Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938)

“It’s injustice I hate, not the Normans.”

Synopsis:
In 12th century England, a knight (Errol Flynn) who has remained loyal to kidnapped King Richard the Lion Hearted (Ian Hunter) receives help from his merry men and his new sweetheart (Olivia de Havilland) in subverting plans by Prince John (Claude Rains) and his evil henchmen — including the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) and Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) — to take over the throne.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this (possible) “greatest costume adventure of all time” features “dashing Flynn and his loveliest screen partner, Olivia de Havilland (gallant as Maid Marian)” playing “as romantic a couple as Romeo and Juliet”, and he notes that the “final swordfight between Flynn and Rathbone (who, off screen, was the superior swordsman) is a classic, complete with gigantic shadows on castle walls”. He points out that the “splendid color photography, sets, costumes, and rousing Oscar-winning score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold” are “all first-rate, effectively transporting us back to an enchanting world” filled with “such wonderful character actors as Alan Hale (Little John), Eugene Pallette (Friar Truck), Una O’Connor, Montagu Love, and Melville Cooper.” He informs us that “the casting of Flynn as Robin Hood was pivotal to his career, for it reinforced his Captain Blood image as the sensitive champion of the downtrodden and one of the few freedom fighter (anti-authoritarian) heroes whom conservative Hollywood has ever accepted.”

Peary elaborates upon his appreciation for this film in Alternate Oscars, where he names it Best Picture of the Year. After mentioning seeing this film numerous times on b&w television as a child in the ’50s, he writes, “What always surprises me is that adults can appreciate the film more than children, for this is a classy, literate, inspiringly directed and acted picture” with “much care [going] into every aspect of the production”. He notes that “shot after beautifully composed shot, the visuals are dazzling, even magical” — and while “Sol Polito and Tony Gaudio weren’t among the eleven Cinematography Oscar nominees”, they “deserved to win”. He notes that the “picture has terrific action sequences,” including the “climactic sword fight”, “Robin’s two escapes”, and “a scene in which Robin and his men swing from vines and drop from trees to ambush Prince John’s soldiers”. He adds that “the action never slows down for humor — Robin in battle (like Douglas Fairbanks) keeps smiling and joking”, and while “the action does stop”, the “tension doesn’t dissipate” for romance.

Speaking of romance, Peary writes that “De Havilland’s Marian isn’t the typical heroine of old-time adventure films”: “She is central to the action, devising the plan that frees Robin from the gallows, and defiantly speaking out against Prince John’s Court of Execution after being charged with treason.” De Havilland is both charming and beautiful, and the entire production (from the vibrant Technicolor cinematography to unusual costumes) does her justice. Flynn, meanwhile, has really never been better: as Peary writes, “You’d follow [him] anywhere, sure that his cause is just.” The fine supporting cast is energetic, memorable, and colorful, and the action scenes are indeed consistently stirring. This one can and should be seen (and enjoyed) multiple times.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Errol Flynn as Robin Hood
  • Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian
  • Lush, colorful costumes and sets

  • Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito’s cinematography
  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable and rousing classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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2 Responses to “Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938)”

  1. A once-must, for its place in cinema history.

    I saw this again not all that long ago – and am in general agreement with the points brought out in the assessment. While it’s not among my favorite types of film personally (that is – unless it’s done as a clever parody of sorts, i.e., ‘The Court Jester’), it’s certainly not to be overlooked by film fanatics.

    All this and Claude Rains, too! 😉

  2. Speaking for myself, the finest Robin Hood theatrical feature. It just such an energy and life to it. A true classic and a definite must see.

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