The Adventures of Robin Hood
Directors: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains
If I were ever to enroll in a film school, I already have my thesis topic picked out. I would love to take some significant time and research the stories that are told time and time again. What prompts us to return to these stories? What is it that calls a new generation to them? Why must every generation have its own interpretation of certain tales? None of this has to do with The Adventures of Robin Hood, specifically, but the Robin Hood legend is one that has been filmed literally dozens of times. We, as a society, cannot leave this story alone. It keeps on being filmed. According to Wikipedia, there were four film versions of Robin Hood that were made prior to this one, made in 1938. There have been literally dozens made since. Society clearly has a fascination with Robin Hood.
Well, considering we do have such a fascination, this version is perhaps the most archetypal Robin Hood of classic cinema. You should know the story. Sir Robin of Locksley (Flynn) is a Saxon knight who has abandoned his estate in order to live as an outlaw in order to fight against Norman tyranny. Good King Richard is away at the Crusades, and his evil brother Prince John (Rains, who I totally forgot was in this film, silly me) is planning on usurping the throne with the aid of Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone). Robin must fight his own brand of guerilla warfare in Sherwood Forest with his band of merry followers in order to prevent that from happening, all while wooing and winning the pretty Maid Marian (de Havilland).
This movie is just one big fun rollercoaster ride from start to finish. The best word I can think of to describe is just that – FUN. It’s not serious, it’s not sober, it doesn’t try to provide social commentary or right the wrongs of the world. It’s just fun. Rollicking fun from start to finish. Want to put some buckle in your swash? Put this one on. It’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in the cheerful good times of The Adventures of Robin Hood. Popcorn movies usually aren’t my bag, but I appreciate the really good ones, and this is a really good one. Goodness triumphs over evil, no one is badly hurt along the way, the hero gets the heroine, the villains are vanquished in a satisfying manner, and there are plenty of amusing fight scenes. It’s just plain FUN!
The casting of the film is a significant part of what makes it work so well, because the same material in lesser hands could feel tedious or dull. Flynn was born to play the heroic adventurer, and he relishes every chance he gets to toss his hair back and scornfully laugh at the villains. He trounces around in tights and manages to make them look manly. He jumps around in fight scenes, doing most of his own stunts and doing them with his trademark flamboyancy. You want a Robin Hood who will cheerfully fill the whole screen? Errol Flynn’s got you covered.
|Take a shot every time he throws his head back and laughs.|
Not to be outdone, nearly every supporting role is played to the hilt with glee. Olivia de Havilland doesn’t have much to do as Marian, but she does it well, looking oh-so-lovely from underneath a string of headpieces. I enjoy that the movie writes her as being seriously indignant towards Robin initially; she doesn’t automatically swoon at the sight of him, and it is only when she is made aware of the social injustice being perpetrated by the Normans that she begins to soften towards Robin. I like de Havilland in general, and she plays a very beautiful Marian. Basil Rathbone is deliciously snide as one of our two main antagonists, Guy of Gisbourne. He looks nearly as good as Flynn on horseback and in his fighting scenes, and the ultimate swordfight between the two of them is exhilarating (with some pretty imaginative shadow photography thrown in for good measure). You can’t go wrong with Rathbone as a villain.
But there’s also some smaller roles that are perfectly filled. Melville Cooper as the Sheriff of Nottingham is perfect as the dastardly yes-man to Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and although you may not recognize his name, you’ll recognize his face and his voice. Where have all our great character actors gone? Speaking of character actors, Eugene Pallette is very fun as curmudgeonly Friar Tuck. I’m used to seeing Pallette in the screwball comedies of Preston Sturges, so it’s great to watch him pop up in an adventure epic where he actually engages in a sword fight with Errol Flynn. Even Sam Jaffe pops up in a small role as a villager who helps spread the word about Robin Hood’s band.
But really, all of these performances, fantastic as they are, are second to Claude Rains. I love Claude Rains. I can never get enough of Claude Rains. And honestly, I forgot he was in this movie. How on earth did I do that? He is beyond perfection as evil Prince John, playing the prince as an evil genius, happy in his wickedness, smarmy and oily and unexpectedly charming. He steals each and every scene he’s in. He has that ineffable star power; when he’s on screen, you can’t help but watch him. It’s a great joy to see him in an adventure film.
The Adventures of Robin Hood was shot in glorious Technicolor, the original three strip technique, and I’m glad of it. The colors pop in a big way, making each scene look like a vivid illustration from a storybook. This was not color saturation achieved through digital manipulation, but in-camera techniques. The reds are bright crimson, the greens are pure emerald. The costumes are fantastic and don’t shy away from bright primary colors. Are they historically accurate? Who cares! Not me, not when they look as good as this.
Robin Hood’s story has been told time and time again, but there’s something to be said for this version. It’s not the first, but it’s possibly the most joyful. Peril never looms too closely, which just makes the whole thing fun. The Adventures of Robin Hood is also clearly the cinematic grandfather of Pirates of the Caribbean, one of my favorite popcorn flicks out there (the first one, that is; I pretend the simpering sequels don’t exist). That film owes a debt to the spirit and grandeur of The Adventures of Robin Hood. It’s a rollicking, light-hearted grand old time.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10, and I now have a yearning to watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Dammit, I don’t own a copy of it.