Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Welcome to another entry in the Oscar Film Journal, here at Enuffa.com....


Today's installment is the first color film I've reviewed for this series, the 1938 swashbuckler starring Errol Flynn in his most famous role, The Adventures of Robin Hood.  Produced by Warner Brothers for an at-the-time staggering $2 million as their first big Technicolor film, Robin Hood is the most influential of all the legend's adaptations.  From Looney Tunes to Disney to Mel Brooks, this film and its visual aesthetic has been imitated and parodied countless times over the decades, and it stands as a delightful, stirring romp of an adventure film.

Flynn was actually the studio's second choice to play the character for which he'd become a household name; the part was originally slated for James Cagney (almost impossible to imagine now), but Cagney inexplicably walked off the project.  Starring alongside Flynn were Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, who slowly devlops feelings for Robin Hood despite him being "the enemy," Basil Rathbone as the overbearing Guy of Gisbourne, and Claude Rains as the cowardly Prince John.
I'm sure you're familiar with the old legend - King Richard of England is off fighting in the Crusades (in this version he is captured by the king of Austria on his way home) and thus his weasely little brother John assumes control of the kingdom.  As a scam to build wealth for himself, John taxes the citizens mercilessly, keeping everyone far too poor and fearful to ever challenge his authority.  Enter Sir Robin of Locksley as the rogue hero waging guerrilla warfare against the interim king and his minions, stealing their wealth and resources and giving it to the peasants, and promising to help restore Richard to the throne.  

This film, co-directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, presents this well-worn story with lavish visuals, impossibly vibrant colors that pop off the screen, and a genuine sense of adventurous innocence.  Errol Flynn is jovial and gallant, leading his motley band of heroes in numerous stirring action set pieces - Robin's singlehanded attack during Prince John's banquet, his bo-staff duel with Prince John leading to their becoming best friends, the iconic archery tournament where an incognito Robin bests all the expert bowmen in the land, the Merry Men's rescue of a captured Robin, the climactic Robin-Guy swordfight - it's all handled with the perfect blend of splendor and vivacity.  Robin Hood was a smash hit upon its release, and garnered both critical acclaim and four Oscar nominations.  It fell short of Best Picture but took home Best Art Direction (its sets and costumes are breathtakingly opulent and lively), Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score (Erich Wolfgang Korngold's strains were apparently a huge influence on those of John Williams).  

If you want a pure, exhilarating old-school adventure film with vivid good and evil characters, rousing action sequences, and absolutely gorgeous Technicolor visuals, look no further than The Adventures of Robin Hood, a quaintly charming frolic.

I give the film ***1/2 out of ****.


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