May 21, 2010
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Grade: 61/100

Director: Michael Curtiz
Stars: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone

What it's about. Set in England in the year 1191. Good King Richard (Ian Hunter) is held hostage in a foreign land, and power has been usurped by eloquent and clever but fiendish Prince John (Claude Rains). John's right hand man is brave but villainous Sir Guy (Basil Rathbone). The Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) is a cowardly man, but he does come up with one good idea (more on this later) to earn his place as a top henchman. Less of a bad guy is the top cleric, played by Montagu Love. The remaining blueblood of note is hottie Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), whose companion is feisty comic relief Bess (Una O'Connor).

Prince John is an evil man who covets the throne and taxes the Saxons beyond their capacity. This injustice is challenged by Robin Hood (Errol Flynn), an archer and Saxon noble whose base is in Sherwood Forest. Robin is aided by his band of Merry Men, whose upper echelon consists of dashing Will Scarlet (Patric Knowles), grouchy and obese Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), lumbering and boisterous Little John (Alan Hale), and troll-like Much (Herbert Mundin).

Robin Hood has various triumphs and setbacks versus Sir Guy and Prince John, although a happy ending is never in doubt. The same goes for his budding romance with the virtuous Maid Marian.

How others will see it. At the time of its 1938 release, The Adventures of Robin Hood was the most costly Warner Bros. film ever made. Fortunately for the studio, it was a box office smash. Critics were pleased, and the film won three Oscars, plus garnered a Best Picture nomination.

The film continues to be revered today, and is considered the best of the many movies that romantically paired Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. The user ratings are extremely high across both genders and all age groups, enough to place the film within the Top 250 for that reliably informative website.

How I felt about it. We are impressed by the rich technicolor cinematography and costumes. de Havilland is easy on the eyes, and the action-packed movie never drags.

That said, this crowd pleaser is so campy that it almost defies analysis. King Richard's return comes out of nowhere, and is preternaturally timed to coincide with Prince John's ill-fated coronation. An important tax collection destined for Prince John is for some reason sent through Sherwood Forest, where it is most likely to be robbed. For no apparent reason, Maid Marion accompanies the tax collection force, which is predictably seized by Robin Hood's men, somehow without as much as a single injury by either side.

Most egregious of all is an earlier scene in which Robin Hood shows up at Prince John's dinner party, alone against a castle full of armed guards, yet manages to escape unharmed after repeatedly encouraging his arrest. And of course, de Havilland transitions from despising Robin Hood, to loving him with all her heart, a staple in all similar Flynn vehicles of the era. Robin Hood can presumably take his pick of oppressed Saxon women, but only a Norman of aristocratic birth will do for him.

The moral is that it is okay to steal from the rich as long as most of the money goes to the poor. Or better yet, to the captors of King Richard. Certainly, Robin Hood's Merry Men wouldn't take a penny for themselves, and their frequent feasts must all be cooked from the King's deer, who doesn't mind their poaching since he is held prisoner in Europe, at least until he mysteriously appears in England.

The story and action are so cartoonish that the historical inaccuracies are unworthy of comment. Robin Hood is the English equivalent of Zorro or The Lone Ranger, the champion of the unfairly oppressed. The heroes and villains might as well wear white and black hats, so that their costumes can be as simplistic as their characters.