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Edge of Darkness
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Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness

An occupied Norwegian town takes on the Nazis in Edge of Darkness (1942). And it's no secret, right from the start, who ends up victorious. The film opens with the Norwegian flag flying high over the Nazi outpost but finds almost everyone in town dead. The question of how the town overcame the German army plays out in flashback, with resistance leader Errol Flynn heading the charge. And for Flynn, the on screen Nazis were nothing compared to the opposition he faced off screen during the making of the movie.

First there was the weather. Filming began on the California coast in Monterey, but thick fog put the production on hold for several weeks and sent Flynn to bed suffering from sinus problems. Eventually the movie had to be finished in a Burbank studio. It seems the weather also left Flynn with a little too much time on his hands, and according to rumor, he and on-screen love interest Ann Sheridan began an affair that reportedly came to blows when Sheridan's husband, actor George Brent, caught the pair together. As the story has it, Flynn beat up Brent. But whether these rumors were true or not, the marriage was in fact over. Sheridan and Brent divorced in January 1943, just a few months before Edge of Darkness was released.

But that wasn't the worst of it. While stories of on-the-set romances were a dime a dozen in Hollywood, the next charges leveled at Flynn were more serious and not so easily dismissed -- the star was charged with statutory rape. Flynn admitted meeting his accuser, a girl named Betty Hansen, at a party, but claimed none too wisely, "I barely touched her." The charge was initially thrown out by a grand jury, but the District Attorney decided to pursue the case anyway. It seems he remembered a similar allegation brought by another girl. Her name was Peggy Satterlee, and there was no doubt that Flynn knew her well. She had worked as an extra on They Died With Their Boots On (1941) and had been a guest on Flynn's yacht, the Sirocco. It was there that the incident reportedly occurred. Satterlee told her mother she'd been raped, was examined by a doctor who substantiated the claim and called police. But when she was asked who her attacker had been, her reply of "Errol Flynn" was not taken seriously - at first.

Now with two such charges, Flynn was arrested, fingerprinted and put in a cell between a kidnapping suspect and a man charged with murder. The subsequent legal proceedings lasted four months, during which time Flynn found it difficult to work. Jack Warner had originally brushed the issue aside, assuming it was just some fan's wishful thinking. But he soon realized the seriousness of the charges, hired a lawyer for Flynn and rushed Gentleman Jim (1942) into theaters hoping to beat any negative trial publicity. Unfortunately, that idea backfired, and Flynn was being booed around the country. On the set of Edge of Darkness, Flynn appeared depressed and spent a lot of time, as director Lewis Milestone remembers, writing his memoirs.

Edge of Darkness wrapped thirty days behind schedule, partly due to Flynn's legal proceedings, but also because of Milestone's slow pace. It was the director's first Warner Bros. film in two decades (the last had been The Caveman, 1926). The story for Edge of Darkness had been based on a novel by William Woods but differed dramatically in tone from Wood's work, which critics claimed sympathized with the Nazis. The book managed to remain objective, condemning the action of the characters without condemning the characters. But the film, adapted by future director Robert Rossen, took more of a traditional approach, making the Nazis into typical Hollywood villains. Edge of Darkness also showed a very different side of Milestone. Probably best known for directing All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), still considered one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, Edge of Darkness goes far in the other direction. It even features a priest machine gunning Nazis.

Errol Flynn was acquitted by a jury in February of 1943. Edge of Darkness was released in March and was naturally overshadowed by talk of Flynn's off screen exploits. The phrase, "in like Flynn," came into common usage following the trial. It originally meant "in favor" or as the first recorded citation in American Speech uses it, "having no more trouble than Errol Flynn in his cinematic feats." It wasn't until later that the phrase took on a different meaning - alluding to Flynn's power as a seducer.

Producer: Henry Blanke
Director: Lewis Milestone
Screenplay: Robert Rossen, based on the novel by William Woods
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Editing: David Weisbart
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Errol Flynn (Gunnar Brogge), Ann Sheridan (Karen Stensgard), Walter Huston (Dr. Martin Stensgard), Nancy Coleman (Katja), Helmut Dantine (Captain Koenig), Judith Anderson (Gerd Blarnesen), Ruth Gordon (Anna Stensgard), John Beal (Johann Stensgard), Morris Carnovsky (Sixtus Andresen).
BW-120m.

By Stephanie Thames

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