One of my absolute favorite Eleanor Parker films (and annual Christmas films!) also co-stars my love, Errol Flynn. Flynn appears in one of his rare, non-swashbuckler roles, and even more rare–he plays a father! In Never Say Goodbye, Flynn and Parker play ex-spouses, Phillip and Ellen Gayley. At the beginning of the film, they are coming up on the one-year anniversary of their divorce. Their only child, a daughter, Phillipa “Flip” Gayley (Patti Brady), is forced to follow the custody arrangement: 6 months with one parent, 6 months with the other. She has just about completed her sojourn with her father and will soon be moving back into her mother’s home.
Flip doesn’t much care for the arrangement and neither does Phillip. It seems that Ellen’s mother, the delightfully naggy Lucile Watson (whose character’s name is seemingly “Mother”), doesn’t care for Phillip and it seems that she had a large role in convincing her daughter that he was no good and she’d be better off without him. One of the main reasons for Mother’s animosity against Phillip is his career. He works as a commercial illustrator, mainly pin-ups. She’s convinced that he’s doing more than drawing.
Phillip however, claims complete innocence and one gets the sense that he was somewhat blindsided by the divorce. Flip on the other hand, wants a baby brother and she isn’t going to get that with her parents living in separate homes. At the same time, she’s also been writing to a Marine overseas using her maid Cozy’s (the amazing Hattie McDaniel) book “How to Write Letters to a Soldier.” When the Marine, Fenwick Lonkowski (Forrest Tucker), requests a photograph of his “Smoochie” (Flip’s pen-name to him), Phillip has her send a photo of Ellen instead of her own (good thinking, Dad).
Phillip returns Flip to Ellen’s home and immediately tries to rekindle things with her. He takes her out to dinner and dancing at Luigi’s, a restaurant/club, run by owner Luigi (SZ Sakall), a mutual friend of Phillip and Ellen’s. Phillip is thisclose to wooing Ellen back with his singing (!) and charm, but the night is ruined when Phillip forgets that he’d already made a date with Nancy Graham, the model he’s currently illustrating. Phillip tries the classic “be in both places at the same time” gag, but fails. Upset that her ex-husband is seemingly still up to his old ways, leaves him at the restaurant.
Phillip and Flip spend the remainder of the film trying to get him back together with Ellen. At the same time, Mother is trying to get Ellen interested in Rex (Donald Woods), a lawyer whom she feels is more suitable. The problem? Rex is boring and is no Errol Flynn. The climax of the film takes place over the Christmas holiday when Rex, dressed as Santa to surprise Flip and Phillip, also dressed as Santa, face off in a Duck Soup-style mirror scene along with a series of hijinks along the way, culminating with Rex falling into the Christmas tree.
To further complicate matters, Fenwick Lonkowski shows up at Ellen’s home, looking for “Smoochie.” It seems that he is on leave and wanted to find a woman with whom to spend some time. After being reasonably terrified at this large Marine appearing at her home (and her having no idea who he was as she was unaware of her daughter’s penpal), she begins to warm to the idea when she realizes that she could make Phillip jealous after he invites her to go up to Connecticut with him–forgetting AGAIN that he made the same plans with Nancy Graham, who just happens to show up to Phillip’s apartment while Ellen is there, ready to leave on the trip.
There is a hilarious scene where Phillip, wanting to run Fenwick out of the house, dresses up as Flip’s gangster father, complete with a trench coat, smeared grease paint (stubble? to look dirty and tough, who knows? But it’s funny), and a snarl. Humphrey Bogart himself provides Gangster Errol Flynn’s dialogue. Eventually, Fenwick teams up with Flip to help reunite Phillip and Ellen.
I absolutely adore this film. Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker make an amazing couple, absolutely gorgeous. Patti Brady even looks like she could be their daughter. I don’t normally like children actors, as their characters are often irritating, whether they’re too loud, too pretentious, snotty, what have you, but Patti’s character was awesome. She seemed like a real child. Hattie is my queen and she’s awesome in this film as well. Lucile Watson excels at playing the nagging mother and she does not disappoint in this film either. Forrest Tucker is a tall man. He towers over 6’2 Errol Flynn and makes him look like a weakling. And SZ Sakall was an international treasure and I love him. I can definitely see why he was nicknamed “Cuddles.”
My favorite quotes:
SALESWOMAN: I’ve always thought I could be a model. What do you think?
PHILLIP: When I first saw you, I thought hmmm…
SANTA PHILLIP TO MOTHER: Let’s see what we have for the old bag… I mean, in the old bag.
FLIP: I’m not going home. I’m gonna live in Luigi’s back room and scrub floors and eat bread and water and Luigi will beat me.
LUIGI: Me beat you?!
PHILLIP: Luigi, you can’t just go around spilling soup on people!
My favorite things about this movie:
- Errol Flynn. That’s a given. He proves himself adept at comedy in not only Never Say Goodbye, but his other comedies like Four’s a Crowd and Footsteps in the Dark. He has his usual amount of charm, especially prevalent in the beginning scenes when he charms the saleswoman. Only Flynn could get away with answering her question with a non-answer and make her fall head over heels. But he looks gorgeous in this film per usual… AND HE SINGS!
- Eleanor Parker. She is so beautiful in this film and has such a lovely sounding voice. You know how some people look great, but then they talk, and you’re like ACK! STOP TALKING. Miss Parker is not one of those people. She also wears the greatest gowns in this film and looks great with Flynn. These two should have been a couple in real life.
- Patti Brady is adorable in this movie. Like I said prior, I don’t usually like children actors, with a few exceptions, but I love her character in this movie. She’s realistic, she’s funny, she’s a little precocious without being hammy or pretentious, I just love her. She has a good rapport with all her adult co-stars as well.
- Hattie McDaniel is my queen. Even though her character disappears about halfway through the film. I just love her, especially her constant disapproving comments regarding Phillip and Flip’s make-believe personas and friends.
- The fact that Phillip sends his seven-year-old daughter home, from Central Park, alone. A seven-year-old girl, walking alone, in New York City. Oh how times have changed.
- The fact that Phillip can order 12 martinis in a club and the fact that he’s still standing (barely) after having consumed most of them.
- SZ Sakall is hilarious and I just love him. He always plays someone flustered (except for maybe in Casablanca) and he’s just so loveable.
- Does anyone else get Tom D’Andrea confused with Dane Clark? D’Andrea plays Phillip’s friend, Jack Gordon, with whom he shares the 12 martinis (though I think each man has his own set of 12).
- Phillip’s crooning “Remember Me?” to Ellen. ERROL FLYNN SINGS.
- Ellen’s crazy dress with all the tassels on it.
- Phillip’s Humphrey Bogart impression with Bogart providing the voiceover.
- Ellen’s marching band shako looking hat with the plume that she wears when she visits Phillip at home.