Saturday, April 19, 2008

Target #207: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, William Keighley, Michael Curtiz)

TSPDT placing: #441
Directed by: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
Written by: Norman Reilly Raine, Seton I. Miller, Rowland Leigh (uncredited)
Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Patric Knowles, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Melville Cooper, Ian Hunter

By the end of the 1930s, Warner Bros. had released a string of successful gangster pictures, but consistently encountered difficulties with the enforcement of Production Code. The studio temporarily found refuge from censorship by setting their sights on a swashbuckling historical adventure – the classic English folktale of Robin Hood, the humble crusader of Sherwood Forest. One of the earliest feature-length films to be filmed in three-strip Technicolor, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is a dazzling cinematic adventure, featuring unparalleled sequences of action and sword fights, a classic romantic subplot, and superb characterisations from an impressive cast. Errol Flynn, one of the earliest Australian actors to strike it big in Hollywood, is the charming and dashing titular character, a mischievous but venerable champion of the poor and oppressed Saxons. William Keighley was the picture's original director, but – perhaps due to illness, or because the studio wanted to "spice up" the action sequences – he was later replaced by Michael Curtiz; both men received on screen credit. With an epic budget of $200 million, the 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' was reportedly the most expensive ever made, but proved a major success for the studio, who immediately cast Flynn and co-star Olivia de Havilland in another two Technicolor epics {the Western Dodge City (1939) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)} – the pair had already starred together in two films previously, both directed by Michael Curtiz. Olivia de Havilland is sweet and elegant as Maid Marian, though I daresay that much of her beauty goes to waste hidden beneath a headpiece, which she only removes for one scene.

Whether he's swinging gleefully from a rope, or splitting his opponents' arrows in two, Errol Flynn's Robin Hood is a hero that the audience can really cheer for. He can be a rascal at times, and has a haughty chuckle that infuriates his enemies, but, when the time calls for it, he can be suitably serious and determined, not to mention unflinchingly patriotic. It's the role that Flynn will always be remembered for. The film's two major villains are played with wicked charisma by Claude Rains, as the treacherous Prince John, and Basil Rathbone {before he immortalised himself playing Sherlock Holmes} as Robin Hood's sleazy romantic competitor, Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Screenwriters Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller play heedlessly with British history, but to adhere strictly to the facts would have been to rob the film of its fanciful, good-natured charm. This film was not the first to feature the adventures of England's favourite folk hero; Robin Hood had appeared in no less than ten films previously, though Douglas Fairbanks's 1922 incarnation is the only popularly-known example. Countless subsequent versions have followed, but few have even come close to approaching Flynn's dashing portrayal of the master marksman. The Adventures of Robin Hood is certainly not the most sophisticated film you'll see from 1938 {Michael Curtiz's Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) is currently my favourite}, but it's just so jam-packed with action, comedy and romance that it's difficult to find another film that delivers so effectively in sheer entertainment.

Currently my #3 film of 1938:
1) Angels with Dirty Faces (Michael Curtiz)
2) The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock)
3) The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, William Keighley)


ressot3 said...

Heh, it's a pretty damn fun movie. Personally though, I prefer Flynn's and de Havilland's other Captain Blood. It's everything that Robin Hood is, but we also get to see de Havilland's Face. Therefore, it's the better movie. ;)

ackatsis said...

I'll see 'Captain Blood' as soon as I can, but my uni doesn't have it.