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The Classic Movie of the Day: The Adventures of Robin Hood

May 16, 2014

Many versions of Robin Hood will come and go, as many have already come and gone, but the 1938 Errol Flynn version of the story of Robin and his Merry Men will remain unsurpassed. It’s not just that Errol Flynn embodies the essence of the character better than any other actor who has tried. It’s not just the wonderful supporting cast, made up of reliable Hollywood faces of familiarity. It’s not just the rousing Erich Wolfgang Korngold score. All of these things serve the greater whole.

I must admit to a bias. This movie is in my personal top 10 list of all-time favorite movies. I also consider it one of the two greatest adventure movies ever made, along with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Why do I think so highly of it? The reasons listed above are part of it. There is also the bold choice, even at that time, to clothe the entire cast in brightly colored tights. People who haven’t actually seen the movie may look at it and scoff. They may make fun of the actors being in “long underwear” or whatever, but this was the first true Technicolor masterpiece. This production actually used all 11 Technicolor cameras that were in existence at the time. There were color movies before The Adventures of Robin Hood, but there really weren’t any color movies before The Adventures of Robin Hood. What I mean by that is that movies before it mostly made attempts at making the color look realistic, natural, and tried to not make everything look a sickly green or gray. The Adventures of Robin Hood pulled out all of the stops when it came to the color palette. They even painted the plants a brighter green so they would appear like a more idyllic English countryside (The film was shot in California). The reds erupt from the screen. The greens are rich. The golds and silvers glimmer. The yellows and oranges give off heat. Every color pops like brightly-colored candy. It is a feast for the eyes. Even when the actors do nothing but talk, the colors make it exciting to watch.

Now, so you won’t think I love it only for the color, I will tell you that the perfect Robin Hood did not come from England at all, but rather from Tasmania. That’s right. Errol Flynn had the looks, the charisma, the athleticism, the wit, the laugh, the attitude, and the swashbuckling sword-fighting ability to absolutely embody the character of Robin Hood. Douglas Fairbanks did a great job as Robin Hood nearly 20 years before, but Errol Flynn just had “It”. In so very few other cases has an actor been so perfect for a role. The movie flies because of his energy. He is unpredictable at times. His quickness often surprises. He runs, jumps, swings, fights, and romances with an abandon we unfortunately don’t see in today’s more “realistic” and “gritty” action/adventure movies. When you watch The Adventures of Robin Hood you can tell that Errol Flynn is having a ball, which increases your own enjoyment in watching him perform in it.

The supporting cast is one of the best from the golden age of Hollywood. In addition to Flynn, there is Olivia De Havilland (who is still with us at the age of 97) as Maid Marian, Claude Rains as Prince John, Alan Hale (father of Gilligan’s Island’s Skipper) as Little John, Patric Knowles as Will Scarlett, Eugene Pallette in all of his blustery glory as Friar Tuck, Melville Cooper as the somewhat bumbling Sheriff of Nottingham. Una O’Connor and Herbert Mundin add additional comic support and Basil Rathbone lends slimy, patrician airs to the sinister role of Guy of Gisbourne. Roy Rogers’ original Trigger even plays Maid Marian’s horse in the film! Once you’ve seen these actors in these roles you will not be able to imagine anyone playing these parts any better.

The movie was directed by two men. Michael Curtiz was called in to replace William Keighley after dailies proved to be less than exciting. They made the right choice. The action scenes in the movie do not lack for excitement. They are fast-moving and full of energy. The Hungarian-born Curtiz, who made Flynn a star when he directed him in Captain Blood, would later go on to win an Oscar for directing Casablanca.

The musical score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold is considered, still to this day, one of the greatest film scores of all-time and won an Oscar for Korngold. It is jaunty and exciting, but appropriately soft and tender when necessary.

The film is filled with rousing action scenes, humor and romance. It also has one of the greatest sword duels ever put on film. The climactic battle between Flynn and Rathbone is up near the top of all swordfights ever filmed. It is energetic, thrilling, and at times you may actually fear for Robin’s life.

I could go on and on about this movie (More than I already have), but I would prefer you watch it for yourself.

Here is the trailer:


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