Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) **

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Prior to 1938 Warner Brothers Studios didn’t make big-budget films. They were known for their low-budget gangster films and weepies.  All of this changed when they gave The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) a $2 million budget and made the big leap to Technicolor.  Luckily, they made $4 million at the box office; unfortunately, I found their use of Technicolor to be an assault on good taste.

Carl Jules Weyl won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction for his castle and forest creations, and a well-designed archery contest. Who am I to argue with the Academy? Perhaps they have higher sensory perception than me, because it was especially difficult for me to enjoy Weyl’s set designs when I was optically defiledprotectedimage by Milo Anderson’s costume designs.  There, I said it—the costumes are beyond horrible.  I expect that someone at Warner Bros. told Anderson that they were spending a helluva lot of money on Technicolor and that he’d better make one damn colorful film.  This is the only legitimate reason I will accept as to why he chose to dress grown, virile men in bright greens, reds, and yellows.  There are many reasons the historical period this story takes place in is called the Dark Ages! 

The Robin Hood story is well known.  While King Richard the Lionheart (Ian Hunter) is off fighting the ‘infidels’ in the Crusades his debased younger brother Prince John (Claude Rains) engages in such nefarious acts as over-taxation and murder.  John favors the rh503Normans and persecutes the Saxons (no history lesson will be provided as to why).  Along with his henchmen, the Sherriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) and Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone), the Prince plans to usurp the throne and decimate all those who stand in his way—notably Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) and his band of merrymen, who are ensconced in Sherwood Forest.  As a result, arrows fly and swords clash, and the fate of England rests in the hands of men wearing tights and extremely bright colors.

It is the fight scenes that set this film apart. Relying on an enormous cast of extras, directors Michael Curtiz and William Keighley do an excellent job of staging their action sequences.  The story moves at a whirlwind pace, which is expertly managed by Ralph Dawson’s Academy Award winning editing.  Who doesn’t RobinHood-00081like watching Flynn shooting arrows at his enemies while riding on horseback or trying to avoid capture inside Nottingham Castle?  Of course, with any film where Flynn and Rathbone are sworn enemies there must be a swordfight—and this does not disappoint.  The most spectacular shot in the entire movie takes place when they finally cross swords along the stairways of Nottingham Castle. Interestingly enough, what makes the shot so great is that it is done in shadow (with neither men colorfully displayed for all to see)—just black shadowed images! 

Oh, and there’s a love story!  The King’s ward, Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), comes off haughty in the beginning, but Robin Hood in his gleaming green glory eventually turns her head (HOW couldn’t she notice him?).  Thankfully, de Havilland doesn’t look nearly as bad as her male counterparts in Technicolor. Still, there was a point when I began wondering if images (1)we’d ever see her without a veil.  Fortunately, we do eventually get to see that she has hair!  Her wardrobe, however, leaves one to wonder if tapestry was for more than walls in the 12th Century?  Her scenes are wonderfully complemented anytime Una O’Connor makes an appearance as her nurse Bess. For my money, O’Connor is one of the best things about the entire movie. 

Overall, I was not overly impressed with The Adventures of Robin Hood. It was a passable adventure story, with some nicely staged action sequences.  The story itself was not especially compelling; and, the acting could not be classified as nuanced (which is a shame because there were some pretty good performers in it).  And, the garish use of color to extol the virtues of Technicolor was jarring to every optic nerve I have.

20 comments:

  1. Dear Ms. Wilson,
    I disagree with everything in your piece, but defend to the death your right to say it.
    Sincerely,
    Errol Flynn
    (channeled by ClassicBecky)

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    1. LOL! Thanks for stopping by Mr. Flynn.

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  2. My initial attitude to this rendering of Robin Hood was much like your. Gawdy colors, men laughing their heads off and a storyline so one-dimensional that my sons booklets look like high litterature by comparison. Until it struck me that that is exactly the point. This IS a cartoon, a picture book made into a film. You have to imagine yourself an 11 year old child, then this is absolutely perfect. There is not far from her to Superman or Pinocchio except that I would prefere Errol Flynn any day to other socalled superheroes.

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    1. I can see the comic book angle, but I can't believe that Michael Curtiz did. LOL! It's a fun film, but it isn't what I would classify as a good one, either.

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  3. Ouch - I guess you didn't like it too much. I agree that it is a comic book rendering but think that, as such, is great fun. But, as much fun as it is, I prefer Fairbanks, Sr. Both versions are just a boy's fantasy, but they are great fun. And Kim, if I were you, I would watch out for Becky if you ever find yourself in Sherwood Forrest!

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    1. FC: it was perfectly fine, fun film, but the colors exhausted me. As for Becky, I'm sure she'll eventually get over my dissing her man's tight escapade.

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  4. I can't disagree with anything you're saying here, but I do enjoy the hell out of this movie. It's a boy's-own adventure and silly fun, and I like it on those grounds.

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    1. I like the action sequences because they are fun. Still, I don't know that this necessarily belonged in "The Book".

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  5. I've never seen this. It's been in my DVR for months, but I just haven't made the time to watch it yet. I'm with you, though, on colorization. I far prefer black and white films!!

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    1. I don't rate one better than the other, but Technicolor, for me, has some issues when used the way it was in this and other films.

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  6. Gotta agree with Becky on this one, Kim, though it's always fascinating to read negative comments on favorite films. But I think Flynn's Robin Hood is pretty much a perfect film, and I wouldn't change a frame of it.

    I knew a lawyer, about 50+ years old, who could never get into this movie because of the feather on top of Errol's hat. He couldn't get past that, and I suspect he would agree with your review.

    But for me, "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is a telling of a legend, one of the most famous of all time. Watching it, I can see why the legend has been so popular over the centuries. I totally get it.

    I don't necessarily want historical accuracy in it, I want to see why this story has endured for so long. So that means brave heroes, a beautiful leading lady, dastardly villains, excitement, romance, beautiful photography and a sumptuous musical score to wrap it all us. "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is what movies are all about.

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    1. You and Becky are a match made in Sherwood Forest, Kevin!
      As for the lawyer, I could see the issue with the feather. LOL!

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  7. I don't know if I enjoyed the story line that much or the hat with the feather sticking out like an antenna, but... I loved all the action scenes. Especially, the duel to the death shadows on the wall. You can not beat a good sword fight..

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    1. You and I agree on this one then, Dawn. There, Becky!

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  8. Kim, I'm late to commenting on this review! Let me start by saying that ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is virtually tied with VERTIGO as my all-time favorite film. I think the color is spectacular and only enhances--never distracts. Indeed, I'd rank among it the best Technicolor films, right there with THE WIZARD OF OZ and GWTW. (BLACK NARCISSUS is in a class all by itself). I also rank the ensemble cast among the best ever assembled. FYI, there's a continuity error in the famous swordfight. Sir Guy's sword is knocked out of his hand and is flung to the bottom of the steps. Robin jumps off the stairs and, suddenly, the sword appears in front of his feet so he can kick it to Sir Guy.

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    1. Rick, we can't all be alike. The color does nothing for me, and it makes the costumes outrageous. Great cast, but for me they are lacking based on the material they are playing. Just wait until I review Vertigo--you might have a stroke.

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  9. Truthfully, I've always felt this film was a bit of a cheese fest, but there are enough things to enjoy about it. I have forgiven both Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains for agreeing to be in it.

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    1. Rick and Becky are gonna be after you! It is a cheese fest!

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