for the die-hard Flynn fan.
“Master of Ballantrae” (1953) was Flynn’s last swashbuckler for Warner Bros. and, like “Against All Flags,” the lobby cards and posters are fairly easy to procure at low prices. Both “Master of Ballantrae” and “Against All Flags” benefited from colorful poster material.
Pronouncements such as “When the Bold Banners of the Crimson Crusade Clashed with the Scarlet Hordes of the King!” added the requisite lyricism to the images of a dashing Flynn with a sword in his hand yet again.
“Crossed Swords” (1953) was made in Italy and is best remembered because of the beautiful photography by Jack Cardiff. It’s a minor film with colorful posters and lobby cards. Once again the advertisements poked fun at Flynn’s image with lines like: “Give Me a Fortress to Win and a Wench to Woo!” Interested collectors are encouraged to watch eBay for nearly pristine lobby cards at low prices. There appears to be no end to material on the market from this film.
“The Sun Also Rises” (1957) teamed Flynn with Tyrone Power in the big screen adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s famous novel. No matter that this was far from Hemingway’s best work, and that both Power and Flynn were too old for the roles, the film has a certain charm and Flynn is superb as the disillusioned and alcoholic Jake Barnes. Lobby cards are generally available through eBay and online auction houses, but the coveted card here is the one featuring both Flynn and Power.
“The Roots of Heaven” (1958) is Flynn’s last film of note (his final film, “Cuban Rebel Girls,” is exploitative nonsense) and once again he turns in a great performance as an alcoholic adventurer. Lobby cards and posters from “The Roots of Heaven” are in ample supply and quite affordable.
Errol Flynn made 50 films in his career, and lobby cards and posters from other classics such as “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1936) and “The Prince and the Pauper” (1937) demand high prices in those rare instances when they become available. Most collectors in today’s economically challenged market are content with low-cost reprints. Other notable adventure films include “Dawn Patrol” (1939), “Edge of Darkness” (1943), “Montana” (1950) and “Kim” (1951).
Errol Flynn was a rare talent and one of the few actors from Hollywood’s golden age who could effectively play a swashbuckler, cowboy and war hero. Most actors from that period could play a cowboy or war hero, but Flynn set the standard in swashbucklers and brilliantly played all three types of heroes in his career.
Collecting Errol Flynn lobby cards and posters, including the many affordable reprints, can be an enjoyable hobby that puts you in contact with movie buffs who share a love of classic Hollywood. I have found lobby cards at thrift markets and antique stores across the country. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll come across that rare lobby card at a low price.
Thomas McNulty’s biography about Errol Flynn was recently re-issued in paperback by McFarland Publishers. His Western novels include “Trail of the Burned Man,” “Wind Rider,” “Death Rides a Palomino” and “Showdown at Snakebite Creek.” Visit him online at thomasmcnulty.com or follow his blog (Dispatches From the Last Outlaw) at http://tommcnulty.blogspot.com.