The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)


Errol Flynn stars in his most enduring performance in this romantic action adventure that has captured audiences of all ages for more than three-quarters of a century. You know the story: In the absence of King Richard, Prince John seizes control of the land and taxes it into despair, causing a renegade Saxon named Robin Hood to come to the people’s defense, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor with the help of his merry, forest-dwelling men. Flynn’s Robin Hood is still a measure by which other Hoods are judged. He’s paired with frequent costars Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marion and Alan Hale as Little John. Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains round out the supporting roster as the nefarious Sir Guy of Gisbourne and Prince John, respectively.

Robin Hood was one of the first technicolor mega-hits, preceding The Wizard of Oz by a year. In a way there’s something for everyone — action, romance, comedy, pageantry, and star-power. I find the first half of the film contains my favorite scenes — from Robin’s brazen dinner crashing scene at the court of Prince John to his friendly stand-off with Little John on a creek tree-bridge. And it’s certainly fun to watch Flynn and Rathbone engage at the climax in the most famous swordplay in all of cinema.

But The Adventures of Robin Hood isn’t my favorite Flynn movie. It’s not even close. It’s a little too family-oriented for my taste. Some of the laughter feels forced, some of the merriment unconvincing. And I can’t help but wonder how much more of an impact the movie could make if the performances were only a little more grounded in genuine drama or authentic peril. Clearly, director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) knew better than me how to hit the mark with a wide audience. But at the very least, The Adventures of Robin Hood should whet your appetite for more Flynn movies. I highly recommend The Dawn Patrol, Edge of Darkness, Captain Blood, The Adventures of Don Juan, and The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Film Editing, Score (Erich Wolfgang Korngold)

Oscar Nomination: Best Picture

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