#322) The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

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#322) The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

OR “Sherwood Flynn and the First Crusade”

Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley

Written by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller. Based on the Robin Hood legends.

Class of 1995

The Plot: In the absence of his brother Richard I (Ian Hunter), Prince John (Claude Rains) takes over as King of England and raises taxes on all Saxons. The only man who stands in his way is Sir Robin of Locklsey (Errol Flynn), who rounds up a group of Merry Men to rob from the rich and you know the rest. Along the way, Robin woos Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Olivia de Havilland), fights the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone), and shows off his archery skills.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “[d]ashing, athletic and witty” and “[o]ne of the most spectacular adventure films of all time”. The write-up goes on to praise Flynn, Rathbone, and their climactic swordfight.

But Does It Really?: There have been more exciting adventure films since 1938, but none of them would exist without this “Robin Hood”. This movie checks off all the boxes you want from a Robin Hood movie, and Flynn leads the film in its sheer entertainment value. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” holds up reasonably well after 80 years, and is worth a watch, as well as more than deserving of it NFR inclusion.

Everybody Gets One: Director William Keighley was originally assigned to “Robin Hood” but, while shooting on-location, was replaced with Michael Curtiz (Producer Hal Wallis felt Keighley’s action sequences lacked excitement). Despite Curtiz helming a majority of the final film, both men received the director credit. Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a child prodigy in his native Austria, composing several operas and ballets. Fellow countryman Max Reinhardt convinced Korngold to come to Hollywood and score Reinhardt’s film of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. With the Nazis on the rise in Europe, Korngold stayed in America for the rest of his life.

Wow, That’s Dated: This was Warner Bros.’ first major production in the new process of three-strip Technicolor, hence why everyone in the movie wears such vibrant colors.

Seriously, Oscars?: One of the biggest hits of 1938, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture. The film lost Best Picture to “You Can’t Take It With You”, but did win in its other three categories: Art Direction, Film Editing, and Original Score. The film’s win for Score was most noteworthy, as it was the first year the award went to the composer, rather than the head of the studio’s music department.

Other notes

  • With real life historical figures Richard I and Prince John, this movie is technically a sequel to “The Lion in Winter”.
  • Robin’s intro is very Classic Hollywood: A close-up as he rides in on horseback as the orchestra swells. It’s great.
  • Olivia de Havilland is British, but moved to California when she was three, so she’s giving us a very watered down English accent. Also, as of this writing, Olivia de Havilland is still alive!
  • Claude Rains is clearly having a blast in his performance. Prince John is one of the rare movie villains where you get to be undeniably ruthless, yet equally foppish and cowardly.
  • “You speak treason.” “Fluently.” Quick, someone invent the microphone so Robin can drop it.
  • Apparently King Richard took all of his good men with him; these guys are your standard dumb movie henchmen. They outnumber Robin 100 to 1, yet still attack him one at a time.
  • Alan Hale Sr. (yes, father of that Alan Hale) also played Little John in the 1922 silent “Robin Hood” with Douglas Fairbanks.
  • That is some impressive archery work going on here. Apparently each stunt man was paid extra to wear padding and get shot: $150 per arrow.
  • It needs to be pointed out that the Merry Men live a forest life not too different from the Ewoks.
  • Robin and Marian have one of those “he’s a jerk but she’s okay with it” relationships, but it’s slightly more organic and nuanced than in other movies so…yay?
  • The archery tournament is definitely a highlight. Of course archery is one of the world’s more Freudian sports. That helps.
  • Marian’s plan to secretly meet the Merry Men at the tavern involves her wearing the shiniest dress she owns. She might as well have worn a cowbell.
  • This was the third pairing of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, following “Captain Blood” and “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. No wonder they have such natural chemistry. According to de Havilland, she purposefully ruined take after take of their kissing scene to prolong the experience.
  • The final sword fight between Robin and Gisbourne does not disappoint. As best I can tell, both Flynn and Rathbone did their own fighting.
  • Richard the Lionheart: History’s finest deus ex machina.

Legacy

  • “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was the most expensive Warner Bros. film to date, and their biggest hit of the year. Talk of a sequel “Sir Robin of Locksley” began immediately, but fell through.
  • “Captain Blood” set up Errol Flynn as the swashbuckling action star, and “Robin Hood” sealed the deal.
  • This is the third movie Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland starred in together. They did six more, though none as popular as “Robin Hood”.
  • You can see the film’s influence in the similarly themed 1940 version of “The Mark of Zorro”, right down to the swordfight between the vigilante hero and Basil Rathbone.
  • Alan Hale Jr. would play Little John again in 1950’s “Rogues of Sherwood Forest”.
  • Since Looney Tunes and “Robin Hood” are both Warner Bros. properties, Bugs and company took several turns spoofing the film. 1949’s “Rabbit Hood” even goes as far to include actual clips from the movie!
  • There have been many, MANY, retellings of Robin Hood on film over the last 100 years. The later ones usually take a thing or two from the Errol Flynn version.
  • If anyone tells you that the anthropomorphic fox in the Disney “Robin Hood” is hot, do not invite them into your home.
  • “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” owes as much to the 1938 version as it does to “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”. I mean, could they have done it without Cary Elwes?
  • Apparently another attempt at updating Robin Hood came and went in 2018. It did not show up on my radar until it got nominated at the Razzies.

Listen to This: Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score for “Robin Hood” premiered before the movie was released, on a Los Angeles radio program with Basil Rathbone narrating the story of the film. The NRR inducted this program in 2005, calling it “one of Korngold’s most respected dramatic scores”. There’s also an essay by Korngold expert Brendan G. Carroll.

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