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Errol Flynn disliked the idea of doing Westerns, certain he was far too "British" and sophisticated for the genre. Yet the Australia native - describing himself as "the rich man's Roy Rogers" - was convincing enough as a Western hero to make a successful string of them between Dodge City (1939) and Rocky Mountain (1950). His greatest Western role was as George Armstrong Custer in They Died with Their Boots On (1941), but despite his success in that he was not eager to strap on a holster again for San Antonio (1945), the tale of a cattleman who returns to Texas from Mexico. Armed with proof that one of San Antonio's leading businessmen is the head of a well-organized gang of cattle thieves, he sets out to clean up the town. Along the way he falls in love (and does a little South of the Border-style dancing) with an entertainer from New York, who at first he suspects of being in cahoots with the rustlers. Filmed mostly at Warner Brothers' Calabasas Ranch in California, the movie includes a rousing shootout in the deserted Alamo.
Flynn's good friend Alexis Smith was cast as the singer from back East, but she was not around for much of the shooting, first because of her obligations to complete production on The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945) and second due to a mysterious viral ailment that dragged on for weeks. Smith and Flynn had appeared together prior to this in Dive Bomber (1941) and Gentleman Jim (1942), and would go on to make two more pictures together after San Antonio, including another Western, Montana (1950). She retired from movies after breaking her back in a horseback riding accident during filming of The Young Philadelphians (1959), but after winning a Tony Award for her performance in the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies in 1972, she made a film comeback. She continued to work in both movies and television until her death a few months before the release of her last picture, Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence (1993). Smith was married to actor Craig Stevens (TV's Peter Gunn) from 1944 until she died.
Alexis Smith wasn't the only one whose illness held up production on San Antonio. Flynn caught the flu in the damp outdoor shooting at Calabasas and was out for an extended period. He was still not fully recovered when he finally returned to the set to shoot the climactic free-for-all fight, four months after production began. He was still so sick that many of his shots had to be doubled. The sequence ended up taking 12 days to film and a lot of it had to be redone before the picture could be released. Beyond the illness, however, Flynn was reliable and didn't engage in some of his notorious bad habits; he arrived on the set promptly with his lines memorized and ready to shoot. Production manager Frank Mattison noted rather coldly in his reports, "We'd better not slap him on the back, because it may not happen again."
Although unhappy about doing another Western, Flynn did appreciate the opportunity to learn to play guitar for a ditty he performed on screen called "Put Your Little Foot Out," one of three songs in the movie. Another, "One Sunday Morning" by lyricist Ted Koehler and composers Ray Heindorf and M.K. Jerome, received an Academy Award nomination. Although it didn't win, Heindorf did win for three other pictures out of 15 nominations received over the course of his long, successful film scoring career. Smith's singing of the nominated song here was dubbed, oddly enough considering her Tony win for singing on Broadway. Another irony: although they had Heindorf and company on hand, the studio chose to recycle the Max Steiner theme music from Flynn's earlier Western Dodge City.
San Antonio also got an Oscar® nod for its impressive Technicolor art direction and set decoration but lost to the lavish period adventure-romance Frenchman's Creek (1945).
Director: David Butler
Producer: Robert Buckner
Screenplay: W.R. Burnett, Alan Le May
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Editing: Irene Morra
Art Direction: Ted Smith
Original Music: Ray Heindorf and M.K. Jerome, Max Steiner
Cast: Errol Flynn (Clay Hardin), Alexis Smith (Jeanne Starr), S.Z. Sakall (Sacha Bozic), Paul Kelly (Roy Stuart), Victor Francen (Legare).
C-109m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon