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The Adventures of Robin Hood Movie Review

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1938 – Michael Curtiz, William Keighley –

When Kevin Costner was publicizing his film version of the Robin Hood legend in 1991, he sometimes jokingly referred to the pointy cap that Errol Flynn wore in this adventure classic from 1938. A realist might sneer at the tights and cap and perhaps the splashy Technicolor (the first three-strip Technicolor film ever shot at Warner Bros.), but the Flynn version remains perhaps the best model for heroic, romanticized adventure films. Interestingly, James Cagney was originally set to play Robin for Warners in 1935, but the project stalled when Cagney left the studio during a contract dispute.

The scriptwriters borrowed some of their premise from Walter Scott's Ivanhoe and used Bidwell Park in California for Sherwood Forest. Returning from the Crusades, the King of England, Richard (Ian Hunter), is reported to have been taken prisoner in Austria and held for ransom. His brother John (Claude Rains) plots with Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) to tax the Saxons for the King's payment and then keep the money so that John can accede to the throne in Richard's absence. The film's structure is nicely worked out to contrast scenes of Norman oppression with comic interludes of Robin (Flynn) meeting and acquiring his band of men. The heroism is enriched by having Robin bettered in contests both by Little John (Alan Hale) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette). No one laughs at his clumsy falls into ponds more loudly than the charming Robin himself, and this self-deprecation helps to establish his appeal.

The film also draws richly on folklore, as in the sequence when Richard escapes and returns to England disguised as a monk. He insinuates himself in secret among his people, and in Sherwood Forest he meets Robin, who steals his money (to give to the overtaxed poor) and then invites him to dine. In one of the film's most stirring moments, Richard questions Robin about his motives for such thievery and elicits from him the news about the traitorous Prince John: “I'd condemn anything that left the task of holding England for Richard to outlaws like me!” Robin passes the king's test with his honesty. Richard appreciates the revolutionary patriotism that would first maintain a loyalty to the traditions of a people rather than blindly support a particular government or ruler. Richard's Englishness mirrors Robin's own.

The Adventures of Robin Hood enjoyably handles both the big set pieces—the archery tournament, the gallows scene, the dinner in Sherwood, the final swordfight—and the smaller details, like the final image of swords raining down on shields to signal the end of hostilities. Writer Rudy Behlmer came upon some fascinating material when he probed the Warner Bros. archives in preparing an introduction to the published version of the screenplay. One of the discoveries is a series of memos from producer Hal B. Wallis, who seems to have studied the film shot by shot in an effort to improve it. Among Wallis' notes are the following instructions for tightening the pace: “Cut quicker to Rathbone … Take out the stall before the line … After Prince John announces that he is regent of England, make the reaction shots all the same footage … You stay too long on the man that falls.” Wallis' editorial advice and everything else works perfectly in this great film, including the soundtrack by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and sets by Carl Jules Weyl.

Cast: Errol Flynn (Robin Hood), Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian), Basil Rathbone (Sir Guy of Gisbourne), Claude Rains (Prince John), Patric Knowles (Will Scarlet), Eugene Pallette (Friar Tuck), Alan Hale (Little John), Melville Cooper (High Sheriff of Nottingham), Una O'Connor (Bess), Ian Hunter (King Richard the Lion-Heart), Herbert Mundin (Much-the-Miller's-Son), Montagu Love (Bishop of the Black Canons), Leonard Willey (Sir Essex), Robert Noble (Sir Ralf), Kenneth Hunter (Sir Mortimer), Holmes Herbert (Archery referee) Screenwriter: Norman Reilly Raine, Seton I. Miller Cinematographer: Tony Gaudio, Sol Polito Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold Producer: Hal B. Wallis for Warner Bros. Running Time: 102 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1938: Editing, Interior Decoration, Original Score; Nominations: Picture. Budget: $2M.

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