When that terrible Robin Hood movie starring Ray Charles and Elton John was released a couple of months back decided I would never watch it.
Instead, I would check out 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, which somehow I had never got around to seeing.
Made for $2,000,000 ($35,000,000 adjusted for inflation) and shot in Technicolor this was the most expensive movie produced by Warner Bros. up to this point and it shows. Outdoor location shooting, huge castle sets for both interiors and exteriors and fantastic costumes, every bit of that $2,000,000 is on the screen.
The cast is also top-notch: Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Olivia de Haviland, Claude Rains lead the cast, but everyone plays their respective roles as well as could be done and the characters are all distinctive and memorable.
One of the other things I liked in this movie was that it goes into how England was really two different groups of people: the Saxons who were the common people and the Normans who were the ruling class going back over a century to the victory of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.
The Saxons respect King Richard Plantagenet despite his Norman lineage because he is fair, but the rest of the Norman rulers are not. When Richard is captured in Germany on a return trip from the Crusades his brother Price John assumes control of England and taxes the Saxon commoners allegedly to pay the ransom, but in reality to fatten his coffers.
Sir Robin and a ragtag group of Saxons team up to stop them and steal money from the Normans to pay Richard’s ransom.
One other thing I would point out is that it doesn’t shy away from Christianity, in fact, it embraces these ideals, which have been prevalent in both the period of the story as well as when the movie was produced.
The genuineness of it stood out to me and illustrated to me just how cynical current attitudes about faith and religion had become.
The biggest problem to movie faces is the first 30 minutes are pretty disjointed. There are several title cards throughout that explain what’s happening instead of just showing you. This isn’t just because it is an old movie either. Other classics produced around this time like Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz don’t suffer from this flaw.
The absolute best thing about this movie is the action sequences, which are completely different than what modern audiences are used to. These aren’t over choreographed at all, in fact, I would actually be surprised if some of them had any choreography at all.
They mostly look like the director said: “Jump out these trees and attack the Normans on horseback” and “Normans and Saxons have a big battle in this courtyard” and they just filmed it as they are pretty much master shots with a few close-ups tossed in.
Also, the movie has only 3 or 4 shots that used stuntmen, the rest of the action is all done by the actual actors cast.
The best fight scene is a sword fight between Rathbone’s Sir Guy and Flynn’s Robin.
Again this isn’t overly choreographed like a sword fight in the Pirates of the Carribean and feels like the two actors had a real sword fight (both took fencing lessons from legendary instructor Fred Cavens) with some props worked into the sequence.
Overall, I would recommend this classic take on the legend of Robin Hood, despite its few shortcomings in the early part of the movie.