The Adventures of Robin Hood: Review
Although there have been many incarnations of the Robin Hood tale, including “Silent” and TV editions, no other version captures the admiration of audiences like The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Nominated for Best Picture of 1938, Robin Hood received Oscar statuettes for its remarkable Art Direction, exceptional Film Editing and memorable Music Score, and no wonder. Every frame drips with the lush saturation of Technicolor, action sequences are cut to a heightened perfection, and composer Erich Korngold’s music pulses with the spirit and joviality of adventure itself. Although nominated for two other films that year, Michael Curtiz was not nominated for directing Robin Hood, and one wonders if his exceptional work in this film held any bearing on the double nomination (Curtiz lost out to Frank Capra for directing You Can’t Take It With You).
Of course, all the production value in the world isn’t going to do any good without the right cast, and Robin Hood has absolutely no faults in that category. With a dashing smile and an excess of manly jocularity, Errol Flynn will forever be remembered as the embodiment of the English folk hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. In fact, it has been noted that Flynn’s rendering of the consummate devil-may-care hero was so good it was to the detriment of his career. He made it all look so easy in his swashbuckling roles that Hollywood just couldn’t take him seriously in his more dramatic work. It’s too bad too, since even in the light fare of Robin Hood, Flynn gives such a solid performance with unbridled verve balanced with moments of nuanced flair that it seems completely probable that, given the chance, he was indeed capable of an Oscar worthy performance.
Likewise, Olivia de Havilland shines as the ideal Maid Marian, Alan Hale is the most robust Little John, Eugene Pallette the heartiest Friar Tuck, and Basil Rathbone can never be outmatched as nemesis Sir Guy of Gisbourne, who fiendishly plots with a sly and dastardly Prince John (the ever enjoyable Claude Rains) to profit from the powerless people of twelfth-century England. Rathbone is particularly good in the mano-a-mano fight scenes with Flynn. Well known to be the best fencer in cinema history, Rathbone mentored the young star so well that stunt doubles were used only when high falls were involved. Particularly notable is the final duel between the foes (SPOILER ALERT!) as Rathbone crumbles to defeat in one of the most picturesque deaths ever to appear on screen.
Unlike anything before or since, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a delightful depiction of the way action/adventure used to be made. And since it was produced during the Production Code Era, its rated G, which means that even though there’s a lot of ravaging and pillaging and even a love story, there’s nothing to upset anyone’s taste no, matter how delicate. But there’s certainly a lot of entertainment to satisfy even the most hardened veteran of today’s over-stimulated action films.