Errol Flynn was a lot of things in a legendary career early in Hollywood's history. He was a swashbuckler, a boxer, a gunfighter, a rabble-rouser in his personal life, someone who lived life to the fullest. But what is that one role, that one part that is instantly recognized as his best? Well, that one's easy, 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood.
It's 1191 A.D. and the English king, Richard the Lionheart, has been captured by the enemy while returning from the Crusades. In steps his greedy, manipulative brother, Prince John (Claude Rains), who takes over the crown and instantly starts to take advantage of his power. In a growing battle between the Normans and the Saxons, the put-upon people need help, someone to fight back. That man? A Saxon nobleman, Robin Hood (Flynn), who takes to Sherwood Forest with a gang of bandits to be a constant thorn in the side of Prince John and his enforcer, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone). They're not any bandits though. They aren't in for personal gain. Robin and his men become heroes as they give their spoils to the people from the money to the food they take. What's their end goal though? Can they somehow take down Prince John?
So everyone has heard of Robin Hood right? His historical reality has long been debated because...well, people just aren't sure he existed. So real or not, the character has become an instantly recognizable individual in literature and storytelling. From directors Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, 'Adventures' was a profoundly important film in Hollywood history. It's the big, splashy, colorful adventure film that helped set the stage for action and adventure films for years to come. The action-packed story with romance and intrigue and all sorts of craziness picked up four Oscar nominations, winning three, and is a perennial entry on all sorts of 'Best' lists, including several AFI lists. Can't go wrong, right?
Start with Errol Flynn. He's one of my favorite movie stars ever, the type of star/actor I'll check out a movie solely because he's in it. There aren't a lot of those stars around then or now. But in a career of memorable parts, this is THE part. He was meant to play Robin Hood. Flynn brings the perfect energy to this folklore character. That infectious smile, that loving-life laugh, that physicality as he swings across the scene (quite literally), fights his way through one sword fight after another, and unleashes arrow after arrow at his pursuers. You can't help but like the character, Flynn bringing him to life and influencing every other Robin Hood portrayal to follow for years whether it be on film, on television and even literature. That Errol Flynn guy. He knew what he was doing.
'Adventures' boasts a solid all-around cast in support of Flynn. The villains are perfectly dastardly, doing all sorts of malicious evil. Rains is the smooth, suave Prince John (slightly effeminate) while Rathbone gets to play the far more sinister Sir Guy, progressively becoming more obsessed with capturing and hanging Robin. Frequent Flynn co-star Olivia De Havilland (they would work together in 8 films) is memorable as Maid Marian, promised to Sir Guy while falling for Robin when she's taken prisoner. Their chemistry is evident throughout just like it was in all their pairings together. As for Robin's Merry men, look for Patrick Knowles as Will Scarlett, Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck, Alan Hale as Little John, and Herbert Mundin as Much, a mousey squirrel. There's also Melville Cooper as the semi-bumbling but amusing Sheriff of Nottingham and Ian Hunter as King Richard.
Here's my spot here. I appreciate what this movie meant in terms of Hollywood and historical significance, but I didn't love the movie. I liked it a lot, but a slower last 45 minutes left me disappointed. Still....it's a really good movie. It's that perfect popcorn escapism, great good guys and black and white bad guys. The color scheme is a gem, one of the first Hollywood films to really embrace shooting in color. Robin and his Merry men in their Lincoln green uniforms, Prince John and Sir Guy in their bright red, the colors are rich and vivid throughout. As well, the Oscar-winning score from composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold is a gem, several instantly recognizable themes keeping the action flowing throughout (listen HERE). The action is fun and full of some great stunts, several large-scale battles and scuffles dotting the story. An easy movie to recommend.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938): ***/****