A Saxon...A Problem?: The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938)

I am often curious as to the spectacle element of classic Hollywood films, I have come to understand and love how this works in silent films and certainly have an admiration for some of the artsier pictures made in the late thirties and early forties.  Aside from a handful of WW2 films I had only come to be aware of Gone With the Wind as one of the films of extravagance and despite all my attempts to like that film, I simply do not care for its presence.  Thankfully, a bit of rousing action and a healthy dose of Errol Flynn have helped me come around on this notion, particularly considering that The Adventures of Robin Hood is exceptionally fun and quite indicative of all the escapist rhetoric and cinematic magic discussed when people reflect fondly on the "Golden Age of Hollywood."  Admittedly much of my thrill comes from being familiar enough with the story not to have to nitpick narrative twists and cohesion, but for being made in the late thirties the level of intensity placed within each action sequence is something exceptional.  I would posit that viewers engaging with this film at the time probably had similar moments of gasps and cinematic wonderment as those who had the enjoyment of watching Inception in theaters, which regardless of how you feel about Christopher Nolan had elements of magnitude.  I am also in no way suggesting that Inception is The Adventures of Robin Hood of the 21st century, because that is an apples and oranges comparison entrenched within differing cinematic times. Yet, I cannot imagine somebody not loving The Adventures of Robin Hood.  You could be a ninety two year old woman or a eleven year old boy and find something to like about this age old tale, adapted to technicolor.  Everything from excellent sword fights to the undeniable swooning of Errol Flynn movie magic happens constantly within this film and makes for a great group viewing.  With the string of failed Hollywood Action/Adventure vehicles as of late, I think some reflection on what makes a classic could be in order.

The story is rather familiar, but for the sake of formality I will rehash the plot of this film.  Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) is renowned, if not infamous, thief who takes to the trees of Nottingham pillaging from the rich and giving to the poor.  It seems as though little concern is made for his actions, until his thriving and concerns for justice contradict the acts of Prince John (Claude Rains) the ill-willed brother of the Normal ruler King Richard the Lion-Heart (Ian Hunter) whose absence as a result of nation conquer have left Nottingham in disarray, particularly the Saxon peoples who are subjected to absurd taxations and degradations at the hands of Prince John who fancies himself a fill-in leader.  During a particular run-in with Prince John, Robin Hood makes enemies with him, while also laying eyes upon Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) whom with he is instantly smitten.  Realizing that, in order, to take on Prince John's forces, Robin Hood will need more than his astute merry men and goes about hiring the best fighters in the land, including the now well known staffsman Little John (Alan Hale) and the portly clergyman Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette).  In a game of figurative chess, Robin Hood and Prince John constantly outdo and undermine one another, each taking advantage, until Robin Hood is arrested after being tricked into winning a regional archery contest.  Yet, his merry men quickly break him out of jail, just in time for King Richard to return to the area, all be it in disguise initially.  With the power of the crown and of justice on their side Robin Hood, King Richard and the peoples of Nottingham overthrow the befuddled Prince John.  Robin Hood is then appointed a baron for his people and is allowed the much desired hand of Maid Marian.

It is no surprise as to why this film proved exceptionally popular upon its release.  I mean it is about sticking it to rich folks with more than their fair share of wealth in order to equally distribute it among the lesser peoples so they can at the very least eat.  Still reeling from The Great Depression a film like The Adventures of Robin Hood would have been escapism perfected.  Of course, America's leader of the era, FDR, nicely relates to King Richard in this narrative, as do the wealthy plutocrats who seemed to only gain from the demise of society to that of Prince John and his many lackeys.  The film's message is of course transcendent of this, even though the book is not quite as old as one might think and proves quite universal.  It posits the golden rule, suggests the power of astute justice and destroys greed with much revelry and excitement.  A text and film like The Adventure of Robin Hood serves as a nice contrast to the objectivist and conservative oriented world of Ayn Rand and its counterparts.  It is intriguing that Mad Men proves to do well in contemporary society (A television show I openly adore) considering that it adheres to a self-survival mentality and attacks charity as week.  In the wake of our current recession, it appears as though we seek "up by the boot strap" stories over remakes of Robin Hood, as the previous Russell Crowe adaptation suggests.  I am not an economic expert, but there is something to be said about this correlation, where individualist culture is more widely embraced the works the posit egalitarian ideals.  Of course I hear the most recent Robin Hood film sucked, so it could be predicated entirely on that alone.

Key Scene:  The archery contest is my favorite scene, in a film filled with awesome action sequences.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and am glad to have viewed it, of course, it is a rental type film, one I strongly suggest you watch with a group, that way you can savor the action and adore Flynn simultaneously.

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