The Adventures Of Robin Hood stands the test of time

Dec. 2, 2003, midnight | By John Visclosky | 17 years, 1 month ago

The Adventures Of Robin Hood is the best action movie ever made. It has passion, love, danger, adventure, bravery, and spectacular battles. Made in 1938 with a budget of $2 million – at the time it was the most expensive movie ever made – Michael Curtiz and William Keighley's epic masterpiece of reckless courage is being showcased at the AFI Silver Theater only through Dec 3. Although you can purchase this sumptuous film on DVD or video, it greatly benefits from a large screen viewing.

After Richard the Lionheart (Ian Hunter) is captured while fighting in the crusades, his treacherous brother Prince John (the delightfully evil Claude Rains) appoints himself the Regent of England in Richard's absence. John uses the ruthless Sir Guy of Gisbourne (the sublimely cruel Basil Rathbone) and his band of Norman thugs and traitors to bully the Saxons into paying taxes that will be used to buy John's way to the throne rather than to pay a ransom to free Richard. The brave Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) forms a band of outlaws with the help of his friends Will Scarlett (Patrick Knowles), Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), and Little John (Alan Hale, who also starred with Flynn in The Seahawk) and opposes Prince John. Robin gradually falls in love with the King's ward, Maid Marian (Olivia deHavilland, who can be seen with Flynn in both Captain Blood and The Last Charge Of The Light Brigade). Marian comes to love this arrogant-and-charismatic hero and helps him escape the gallows after he is captured at an archery contest.

When King Richard returns in secret to England, he meets up with Robin, who has learned that Maid Marian is to be executed on the same day that Prince John will be crowned king. Disguised as monks, Robin, his band of men, and Richard sneak into the castle on the day of Marian's execution and surprise Prince John. An epic battle breaks out between Norman soldiers and Saxon outlaws, culminating in a stupendous sword fight between Robin and Sir Guy (still the best sword fight ever captured on film).

Despite being 65 years old, the emoting and pacing of Robin Hood are remarkably contemporary. Like the Indiana Jones or Lord Of The Rings series, there is just the right amount of love, comedy, brains, and action to make Robin Hood one of the more intelligent action films of all time.

The sets are wonderfully sumptuous, and while the costumes are dated and a little laughable (Robin Hood with green sequins on his sleeves?) they make the rich Technicolor cinematography all the more sublime. Erich Korngold's Oscar winning score is equally impressive; each of the different characters have dominant themes, and the music comes together during the final battle in a musical feast that is just as exciting as the final showdown between Robin and Sir Guy.

Flynn is the only man that could have played Robin Hood. No other actor has successfully captured the right mix of comedy, brazen courage, and carefree abandon that made Flynn so perfect in the part. He and deHavilland have genuine chemistry together, and even the sappy love scenes are perfectly calibrated thanks to these two fine actors. Hale and Pallette are also enjoyable as the loyal friends of Robin Hood.

Like Flynn, Basil Rathbone is perfect in this film. Sir Guy of Gisbourne is pure evil, and the intensity of that final sword fight between him and Robin has never been matched in any film since. Special effects are totally absent from the film, but the smoldering hatred between Rathbone and Flynn is so palpable, and their final duel so intense, the audience forgets to miss CGI.

Robin Hood is a terrific film, grounded by outstanding performances, cinematography, pacing, and a frenetic score. If it's mindless action that you want, go rent any one of the Matrix movies. The Adventures of Robin Hood is brainier fare that is far more exciting than any of its contemporary counterparts. Why can't they make movies like this anymore?

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John Visclosky. John Visclosky is, suffice it to say, "hardly the sharpest intellectual tool in the shed," which is why he has stupidly chosen to here address himself in the third person. He's a mellow sort of guy who enjoys movies and sharing his feelings and innermost … More »

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