The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

“I’ll organize revolt, exact a death for a death, and I’ll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand up free men and strike a blow for Richard and England.”

‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’, directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley in 1938, is an American historical drama starring Errol Flynn as the legendary vigilante with Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains as his Norman adversaries Guy of Gisbourne and King John. It’s a lavish, colourful production with extravagant sets, heightened performances and lush locations that follows the original stories with a completest, if pedestrian, approach. I enjoyed the inventive fight scenes throughout the film, particularly climactic one between Flynn and Rathbone during which the director increases the sense of mythology and drama by using unusual shots. From these, you can see both the adaptation of similar scenes from the silent action movies of Douglas Fairbanks (who played Robin Hood in a 1922 movie), but also echoes of these moments in more recent films such as the Star Wars films and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. For all this, I found the use of Californian locations to be unsettling and alien, almost as confusing as the mash-up of British locations in Kevin Costner’s 1991 version. The twisting of history and the collision of details from Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe’ only work for me when the film is grounded in a location that is believable, and the use of Bidwell Park in Chico, California, was one step too far. I accept that this may be an atypical reaction to the film, and that a great deal of pleasure can be gained from the sunny, mythic seeming locations and the Hollywood-designed castles, but I found it one step too far into unreality, particularly coming from a time when Europe was burning. Setting this aside, the film made great use of colour and you can see where the vast amounts of money was spent.

Would I recommend it? Yes, but I’d suggest a double bill with a film that balances the alienating myth of Hollywood medievalism. Maybe something like Tarkovsky’s ‘Andrei Rublev’ if you’re feeling brave. Alternatively, go for Laurence Olivier’s 1944 adaptation of ‘Henry V’, a film that has the same lavish and colourful appearance, but tackles the war head on.

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