The Adventures of Robin Hood
directed by Michael Curtiz & William Keighley
(Warner Bros., 1938)

There are versions a'plenty of the Robin Hood story on film. My personal favorite is the 1991 version starring Patrick Bergin in the archer's role. But every now and again, I'm lured back into days of old, when men were truly merry and wore their tights with pride, and jolly Robin was played with wit and panache by the dashing Errol Flynn.

The film, made in 1938, doesn't stand up to time in all ways. The laughter (and there's a lot of it) is overly forced. Some of the costumes are ridiculous. The soundtrack (which won an Academy Award) is frequently jarring by today's standards. There is no thought of anyone affecting an English accent (Kevin Costner would be pleased). Robin's quiver seems to refill itself no matter how many arrows he shoots. And the battle choreography rarely looks real.

But there's much to love about this old classic. There's a sly sense of fun which runs through the story without fail. Even in moments of royal intrigue, tragedy and violence, there's a hint of glee bubbling just under the surface ... and it is never absent for long.

It's the cream of 1930s cinema who bring this lush, colorful pageant to life. The puckish Flynn is determined and heroic, with a gleam in his eye at every turn. He's matched by the beautiful Olivia de Havilland as Marian, glamorous and disdainful until she warms to Robin's cause.

Matching wits with Robin are the haughty Guy of Gisbourne (a polished Basil Rathbone), the bumbling Sheriff of Nottingham (an oafish Melville Cooper) and the smooth and oily Prince John (Claude Rains). And joining Robin's cause are the laughing Will Scarlet (Patric Knowles), the rotund Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), the slow-witted but valiant Much (Herbert Mundin) and the mighty Little John (Alan Hale, father of the Skipper from Gillgan's Island). And Ian Hunter is regal (if historically way off the mark) as the wayward King Richard.

While the fight direction pales in comparison to more recent epics, the final conflict in this movie is still a well-made battle and duel, with some excellent use of shadows in the filming.

Yes, in some ways The Adventures of Robin Hood has suffered under the test of time. But it still, after all of these years, has the ability to enchant and excite the viewer. So if you're looking only for big special effects and modern cinematography, look for a newer version on the shelves. But if you think you might enjoy a peek back into Hollywood's exuberant past, check this out as a shining example of pre-World War II film-making at its finest.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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