The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Let's Get Ready to Rumble | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Plenty of treason, treachery, and tights to go around.

Many well-seasoned actors have donned a green hat and poured themselves into tights to portray Robin Hood – including Kevin Costner, John Cleese, Cary Elwes, Douglas Fairbanks, Russell Crowe, and Sean Connery, but Errol Flynn’s portrayal in this Technicolor classic is the one against which all others came to be measured.

The story, as we all should know by now, places King Richard at battle in the Crusades. While away, his crooked brother Prince John (Clause Rains) rules the kingdom by placing unfair taxes on Saxons and disfiguring them for the hell of it. He probably kicks babies and dogs whenever he gets the chance, too. The Saxons’ only solace comes from that jaunty, vine swinging Robin of Locksley (Flynn), who leads a group of merry men with the Marxist steal-from-the-rich, give-to-the-poor policy.

Though we saw him moments Robin2earlier in the film, Robin’s true entrance comes when he barges into the castle, fighting off guards with a dead deer, and places the carcass before the Normans fully knowing the penalty is death. He confidently tilts back his head, hops over a table, and takes a seat near the throne, where he can dish out more insults than Sarah Silverman. After he does, the sheltered and pure Maid Marian (a radiant Olivia de Havilland) says, “You speak treason!” Robin merely grins and retorts, “Fluently.” On his way out he fends off dozens of armed guards and thus begins the action-packed Adventures of Robin Hood.

The story and sets are as grandiose as any adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III with about as many deaths as Hamlet. For its time, it exhibited extremely fast editing to keep up with its constantly moving plot and to iron out any lulls (though modern audiences may not notice if they’ve seen Michael Bay movies). Take, for example, a montage of mayhem where Robin dishes out some cold justice by shooting arrows through Normans (even extinguishing a candle on the way), or the arrow-splitting archery contest and the fights that follow, or his humorous battles against Little John (Alan Hale) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette).

Clearly the action peaks during Robin3the climactic sword fight between Robin and Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone), which most rewardingly takes them up and down staircases, turns tables and chairs into weapons, and includes one of my personal favorites – only their shadows (the only shot I love more is a clever bit of framing in a fireplace during a Norman meeting, which positions Hellish fire between us and the bad guys – brilliant). Without a doubt, The Adventures of Robin Hood is an action-packed favorite, especially for young boys. But, believe it or not, it almost wasn’t. When director William Keighley held the film’s reigns, producers called in Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy) to spice up the action scenes. It would be the first of 12 times Flynn and Curtiz worked together.

Robin Hood is also one of the richest and most colorful films you’ll ever see. The opening moments are as striking as when Dorothy steps out of her humble Kansas home and into Munchkinland. Robin Hood is Technicolor as it was never seen before, and sadly we shall never see again. This is due to films transitioning into a cheaper two-step process as opposed to a three-step process that used cumbersome cameras and extra lighting for far superior tonal saturation bringing out incredible greens, blues, reds, and golds.

The film was nominated for best picture in 1938 and won three Oscars (art direction, editing, score), but sadly failed to mention Flynn’s iconic performance. Flynn plays the masculine mutton-chomping and romantic balcony-climbing role with a lighthearted bravado that forces us to wonder how the film would have fared if Warner Brothers would have cast James Cagney, its first choice. With a goatee as pointy as his hat’s feather and a deadly flight of arrows at his fingertips, Flynn made it OK for boys to wear tights.

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