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Dissecting the Classics – The Adventures of Robin Hood

February 23, 2018 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
The Adventures of Robin Hood

So, funny story about this one. The Adventures of Robin Hood is far from the first movie about Robin Hood I’ve seen; I grew up on both the animated Disney version and also Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I’ve always had a certain fascination with the story, but only recently watched this one. It was quite amusing to see so much of what I know in this format.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics . In this column, I analyze films that are almost universally loved and considered to be great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Wide Release Date:
Directed By: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Written By: Norman Reilly Raine, Seton I. Miller and Rowland Leigh
Produced By: Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke
Cinematography By: Tony Gaudio, Sol Polito, W. Howard Greene and Natalie Kalmus
Edited By: Ralph Dawson
Music By: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Errol Flynn as Sir Robin of Locksley AKA Robin Hood
Olivia de Havilland as Lady Marian Fitzwalter
Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisborne
Claude Rains as Prince John
Alan Hale, Sr. as John Little AKA Little John

What Do We All Know?

Some things are just well suited to cinema. English folklore legend Robin Hood is one of those things. Douglas Fairbanks did the character justice in the 1922 film, which was made on a then insane budget of $1 million, but The Adventures of Robin Hood does it bigger, better and in color. This was Warner Bros. most expensive film at the time, shot in technicolor in an era when most movies were in black and white before this, Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz started making waves. It’s truly amazing how much subsequent Robin Hood movies, from Disney’s version to Mel Brooks’ Men in Tights, draw from this movie for inspiration.

But just because a movie sets a standard and is impactful, does that mean it holds up? Not always. Obviously a film made in 1938 isn’t going to live up to modern standards of costumes, effects or even acting style. However, I feel that this movie holds up remarkably well. If I had seen this one as a kid, I feel I would have loved it just as much as I like it today as a would-be film historian.

What Went Right?

The Adventures of Robin Hood moves at a brisk pace, giving us some necessary background but quickly showing Robin protecting someone abused by Guy of Gisborne, challenging Prince John’s role, and then escaping to Sherwood Forest. In the first hour or so, we meet his friends, we see him build up his army of commoners, and see them robbing the rich to steal from the poor. The second half develops the romance between Robin and Marian and builds to the final revolt against Prince John.

The movie is basically a highlight reel of all the iconic cool stuff about Robin Hood, and does that style of storytelling about as well as can be executed. Robin doesn’t develop much as a character; he’s always noble, charming, defiant of Prince John and loyal to King Richard the Lionheart. Any character evolution comes from the supporting cast and how they respond to Robin’s personality and goals. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same basic story structure is used in 1978’s Superman 2011’s Captain America, and even most James Bond movies. This movie showed how to do the movie hero right all the way back in 1938.

The cast certainly helps. Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains and Melville Cooper make a charismatic band of bumbling bad guys as Guy, Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham, respectively. Eugene Pallette is a fun Friar Tuck and Alan Hale, Sr. excels as Little John, a role he was reprising from the Douglas Fairbanks movie. Olivia de Havilland as Marian changes the most, as she sees Robin as an outlaw before realizing the cruelty of Prince John. And of course, there is the incomparable Errol Flynn, who was born to play this role. Every Robin Hood since has been a reaction of some sort to this version, and frankly none of them live up to it.

The movie is also just a genuinely fun action movie. Sword fights, staff fights, horseback chases, and ambushes populate the first hour. An archery tournament sees Robin win by splitting another archer’s bullseye arrow with his own, before he makes another daring escape. The final battle in the castle is impressive in its scale, and the duel between Robin and Guy sets the standard going forward. Along with John Ford’s Stagecoach, this movie laid the foundation for what movie action could be going forward.

What Went Wrong?

Nothing about this movie particularly strikes me as being a meaningful flaw. It’s a thoroughly old-fashioned movie, with hammy acting and silly costumes, but those are stylistic choices and appropriate for the era. Maybe that’s too hokey for some, but I’ve never had a problem with it. The closest thing I can come to is that the movie rarely has any real tension, but that’s not a huge problem. I’m also partial to the Sheriff of Nottingham being a more serious threat, but Guy of Gisborne does that job nicely.

And In Summary…

A lot of movies that I enjoy have been influenced by The Adventures of Robin Hood. It’s a big studio production of a well known hero, presenting his exploits in a way that it had never been able to be presented in. Errol Flynn’s charisma is perfectly suited to the character, the rest of the cast is game, and the action mostly holds up. Indeed, the whole movie is a delightful way to pass the time. I recommend checking it out.

And no, I could not find a good shot of this in color.

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Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Matrix, Batman (1989), Casablanca, Goldfinger, X2, King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Dark Crystal, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Aliens, Casino Royale, Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Batman (1966), The Maltese Falcon, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, 12 Angry Men, Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, Dial M For Murder, Godzilla (1954), The Hurt Locker, The Breakfast Club, Iron Man, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, Blade Runner, Rosemary’s Baby, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Princess Bride, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Toy Story, Star Wars – Part 1, Star Wars – Part 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Die Hard, Spirited Away, Airplane!, Dirty Dancing, RoboCop, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Captain America: The First Avenger, In the Heat of the Night, West Side Story,

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