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Saturday, October 01, 2016

The Adventures of Robin Hood

The next centenarian I'll be looking at is Olivia de Havilland, who actually hit the century mark, alive and well, last July. I have written about many of her films already. She is best known for her role as Melanie in Gone With the Wind. Her film debut was in A Midsummer-Night's Dream, and she made a bunch of movies with Errol Flynn, including They Died With Their Boots On, The Charge of The Light Brigade, Captain Blood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and Dodge City. But I haven't gotten them all, leaving out their most famous pairing, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

One of the best adventure films ever made, The Adventures of Robin Hood basically established what we think of Robin Hood in our collective imaginations. Shot in Technicolor, and directed by jack-of-all-trades Michael Curtiz (who also directed Casablanca), along with William Keighley, it is a blast, full of fun, and though maintaining a serious underlying message--compassion for the poor--it makes one understand why Robin Hood's gang was called the Merry Men.

It is 1191. King Richard the Lion-Heart, returning from the Third Crusade, is captured by the King of Austria. Richard's chosen regent is ousted by his sniveling younger brother John (Claude Rains), who plots of usurping the crown, along with his right-hand man Sir Guy (Basil Rathbone) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper). Richard's ward, Maid Marian (de Havilland) is pushed toward marriage to Rathbone.

But the oppressed Saxons, who are being taxed mercilessly, have a champion in Sir Robin of Locksley, a nobleman who dressed in Lincoln green tights and is an expert archer. He gathers a band of outlaws and disrupts the Norman leadership at every turn. He is daring--he walks right into a banquet held by John and manages to escape, and has a hearty laugh.

This is Flynn's signature role--if anyone has heard of him (I'm sorry to think that there are many young people who haven't) this is the role they know him for. There have been many Robin Hood films, before and after, but this is the one that sticks (before this Douglas Fairbanks' silent film from 1922 was the one). Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe have played the role somewhat recently, in revisionist versions that tried to be more historical, but ended up being far less joyous.

The Adventures of Robin Hood is full of great adventure. The climactic sword fight between Flynn and Rathbone, up and down a rail-less staircase, and then in silhouette, is one of the best ever filmed. There's a great fight between Flynn and Alan Hale Sr. (as Little John) on the log, a classic scene, and Flynn's sword fight, in the water, with the frog-voiced Eugene Palette as Friar Tuck (it seems that to join the Merry Men, you first have to fight with Robin Hood).

De Havilland's Maid Marian is beautiful and innocent (she is a maid, after all) but can't help but fall for Flynn, especially after he shows her why he's doing what he's doing.

The Adventures of Robin Hood is true classic, capable of being seen multiple times. No lover of film can help but a little frisson of excitement when Flynn, swinging on a vine, lands on a tree branch, waves his hand, and says to Rathbone, "Welcome to Sherwood!"

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