The late 50s marked a sort of comeback for Errol Flynn. Yes, the booze, drugs, and women had taken their toll on his frame – appallingly so for a man of his age. This comeback, which started with 1957’s The Sun Also Rises, continues with 1958’s somber Too Much, Too Soon.
Billed as a biopic of actress Diana Barrymore, who flirted with fame briefly before falling apart, we see here a telling of her rise and ultimate fall. In reality Diana’s career followed that of her father-except without the success. Booze and bad relationships shattered what could have been a promising career. The film is based around her book of the same name.
Flynn gets second billing, with actress Dorothy Malone taking top billing. However, Malone simply does not command the screen. Flynn’s scenes, though relatively few, are powerful and the highlight of the film. Ray Danton plays playboy tennis player John Howard.
Perhaps as John Barrymore, Flynn’s work is more autobiographical than standard acting. In most of Flynn’s scenes alcohol is a constant colleague, either explicitly or otherwise. Surely Flynn knew of his decline, both in terms of his career and his health and one wonders what reflections he may have had on this role.
Flynn is really strong here, perhaps because of his experiences rather than in spite of them. Unfortunately his on screen time is limited and his character dies after still another heavy bout of drinking roughly halfway through the film.
The balance of the film is exclusively the story of Diana (Malone), having quickly divorced her original husband in order to marry her new beau, the tennis pro (Danton). Although the film is short, this second half, lacking star power, really lags and seems to take an eternity. Perhaps most damning is that we simply don’t care what happens after Flynn’s demise.
Too Much, Too Soon is a pleasant surprise and is highly recommended, even if only for Flynn. He would really make only one additional feature, John Huston’s The Roots of Heaven, where he is also used in spot duty before being killed off partway through. (We are for the sake of decency disregarging Cuban Rebel Girls entirely.
Too Much, Too Soon is a hard film to find, or at least was. It rarely makes a run on TCM, but thankfully the people at the Warner Archives have released it there. Definitely worth a look over at The WB Shop.