Saturday, June 29, 2019
Adventure Watch: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Format: TCM on DVR
Viewing: 4th or 5th
Flat out, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is one of the most influential and best adventure films ever made.
Everything that came before it led up to it, and everything after stands in its shadow. If you think superhero movies pitting quippy rogues in brightly colored outfits standing up against despotic thugs grasping for power is a new thing, my friend, have I got a movie for you.
Even by modern standards the film is a marvel - maybe especially so. There's no wires, no wire removal, no CGI versions of Errol Flynn leaping onto a horse with his hands tied behind his back. That's just dudes in tights doing some crazy stunts for your entertainment. And it's far from just Flynn - it's an army of actors and performers jumping out of trees, swinging on ropes, and buckling swashes. The pacing is rapid, especially for 1938, and sets the standard for today's adventure movies, but the dialog is 95% better than most films of its type - intentionally cheesy in many parts, lots of "look, we're pretending to be Ye Olde British People", but - at its heart - the movie will always resonate, as will the story of Robin Hood, of standing up for a nation and all people over the avarice and cruelty of those who would crush others to live with more than they can ever use.
As you can guess, the silent era figured out that you could get in audiences with wild stunts - actions speaking louder than title cards, after all. Douglas Fairbanks was one the great stars of the era, his Zorro and other characters bouncing all over the screen, jumping off and on horses, swinging from anything that could bear their weight. It's a hell of a thing to watch, and still absolutely thrilling. 1938 is only a decade into the sound era, and here you can see that the language of sound film has found its form. Add in the fact this is in technicolor, popping off the screen, and that Flynn is the definition of "handsome fellow", and it's a movie that takes advantage of everything it's got.
One of those things is Olivia deHaviland, who plays the role of the Maid Marian. This Marian isn't already charmed by the rogue-ish Robin, but is won over by realizing his true loyalty to England, the same which he's inspired in his men, and how he is true to his mission. He's not just robbing to gather a ransom to free his King, he's also caring for the injured and battered who can't fight alongside him. She has her moments of action within the confines of the story and era, and while she'll be given a side-eye perhaps by modern audiences, man, for the time, it's a cheeky role.
We also get Claude Rains as Prince John (just perfectly foppish), Basil Rathbone as utter dirtbag Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and the always wonderful Una O'Connor as Bess - Maid Marian's lady in waiting. And, of course, dozens more.
If you've never seen the movie, I can't recommend it enough. It'll genuinely make you wonder why, between this and the Disney version, the past thirty years we've been handed somber, depressing versions of the story. Part of the joy of the movie is Robin Hood's joy and good humor in the face of danger. He's not an anti-hero out for vengeance, he's a hero in search of justice. And Maid Marian.
So get ready for sword battles, archery, skullduggery and men in tights leaping from trees.
I give it five thumbs up.