The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) Warner Archive 5/18/2021
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Alan Hale, Vincent Price
Between his Technicolor widely claimed Adventure The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and what's considered his masterpiece Casablanca (1942) Michael Curtiz directed The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). As the title suggests the film depicts the love hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth (Bette Davis) and the Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn). Private Lives is one of those get big garish and lavish big budget historical that I am obsessed with.
Curtiz along with screenwriters Norman Reilly Raine and Aeneas MacKenzie take a lot of liberties with the actual saga of these huge real-life people but honestly, thats fine. Because, at the end of the day the movie is a briskly paced bit of dramatic eye-candy that is wonderfully sweeping, epic and is delightfully campy in its over-the-top nature. Made on over a million-dollar budget (which was a lot -remember this was during the Great Depression) this movie drips with top-notch production design and of course costumes. Orry-Kelly who worked on and dressed such films as Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon (1941) and An American in Paris (1951) (not to mention winning 3-Oscars) does maybe some of the best period costumes to ever grace the silver-screen.
More-over having the Bette Davis the larger than life actor playing the equally larger than life Queen seems to be the most inspired bit of casting. The high flying Flynn who Curtiz wisely previously cast in Robin Hood is charming, dashing and seems to be able to hold his own against the powerhouse of Davis. Even though Bette and Flynn battled behind the scenes the couple have a real chemistry together. As an audience member its great fun to watch Davis and Flynn trade dagger-like insults one minute and are passionately making out the next. The film also has a fantastic supporting cast including Henry Daniell, Olivia de Haviland, Vincent Price and Alan Hale Sr. (father of Gilligan's Island star Alan "The Skipper" Hale Jr).
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex was a production that was rocky to say the least and, the movie only just broke even at the box office. Despite this I think the movie is a charming, fun and engaging bit of grand-Hollywood fluff. Its the kind of lavish big spectacle film that went out of favor when Hopper's motorcycle anti-hero roared into theaters with 1969's Easy Rider. And, though I loved the counter-culture shake up that happened in the late '60s and '70s I do admit I miss movies like The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. If you have never seen it, I think its well worth a watch!
Picture: Wow! The lavish colorful The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is simply a stunning revelation in 4k. Colors pop and the this transfer retains a a lot of detail. I pointed out the amazing costumes by Orry Kelly in my review and this picture presentation truly allows the audience to see them in all their splendor. You can see textures and very fine detail that made Kelly a multi-Oscar winning costume designer. The film has no scratches or artifacts and I honestly think its never looked this good on home video before. Grain is smoothed and is virtually impossible to see in most scenes.
Sound: Private Lives has a DTS 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely as does score and sound design. No unwanted background noise or audio drops present.
Extras: Intro by Leonard Maltin, Dark Victory Trailer, Newsreel and a WB Cartoon and short film are playable as individuals or, more interesting as Warner's Night at the Movies which as Maltin explains was to simulate how it was to see a movie in 1939. Also included is:
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex: Battle Royale (10mins) An enjoyable short featurette on the troubled production. And, a trailer for the film.