Saturday, August 29, 2009
Movie Time: Rewind: The Adventures of Robin Hood
Sorry again for the interruption in regularly scheduled posting, but what can I say, work has beat me around this week. Anyway, enough of the complaints and back to action in general. Whenever I think about great movies of the past to highlight, I try to keep things new and fresh, which isn't always possible. Like any movie, regardless of the year, you like who you like and what you like, and many times it filters back to the same people. After two years of columns, it may be very easy to pick out great films you love, it IS a bit harder to pick out actors, directors, or even genres you haven't tackled before.
Luckily I watched the end of a great movie I watched some time back and it prompted me to this months pick, 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood. The film, distributed from Warner Bros. and directed by Michael Curtiz (known for his tight moving scripts and penchant ability for fast paced epic action) starred Errol Flynn in arguably the biggest film of his career. Flynn was only 29 at the time of this film, but had already starred in films like Mutiny on the Bounty and Captain Blood, swashbuckling epics of renown. It was Robin Hood though that cemented Flynn as Hollywood's leading heart throb and playboy.
Co-starring his long time screen partner the great Olivia de Havilland, The Adventures of Robin Hood is loosely based on the myths of Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood, robbing the rich and rewarding the poor, in the face of the crooked Prince John and courting the beautiful maid Marion. The film starts out with Robin returning from a hunt to find the wicked Prince John (the great Claude Rains) assuming power of the throne, as the rightful King is a prisoner of war from the Crusades. John, aided by Sir Guy of Gisborn (Basil Rathbone) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melvin Cooper) begin raising taxes and oppressing the people. Robin, loyal to the rightful King, speaks out against the Prince, who vows to stop Robin and chases him into the the surrounding forests of Sherwood. There Robin gathers support for his cause with the likes of Will Scarlett and Little John and the rest of his Merry Men, terrorizing the rich and helping the poor, all the while trying to court Maid Marion. He eludes John's plot to capture him at an archery contest where the prize is a golden arrow presented by Maid Marion. After evading capture, Robin tricks his way into the castle and confronts Guy and Prince John, defeating them and freeing Marion from her cell, intimately restoring King Richard to the crown and marrying his lady love.
The story is something everyone knows, and a big part of the reason for that is this movie. The basis for nearly every Robin Hood tale told since, from Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves, to Disney's animated Robin Hood. Warner Bros. version was the most expensive movie they had made up until that point in their film making history at nearly two million dollars at films end. Originally set to star Warner top draw, James Cagney (who walked out on his contract due to dis-satisfaction with the studio), it was shelved for three years until heavy pressure from the Haynes office concerning the exploitation and violence of Warner's gangster movies led them to dust it off and make the film, figuring that a historical epic couldn't get them in any trouble.
They had brought in director William Keighly first, due to his expertise in the use of Technicolor in films (in fact, all 12 Technicolor cameras in existence at the time where in use on this movie) but was replaced by Curtiz after producers felt his action scenes were not impactful enough. This was one of 12 films that Curtiz and Flynn would make together, despite the fact that neither man liked each other and tensions would also mount high on the set. It is also one of 8 films that Flynn would make with Olivia de Havilland. Considered one of the 30's best film couples, along with Astaire and Rogers, the two would make a string of financially successful films together.
Flynn himself, already a rising star at Warner Bros. exploded after this film, identifying him as a swashbuckling ladies man of action, a role he would play both on and off the screen. Flynn lived hard and played hard and was a notorious drinker, smoker and womanizer, even being brought to trial on now less than 3 rape charges, all of which where refuted. Flynn relished his role as playboy and bon vivante and lived life to the fullest extent. His dashing ways and mis-spent youth unfortunately also drove him to an early grave. A bout with malaria in his youth had weakened his heart, making him ineligible to serve in WW2, and combined with the drinking and smoking, as well as a nasty bout of food poisoning in early 1959, led to a heart attack and pre-mature death at the age of 50.
To return to the film though, it is shot in beautiful Technicolor and is really the gold standard of great swashbuckling films, sword fighting and dashing heroic leads. Some of it may seem cliche nowadays, but the fact that this film is the basis for those cliches that make it so timeless. What attracts me to the film is that it os really the essence of fun at the movies. A great popcorn film that provides adventure and excitement, and it stars one of Hollywood's most charismatic actors in his prime. If you haven't seen Warner Bros. 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, check it out, you are in for a real treat.
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