Four’s a Crowd (1938)
I’ve watched six of the nine pairings actors Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland would star in together, and yet I think Four’s a Crowd remains one of the least seen. It’s easy to figure out why; the movie is a light, screwball comedy, not at all in the same vein as the couple’s large-scale period pieces. But, ironically, the movie itself is right in the wheelhouse of what made the two so appealing. It’s directed by Michael Curtiz, the man behind several of Flynn’s best movies, but it ignores a fundamental element that makes a Flynn/de Havilland picture sing. Regardless, it’s a funny and charming entry into the screwball genre that fans of the pair, as well as just dizzying romantic comedy in general, should see.
Bob Lansford (Flynn) is a former newspaperman who’s found success in public relations, giving old wealthy executives a chance to redeem their image (while donating to charitable causes). He gets dragged into a disagreement led by reporter Jean Christy (Rosalind Russell) that sees Bob faux-courting the flighty Lorri Dillingwell (de Havilland), all the while trying to keep love, writing, and publicity managed.
Four’s a Crowd seems so odd when you look at what Errol Flynn, specifically, is known for. Watching him and De Havilland navigate standard romantic entanglements seems so simplistic if you’ve been raised on their swashbuckling tales, and yet the two never miss a beat in this frothy comedy. This is Flynn’s feature, with his smooth-talking Bob Lansford so perfectly suited to what essentially is a social media manager today. (Seriously, this movie looks at reputation management in 1938 in a way that’s no different today.) For Bob, his goal is to promote powerful men while simultaneously forcing them to do good. At the same time, Flynn remains a ladies man whose game is so smooth butter melts.
But he’s only pulled into events through the work of Jean Christy. Sure, Rosalind Russell is pretty much playing Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday (1940), making this an audition for the character, but where that character was a fast-talking, wisecracking dame, Jean is subtler. You never completely buy her relationship with Bob, but that’s more so because the audience knows De Havilland is here and the two just go together. In fact, I’ve heard it said that Curtiz and the execs believed this movie didn’t do better because Flynn and De Havilland didn’t end up together at the end.
And this line of thinking makes sense because the two are just so cute together. Where Bob and Jean’s relationship is of the combative type – she’s too domineering, he’s too much of a smooth talker – the chemistry between Bob and the daffy Lorri is so cute. De Havilland plays a girlish, spritely young woman who is the apple of nearly everyone’s eye, but mostly newspaper owner Pat Buckley (Patrick Knowles who is no competition for Flynn). When De Havilland and Flynn are together there’s a naturalness to their interactions. She squeals and giggles, but they have far more sexual potency than Bob and Jean do. You can practically see the screenwriters working at the end to make the finale work as the couples end up with the “right” partners.
Four’s a Crowd is so darling even if Flynn and De Havilland aren’t the main couple. It shows that each has impeccable comedic timing and is fun in a completely different way from the films they were regularly teamed up in. If you want to laugh while rooting for them, this is the best.
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Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
Errol’s comedic talents were under used. In fours a crowd he had quick comebacks that wee perfectly timed with great facial expressions.
Olivia as well! I love them in this movie. He’s really cute in The Perfect Specimen too!
Thanks for the review.