Flynn plays the lead with a panache unmatched in swashbucklers of the era (I’m a fan of both Stewart Granger and Burt Lancaster’s work as well), and though he was already looking somewhat too old for the part at 38, if any man was born to play Don Juan, it must have been Flynn. It’s not hard to imagine that Flynn used some of Juan’s lines for his own conquests. Flynn can deliver those lines and make them believable, and he can be quite witty when the occasion calls for it. He might not have been a great dramatic actor, but in this kind of role he excelled.
There’s a lot of humor throughout the film, but for my money the opening scene is the best. The bit with the grouse is hilarious. And the action scenes are clear and easy to follow. None of that MTV quick-cutting that (for me) ruins so many current action thrillers. The fencing is athletic and exciting, especially the climactic duel on a wonderful staircase. There’s a leap that only one man in Hollywood could have done, or so the commentary track tells us. They called in Jock Mahoney, and he pulled it off.
I have a powerful personal connection to The Adventures of Don Juan. When I was seven or eight years old, I visited my aunt in San Antonio, Texas. She took me to the drive-in to see this movie. Even at that age, I was under the spell of the movies, and San Antonio holds some wonderful memories for me. On other trips, my aunt took me to the Aztec Theater and to the Josephine (where we saw Kon Tiki). But I digress. When we went to see The Adventures of Don Juan, I had a fever, a fact I concealed from my aunt. She found out, however, and we left right after the opening scene, which was burned into my memory. I’ve never forgotten it, and I was thrilled when I finally got to see the rest of the movie years later. I was thrilled again by this newly remastered version on DVD. Check it out.
Update. Harry Whittington scholar David Laurence Wilson has provided the following information:
Yes, that absolutely was Jock Mahoney doubling for Flynn.
Mahoney didn't spend much time at the trade, moving on to
acting, but he was well respected by the pros. At the
time the studio was having trouble finding someone to
make the jump. Production was held up for three days.
Flynn's regular doubles, Don Turner and Saul Gorss,
weren't up to the jump and Mahoney, who had set records
as a long jumper, was suggested. He was working at
Columbia, where he'd been doubling and playing parts
on the Durango Kid series. He was allowed over to Warner
Brothers during his lunch hour.
It was a great stunt, a featured stunt, but the hardest
part, according to stuntman Paul Baxley, was to be the
man on the bottom. Baxley saw the stunt close up ..
he was doubling the villain, Robert Douglas.
"I'd watch these guys come in and try it and I'd wince,"
Baxley recalled. "I wasn't going to let them dive on me.
They might have killed me.
"It wasn't dangerous but it was really a very spectacular
physical feat," Baxley said. "Most guys would try to do
a jump like that upright. Jock realized that he had to go
head first, in a dive to keep his feet up. When he hit me
I didn't even feel it. He was like a bird, he was that
good. The funny part is that I made more money on it
than he did. He said he'd do it for $350. I said, 'I
don't care what he gets, I want $50O. Get somebody
else if you don't want me!"