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Friday Film Review: The Adventures of Robin Hood

Robin Hood (1938)
Genre: Historical Romance/Swashbuckler
Grade: A

Back when I did a review of the first Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland movie “Captain Blood,” I said I’d eventually get back to doing more swashbuckling reviews. Yes, it’s taken me a while but here is one of the best of the genre and perhaps The definitive Robin Hood of them all. At least so far.

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The plot is a mish mash of the old Robin Hood myths and legends along with some frankly made up stuff that the powers that be in Hollywood thought sounded and looked good. It’s after the 3rd Crusade and England groans under the tyranny of Prince John (Claude Rains)who’s the man in charge with his elder brother away first fighting and then being taken prisoner for ransom. John uses this as an opportunity to bleed the Saxon peasants dry as well as make a bid for the throne using Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) to help him. But Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) gathers the oppressed into a band of Merrie Men (Patric Knowles, Alan Hale, Eugene Pallette, and Herbert Mundin among others) who rob from the rich and give to the poor while they fight to keep Richard’s throne for him until his return. Plus there’s a romance with Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), an archery tournament and some entertaining sword fights along the way.

This film must have burst off the screen in glorious three strip Technicolor in 1938. The DVD I have has loads of extras including a commentary tract that I suggest all fans of the film listen to. There have been plenty of Robin Hood films made both before and after this one but in my mind, this one is the best. As commentator Rudy Behlmer says “the whole film is idealized. A fairy tale illustrated by Technicolor.” I’m sure medieval peasants, castle great halls, and archery tournaments never looked anything like this but Warner Brothers makes me want to believe they did.

The film has the standard elements: a hero who fights for justice against those in power, a heroine whom he at first spars with in a “they’re destined to fall in love” kind of way before she finally realizes what he’s doing and throws in with him, a band of equally oppressed followers who revere him, great rousing speeches, daring acrobatics, tense encounters with the villains, great villains with whom to have these encounters, fantastic fights, narrow escapes then finally triumph over evil and the reward the hero deserves. Basically you could take Captain Blood and change the costumes and voila, there’s the movie.

There are many places where the film could have ended up looking very different from what we have today. Two different directors and two screenwriters are responsible for it yet the whole blends together beautifully. Eric Korngold’s music sweeps the action along and Olivia de Havilland never looked lovelier in her many changes of costume. There’s Michael Curtiz’s shadow work and his skill with the large action sequences plus one of the most sigh-worthy love scenes after Robin hauls his way up the ivy outside Marian’s castle room. And who can do a full throated, deep belly laugh quite as well as Flynn can? Warner Brothers studio was known as the large scale, action specialists and they prove it here again and again. There were even special recordings made to get just the right “singing zing” of the arrows.

Maybe one day I’ll change my mind about which is the best Robin Hood movie – after all Russell Crowe is taking a stab at it soon. But I don’t think anyone will ever be able to top this one for sheer pageantry, entertainment value and fun.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

45 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention Friday Film Review: Robin Hood | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
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  2. Sandy James
    May 07, 2010 @ 04:17:19

    Heavens, how I love the classics!! Super choice for a Friday flick, Jayne!! :)

    ReplyReply

  3. Jayne
    May 07, 2010 @ 04:46:16

    @Sandy James: An absolute classic on the National Film Registry. And it’s playing tomorrow on TCM!

    ReplyReply

  4. Carolyn
    May 07, 2010 @ 05:33:24

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Kevin Costner’s version, solely because of Alan Rickman as the villainous Prince John.

    Having Morgan Freeman in it didn’t hurt either. :-)

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  5. Jayne
    May 07, 2010 @ 05:39:05

    @Carolyn:

    [the Sheriff has said he'll cut out Robin Hood's heart with a spoon]
    Guy of Gisborne: Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an axe?
    Sheriff of Nottingham: Because it’s DULL, you twit. It’ll hurt more.

    Gotta admit to loving this line from that version.

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  6. Mireya
    May 07, 2010 @ 05:46:36

    This is my husband’s favorite classic movie. I looked for it on DVD for years. I had pretty much given up on finding it when one day, we went to our local Best Buys. We sometimes go just to browse. I walked over to the movies section, and what do I see in the new releases rack? You guessed it, I started to mumble omg omg omg like an idiot… hehe

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  7. Brian
    May 07, 2010 @ 06:49:05

    Wonderful movie.

    ReplyReply

  8. DS
    May 07, 2010 @ 07:06:15

    One of my favorites! Good choice. Of course when I first watched it what I loved was the fight scenes. The romance was the yucky stuff.

    ReplyReply

  9. becca
    May 07, 2010 @ 07:12:34

    I think this film is the source for one of my favorite exchanges:

    “Sir, you speak treason!”

    “Fluently.”

    ReplyReply

  10. BevBB
    May 07, 2010 @ 08:01:22

    There ain’t no way that anything Crowe does will ever come close to the classic, mainly because they aren’t even shooting in that direction. And, yeah, that was a pun. ;-)

    You know, as much as I love the Flynn version and rewatch is whenever possible, I also have a soft spot the 1991 TV Robin Hood starring Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman as Robin and Marian. There’s just something very appealing about the sense of reality given to the setting and situation in it – without getting bogged down in either. I can rewatch it almost as much if not more than the Flynn version and that’s saying something. It’s simply a fun movie.

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  11. Lynne Connolly
    May 07, 2010 @ 08:13:23

    You are so right. What a great film this is. There aren’t many films I can watch over and over again – Casablanca, The Godfather I and II, this one, but it’s perfection.
    And if you take the “period” look away, Errol Flynn must be one of the most handsome men that ever lived. Breathtaking. I love the first scene where he throws a deer over the banqueting table. So OTT you can’t but cheer for him.
    I used to be secretary of the Film Society at uni, and we had double bills once a week. I put this one on with Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie.” Made the arty types sit through Errol doing his thing.
    Oh my, and he did it well. Recommend his “autobiography”, “My Wicked, Wicked Ways.” Mostly lies but a great read. He forgets to mention his stint with the Abbey Theatre in Ireland and his tuberculosis. About as realistic as David Niven’s books but brilliant reads. How about a review of those?

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  12. Barb in MD
    May 07, 2010 @ 09:22:22

    @Becca (8)
    Awww, you beat me to it–one of the best bits of movie dialogue out there!
    I grew up watching this on the late show, in B&W. So it was a gob-smacking revelation the first time I saw it in color! I am convinced the studio commissioned all those OTT colorful costumes just to flaunt the new Technicolor process.
    This is still my all-time favorite version, though I will confess to avidly watching the Michael Praed tv series back in the day (sighs dreamily).

    ReplyReply

  13. Jayne
    May 07, 2010 @ 09:23:05

    @becca: Yes, you’re right. Robin Hood says that during the “deer over his shoulders” scene.

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  14. Courtney Sheets
    May 07, 2010 @ 09:24:53

    This is one of my all time favorite films. It started my love affair with all things Robin Hood that has last to this day. I even have written a book that is a twist of the Robin Hood tale that finaled in the Dorchester America’s Next Best Cellar Contest. Yeah, I’m obssesed.

    I am leary of Russell Crowe as Robin Hood for a couple of reasons but one glaring one is the fact he belittled all Robin Hood films up to this point. He did not show the rescept this film deserves.

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  15. Stephanie
    May 07, 2010 @ 09:46:49

    At the risk of dating myself, I remember watching this as a kid for the first time on an old black-and-white TV. But it needs color to do it justice. I’ve enjoyed other versions over the years, but it’s hard to beat this one for sheer swashbuckling fun. “Welcome to Sherwood!” indeed.

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  16. Jayne
    May 07, 2010 @ 09:51:57

    @BevBB: Honestly I don’t know that much about what they’re aiming for with the Crowe version. I was just checking at Netflix and already people who’ve seen advanced screenings of it are rating it as average. We’ll see once it goes into theaters.

    I don’t think I’ve ever sat through the whole Bergin/Thurman version. Was it a film or a series?

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  17. Jayne
    May 07, 2010 @ 09:56:05

    @Stephanie: The commentary tract I mentioned talks about how it was shown on TV in B&W for years. It wasn’t until the late 60s (I think) before the first color airing.

    @Barb in MD: I agree about the OTT costumes being designed to show off Technicolor. It must have been something “back in the day.”

    ReplyReply

  18. Michelle
    May 07, 2010 @ 09:58:52

    I really enjoyed the British series with Michael Praed as Robin Hood. It also had music by Clannad which rocked.

    ReplyReply

  19. Jayne
    May 07, 2010 @ 10:02:03

    @Lynne Connolly: Did you convert any of the arty types to being Flynn lovers? And God he was handsome at this stage in his career!

    I’ve only read the first Niven autobiography (where he talks about how he ended up in some gawdawful Army regimen) and it’s definitely entertaining. How many did he write in total?

    ReplyReply

  20. Jayne
    May 07, 2010 @ 10:24:10

    @Michelle: Oh, I remember this now. Wasn’t it two different versions of the legend of Robin Hood? One was with Praed and was more “down to earth” while the second half had Sean Connery’s son playing Robin as the aristocratic Locksley?

    ReplyReply

  21. hapax
    May 07, 2010 @ 11:08:36

    This is a great version, but in my heart, the One True Robin Hood is…

    …Daffy Duck.

    “Ho, ha ha, guard, turn, parry, dodge, spin, ha, thrust!”

    ReplyReply

  22. Kate Pearce
    May 07, 2010 @ 11:21:21

    I love Errol Flynn and I always loved this film. It is my favorite Robin Hood film. I based my upcoming Tudor hero in Kiss of the Rose, on Flynn at his swashbuckling best.
    In the more recent version, I just couldn’t get over Kevin Costner’s American accent LOL

    btw-there are 2 David Niven autobiographies.

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  23. Karenmc
    May 07, 2010 @ 11:30:15

    @hapax: The Flynn/deHaviland version is number one for me, but there’s nothing better than saying “Yoicks, and away!” every once in a while (and then trying to avoid slamming into anything).

    As for the upcoming Russell Crowe version, Cate Blanchett is my favorite actress, but they both seem wrong to play those characters.

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  24. BevBB
    May 07, 2010 @ 11:32:19

    @Jayne: I don't think I've ever sat through the whole Bergin/Thurman version. Was it a film or a series?

    Definitely a film. The interesting thing is that I believe it came out on TV just before the Costner one was released in the theatres and a lot of people think it was better all around. If nothing else it was a much simpler, straight-forward story, with competent actors and if I’m not mistaken used a local, meaning English, setting for the forest.

    I could be wrong about that last, but I seem to remember one of the reasons I was originally curious about it was that there was some talk about where it was filmed in England being so important to giving it so much of its authentic “feel” and it definitely has that. Of all the Hood stories I’ve ever seen, both movies and series, it’s one of the few that feels like it could’ve actually have happened that way, i.e. not a fairy tale or a myth. Simply a man confronted with a situation that he had to deal with. And so he does.

    Check out the reviews at IMDb entry I linked to. They tell their own story. Sure there are some negative ones, but the interesting thing is what people have to say about the contrast between a theatrical movie and a TV one that came out at the same time with a much less expensive budget.

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  25. Castiron
    May 07, 2010 @ 11:32:24

    This version sounds like amazing fun.

    My one true Robin Hood, however, is always going to be Cary Elwes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. “Because, unlike other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.”

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  26. LL
    May 07, 2010 @ 12:01:41

    Excellent movie. I’ve got it recorded on DVR along with other classics.

    I am looking forward to the new Russell Crowe film when it comes out.

    Don’t forget “Men in Tights”. It’s good to be the king.

    ReplyReply

  27. Estara
    May 07, 2010 @ 12:59:02

    @Barb in MD: Oh yeeeeeeees, and that music by Clannad. Perfect – and the connection to Herne the Hunter, made my fantasy fan heart go zing. But I agree that this is my favourite Robin Hood adaptation.

    Jayne, we need a review of The Court Jester with Danny Kaye, Angela Lansbury and Basil Rathbone, too!

    ReplyReply

  28. Christine M.
    May 07, 2010 @ 13:15:28

    @hapax and @castiron: Can I bear your children? Pretty please?

    (OT) @castiron: In the version dubbed in Quebec this quote is turned into something along the lines of “At least *I* am not scared/ashamed of wearing thighs,” which makes me snort every time. (/OT)

    ReplyReply

  29. Jayne
    May 07, 2010 @ 14:35:41

    @Kate Pearce: Thanks Kate. I knew there were at least 2 Niven books but wasn’t sure if there were more.

    ReplyReply

  30. Courtney Sheets
    May 07, 2010 @ 17:20:03

    Lest us not forget the new BBC verison of Robin Hood, which gave us at least one new addition to the legend…Richard Armitage in leather and guyliner. Le sigh.

    ReplyReply

  31. Susan/DC
    May 07, 2010 @ 17:35:07

    Errol Flynn is the ur-Robin Hood who set the standard and defined the role for all who followed. That said, I have liked some of the subsequent versions, including Richard Greene (an old TV show), Michael Praed (who was eerily beautiful to the point of almost seeming unreal, although that actually fit into the mystical feel of the show), and the more recent BBC series (although not for Robin but for Richard Armitage as Guy de Guisborne). Also “Robin and Marian”, with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. Definitely not the romantic tale shown in the earlier versions, but I nonetheless required many tissues at the end.

    And if you’re looking for an interesting version of Robin Hood in a book, search for Gayle Feyrer’s “The Thief’s Mistress” online. It’s OOP but it’s an incredible take on the Robin/Marian/Guy story.

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  32. Angelia Sparrow
    May 07, 2010 @ 17:47:10

    Naomi and I are huge Flynn fans, have been for ages. I used to watch Looney Tunes, hoping for Rabbit Hood and that 5 seconds of Flynn at the end.

    This movie is amazing. It is gorgeous, splashy, well-written, awesome stuntwork (they actually SHOT the guards), well acted and a joy to watch. I adore Una O’Connor to no end.

    I think it’s the best of the Robin Hood movies. Men in Tights ranks a close second, because Elwes is a note-for-note perfect Flynn impression, down to the manic grin while fighting. Naomi and I did a binge while researching our Robin Hood novel. It included multiple viewings of this, of the Disney, of Robin and Marion. Costner put me to sleep. We read Pyle, listened to the Childe Ballads and spent too many hours on the Bold Outlaw site.

    And of them all, this is still our favorite.

    Oh, and I totally second “My Wicked Wicked Ways.” May I also suggest Flynn’s two novels, Beam Ends and Showdown (both written before the bottle got hold of him)?

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  33. Michelle
    May 07, 2010 @ 18:55:49

    Michael Praed was wonderful as Robin Hood, and he really had great chemistry with the actress who played Marian. Didn’t care much for Sean Connery’s son. For Mercedes Lackey fans Vanyel was supposed to look like Michael Praed.

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  34. Jayne
    May 08, 2010 @ 05:54:04

    @Susan/DC:

    And if you're looking for an interesting version of Robin Hood in a book, search for Gayle Feyrer's “The Thief's Mistress” online. It's OOP but it's an incredible take on the Robin/Marian/Guy story.

    I’ve heard about this book from so many people who speak highly of it. Whenever I’m in a UBS, I do look for it but should probably bite the bullet and get a copy from an online UBS.

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  35. Jayne
    May 08, 2010 @ 05:55:46

    @Michelle: It’s been years since I saw the Praed version on TV but I do remember the chemistry he had with the Marian actress.

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  36. Jayne
    May 08, 2010 @ 05:58:58

    @Angelia Sparrow: It’s been years since I watched the Disney version! Did you discover anything different from it to add to your book?

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  37. Jayne
    May 08, 2010 @ 06:02:27

    Alright, everyone who mentioned Richard Armitage – he could seduce me to the dark side in a heartbeat. Grrrr.

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  38. Karen
    May 08, 2010 @ 07:09:39

    Oh Errol Flynn’s version is definitely the standard by which all other Robin Hood’s are measured. My next two favorites, tho, are tied. And comedic–Men in Tights and the Disney animated one.

    There’s an hysterical youtube remix with the Men in Tights song set to clips from the Disney movie.

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  39. Estara
    May 08, 2010 @ 07:13:22

    @Michelle: So that’s why that cover was so familiar… that works for me!

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  40. Angelia Sparrow
    May 08, 2010 @ 11:22:22

    @Jayne I adore the Disney Robin Hood. It started me on the whole journey back during theatrical release.

    Our use of the waterfall is straight out of that movie.

    Our Bess/Little John romance is very much a Disney product (in the ’38, she’s paired with Mudge), right down to her calling him “Johnny.” Our Bess is Una O’Connor by way of Lady Cluck, as performed by John Glover.

    Several of Will Scarlet’s lines are borrowed from the Disney script.
    “Hard to laugh hanging, my merry master,” is a direct take on “Hard to laugh hanging there, Rob.”

    The song we have Will Scarlet sing on the way to the gallows is an oblique reference to “Phoney King of England” and it can be sung to “Pop Goes the Weasel,” a la Prince of Thieves.

    And for the Firefly fans, a vid my husband made to “Ooo Da Lolly:”

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  41. Claire
    May 09, 2010 @ 08:48:44

    I’m looking forward to the Russell Crowe version. The Kevin Costner one would have been good with a different Robin Hood. He was the only one without an English accent.
    Richard Armitage as Guy is very sexy in the BBC series.

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  42. batgrl
    May 10, 2010 @ 02:00:49

    I remember watching this movie on tv as a kid (which is why Flynn is always my Robin Hood Standard) – and then (in the days before you could buy a movie) watching constantly to see if it’d be rerun on TBS or AMC. SO nice to now be able to own the old stuff to watch any time!

    Anyhow this film pop’d up in a film class I had in college (you can imagine how psyched I was) about films with fictional settings that spoke towards the Second world war effort. If you watch the rallying speeches Robin makes and think of Prince John as a Hitler stand in (which is hard as he doesn’t seem that evil, just weak/spoilt) – and realize that the audience of 1938 was REALLY close to that reference – well, it makes it an even more significant movie.

    Now I have to go find out if there’s a way to rent that Michael Praed version – I used to love that one!

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  43. Jayne
    May 10, 2010 @ 06:07:14

    @batgrl: I’m smacking my forehead that I never thought of the movie in terms of the late 30s timeframe and the looming war. It makes perfect sense.

    It looks like there is a DVD of the Praed version but for a hefty price.

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  44. Kate Pearce
    May 11, 2010 @ 14:15:06

    Jayne, the second Niven autobiography is called “Bring on the Empty Horses” It is hysterical, I wore my copy out.

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  45. Jayne
    May 12, 2010 @ 06:14:13

    @Kate Pearce: Oh from the Michael Curtiz quote! I thought the first book was hilarious so I’m not surprised the second one is too. I’ll have to look for it.

    ReplyReply

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