Directed by: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Premise: While King Richard III is off fighting the Crusades, Prince John (Claude Rains) begins to persecute the poor and prepares to overtake the throne with the aid of the Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper). Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn), a displaced aristocrat, gathers the poor and disenfranchised in the forest and they begin to fight against the powers of oppression.
What Works: The Adventures of Robin Hood is the definitive Robin Hood film. Made in 1938, the film features the styling of films of that period but it holds up surprisingly well. Like Bela Lugosi in Dracula, Errol Flynn’s performance as Robin Hood is the characterization against which all subsequent incarnations have and will be set against. Flynn is charismatic and likeable in the roll and the film lets him show off his legendary swordsman skills, but The Adventures of Robin Hood also gives him some dramatic moments with the people of Sherwood Forest as he explains why he fights against the powers that be. The supporting cast is good as well, including Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian. Her role is surprisingly progressive for the period in which the film was made and she has an assertive and dignified demeanor that even women in many contemporary sword and shield films lack. There is also a funny but heartwarming relationship between Much (Herbert Mundin), an older member of Robin Hood’s party, and Bess (Una O’Connor), Marian’s handmaiden. The relationship is comic and sensitive, and has innuendo that is funnier and far smarter than the jokes often passed off in today’s family films. This particular version of Robin Hood also captures the political and revolutionary aspects of the character much better than others. Flynn’s Robin Hood has more in common with Che Guevara than he does with King Arthur. The film plays today as a picture with some texture as it has something to say about the way in which people in power relate to the public at large and how and why revolutions get started.
What Doesn’t: The Adventures of Robin Hood is a product of its time and some contemporary viewers might struggle with some of the storytelling styles of the period. The film is carefully structured with action happening at particular points, and there is no wire work or CGI, so some viewers with limited attention spans may find this harder to sit through than they would Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
DVD extras: New transfer, featurettes, documentaries, trailer gallery, outtakes, short films, picture galleries, audio features, cartoons.
Bottom Line: The Adventures of Robin Hood is a very good film that has held up in the decades since its original release. This is by far the most influential version of the story, as evidenced by Disney’s animated 1973 film and Mel Brooks’ spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights. With the renewed interest in this genre through films like Pirates of the Caribbean and Kingdom of Heaven, this would be a good opportunity to review some of these older films and see how they relate to contemporary pictures.
Episode: #144 (June 10, 2007)