Back when I was in high school, when the Kevin Costner movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves came out, I believe it was TNT that counter-programmed by showing the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood that opening weekend. In conjunction, they held a telephone call-in poll for which the audience liked better, and, holy @#$% did the 1938 version win by a landslide.
And, even when you're at that age when you're like "oh, new movies are inherently better", I was pretty darn aware that this movie was way, way better than the Costner version. I certainly didn't think the 90's version was bad, if you ignored the cheesy Bryan Adams theme and Costner's accent, but The Adventures of Robin Hood felt like the mother of all fun action movies.
If you've never seen it, there's just such a raw joy to this movie that's hard to convey. Maybe it's the bold exploitation of the possibilities of Technicolor, but it's a movie with heroes who make each other laugh, who laugh at danger, laugh as they enter in sword fights, laugh as they take ne'er-do-well knights hostage, etc... And all with terrific stunts, sword play, archery tricks, big scale battle-scenes and grown men in tights climbing trees. It may not have the "move so fast the audience won't have time to keep up" pacing to it you might get in a modern actioner, but it moves along at a brisk clip. And, of course, the dialog is amazing.
Lady Marian Fitzswalter: Why, you speak treason!
Robin Hood: Fluently.
The impact of the movie is absolutely undeniable, especially if you want to get an idea where all those capes and tights came from in the superhero boom of 1939 and 1940. Errol Flynn is the embodiment of the cool, dry witted action hero with a charming recklessness that I think modern action films could learn from, and from which movies of an earlier era borrowed before every action hero had to become Bronson or Eastwood.
It's also a movie that drives home the point of Robin Hood. He could have safely remained a rich noble and let the injustice around him occur, but he took action when the people around him were threatened, both Saxon and Norman, and bore no ill will toward the Normans in particular, just injustice. What looks like factional fighting is, in fact, a power grab and one that will lead to the ruin of all the common people, and it's a point well taken. There's always a Prince John who benefits.
I have a certain level of unabashed affection for this movie, so it was fun to get to watch it again. Recommended.