The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938)
All too frequently news of a celebrity’s birthday is only seen when the attached story concerns the drug abuse, legal problems how such a talent was just a complete waste of a young life’s potential.Several days ago I read a birthday announcement that was the epitome of positive celebrity news, Olivia de Havilland just had her 101st birthday. Her career spanned the decades that encompassed the golden age of film with this incredible actor steadily working until the respectable age of 72. During the early portion of her career included several films that defined the swashbuckling genre often along the actor that defined the modern action hero, Errol Flynn. The first movie that came to mind when I read about Ms. de Havilland achieving such a milestone was the 1938 classic action/adventure movie, ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood.' As one of the popular group of beautiful, rising stars, she helped to set the standard for a role that would be reinterpreted many time, Maid Marian. In honor of this great American actress, I decided to re-watch that movie, providing the means for fresh consideration. This film is one that continues to draw me back throughout my life. Each time I reexperienced the action, drama, and romance included in this ageless story with my enthusiasm for cinema as a means of artistic expression. Despite all the exciting new releases I am anxious to review, it was a moral imperative take a moment to consider one piece of the crucial foundation of movies.
‘The Adventures of Robin Hood is a story carried through the centuries as of the most famous folktales in history. Like most enduring works of literature, the craftsmanship of the story permitted its appreciation on several, distinct layers. At the most fundamental it serves as a children’s story of a brave man that fought against the unfair treatment of commoners by the elite noble class. Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) eschewed the privileges of his rank to live with a cadre of men in Sherwood forest. From there they would attack the rich as they traveled through the land relieving them of their extraneous wealth and redistributing it to the poor. It was a Medieval form of ‘trickle down economics’ on it most basic and unencumbered means of deployment. This would open the pathway for a fundamental good versus evil play as the corrupt Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) enforces his draconian edicts upon the peasants living on his land. This abuse of rank was possible since the true king of England, Richard the Lionheart (Ian Hunter), had been taken hostage while on a crusade. That left Richard’s treacherous brother Prince John (Claude Rains), free to usurp the throne for himself. Noblemen that remained true to the King were bullied into submission leaving marriable young women such as Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Olivia DeHavilland), forced to legitimatize the ascension in the rank of unscrupulous men like Sir Guy.
Seamlessly interwoven in this story was a history lesson of the scandalous actions undertaken by underlings to the kingdom often pursued while the true heir to the throne was off fighting or held hostage by the crooked people lower in the line of rightful succession. It wasn’t necessary to understand the particulars of the historical elements underlying the principle plot points. The movie is eminently enjoyable on face value as a swashbuckling thrill ride of daring feats, exploits found in actions defending truth and justice and brave men and women who would rather die ibn the pursuit of freedom than exist in the mire of unjust servitude or death. There is a historically relevant foundation here that enhances the enjoyment of the movie. Subsequent viewings allow a deeper understanding of certain aspects of history that give greater depth and meaning to a movie that fundamentally is enjoyable for the entire family. A child whose rapt attention is secured firmly by the colorful pageantry and action that occupies nearly every moment of the movie to the socioeconomic and political factors that drove the plot forward, the film is simply put captivatingly exciting from the first frame to the last.
This movie holds up retaining both cinematic and historical importance for a variety of reasons. Naturally, first and foremost there are the performers. Controversy has always been an intrinsic aspect of the movie making process, and this production was not exempt from its share of behind the scenes drama. It was well known that a considerable amount of animosity (hatred) existed between Mr. Flynn and one of the credited directors, Michael Curtiz. You can regale yourself with the details in the trivia section of the movie’s IMDB page, but it sank to a very nasty level. Was remains notable is that despite this personal lack of respect both men ultimately deported themselves professionally creating one of the best examples of the genre ever released by a studio. The direction was tight, achieving a level of excellence that remains untouched by most of the movies that followed. It won three artistic achievement Academy Awards that year and was nominated for Best Motion Picture eventually losing to ‘You Can't Take It with You:.' In 1995, it was inducted into one of the most lauded lists in the cinematic arts, The National Film Registry, maintained by the United States National Film Preservation Board. This includes the film as legally mandated by Congress establish the films contained on the list as a crucial part of our heritage and must be preserved for future generations. It is only fitting to recognize the longevity of the movie’s leading lady by noting that her performance contributed to one of the country’s finest achievements in film.
It was normal back in that golden era of Hollywood for a single film to boast a constellation of stars; each would be considered a-List in the modern vernacular. This was a result of the ‘Studio System,' an arrangement where the major movie studios placed actors under iron-clad contracts affording them with practical ownership of the talent. At least some overlap between the interests of the studios and the burgeoning actors did exist. To make the best possible use of their ‘property’ the studios would arrange for formal training in comedy, drama, dance, singing, and for the men skills such as fencing. That was extremely important considering the types of action sequences in demand at that juncture. Films including themes such as pirates, dueling aristocrats and any excuse for fancy swordplay extending over the furniture and traversing staircases. An exciting example of why this skill was considered such a lucrative one to possess. A climactic battle ensues between Robin and Sir Guy that will forever remain one of the most invigorating displays of stage swordsmanship. Both Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn were viewed rightfully as the most skilled practitioners of this energetic and beautifully choreographed art form. Audience members will receive a thrill unlike anything possible with computer-generated wonders that dominates the multiplex. A film like this is a tribute to when movie theaters here palaces of grand décor and elegance. People would dress to see a film in a fashion like attending a Broadway show. Movies held a special place in our culture gradually diminished by the advent of television. Ms. has officially past the century mark she has personally witnessed the incredible advances in the means of artistic expression she devoted her life to enhancing.