Movie Review

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Review


I’m not sure if the term swashbuckler only applies to films upon the high seas. The only time I’ve heard it used is in reference to pirates, and other bold tales of maritime adventure. As I always say, to every rule there’s an exception and to every exception there’s a rule. Whichever one of those this falls into, I’ve found a true swashbuckling film. Instead of ships and seas we have castles and forests. Sherwood Forest to be exact. Our hero isn’t a pirate, but an outlaw nonetheless. The Adventures of Robin Hood is worthy to hold high the swashbuckling sword. Perhaps the greatest actor to swash a buckle plays the title role in his most beloved and, dare I say, classic performance. Why shouldn’t I? This film is a true classic, and so is Errol Flynn as Robin Hood.

There’s so much to write about, I don’t know where to begin. Since it’s a Robin Hood film, I suppose I should compare how close it is to the original ballads. In the title credits, we read this film is “based upon ancient Robin Hood legends.” Based upon is a good phrase to use. I like it, and it’s true. Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller didn’t try to concoct some new, convoluted story. They didn’t bastardize the original legend or characters. This film holds the spirit of those medieval “Robin Hood ballads.” While they did make a slight change with a character or two with a new title or added importance, nothing takes away or interferes with the story. It’s easy to follow. There’s even a few laughs. This creates a film that’s easy to watch, and an enjoyable experience.

As we move on to the cast, there’s a few big names of the era to mention. To begin with, Errol Flynn. He was in his late 20’s at the time, and in the prime of his career. He had the look, charisma, and athletic ability to make a memorable Robin Hood. There’s something else he had that gives him an edge. The Tasmanian born Flynn had an English accent which is important. Oliva de Havilland stars as Maid Marian, the leading lady love interest. She would play that role opposite Flynn in several films. She’s also the only person in The Adventures of Robin Hood still with us. She’ll turn 100 on the first of July, 2016. We get a strong double dose of villainy with Claude Rains as Prince John and Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne. They aren’t without evil henchmen in the form of the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham and a bishop. The Sheriff, Melville Cooper, is the main source of comedy relief. While many of the main merry men had credits galore to their name, the one most people would know is Little John. If he looks familiar, there’s a good reason. The actor is Alan Hale, and if the name sounds familiar also, it should. He’s the father of “The Skipper” of Gilligan’s Island fame. Hale played Little John once before in the 1922 silent feature Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks. Hale and Flynn appeared in a few films together and became good friends and drinking buddies.

Is this “THE” Robin Hood film? The one that stays true to the original “Robin Hood ballads” and preserves the spirit of the legend? Is Errol Flynn’s performance the best Robin Hood on film, the one against all other Robin Hoods measure themselves? The answer to all these questions is a loud, resounding yes. A thousand times over yes. It’s such a fun film, and a true classic from Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” Co-director Michael Curtiz is very much hit and miss in my eyes. This film is a grand slam. If you’re looking for a film companion to Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, you can stop looking. This doesn’t split the arrow, but it’s as close to the center as any Robin Hood film comes. Did I mention how great Errol Flynn is as the perfect Robin Hood?

Copyright © Drew Martin 2016


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