If there was a quintessential Robin Hood in the movies, it had to be Errol Flynn, who did ''The Adventures of Robin Hood'' in 1938 with Olivia De Havilland as Maid Marian and Basil Rathbone as the evil Sir Guy Gisbourne. Claude Rains was Prince John.
Flynn, who died in 1959 at the age of 50, would never repeat the success he enjoyed as the bandit of Sherwood Forest. That was his peak movie, and the film, directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley and done in color, plays as well today as it did 53 years ago.
The pace is fast, the action exciting, and the score, by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, is rich and appropriate. The movie, a true action classic, is available in videocassette.
Flynn, of course, was not the first actor to play Robin Hood on the screen. There were a number of silent versions done. In 1922, Douglas Fairbanks did his silent version. ''Robin Hood'' stands as one of his best films.
Others who have played the bandit on the screen were Cornel Wilde (''Bandit of Sherwood Forest,'' 1946), Jon Hall, Robert Clarke, Richard Todd, Don Taylor and Sean Connery, who played an older Robin Hood in the 1976 ''Robin and Marian.'' Audrey Hepburn was the more mature Marian.
A number of television versions have been done in England. The most successful was
done by Richard Greene. He did 165 episodes, which were shown here in the mid-'50s. A second 12-part series was shown here in 1975, and a third, done in 1983 (with Michael Praed and Jason Connery) was seen here in 1987 on Channel 22.
There also have been spoofs of the legend. In 1975, Mel Brooks did ''When Things Were Rotten,'' an ABC-TV series that kidded the Robin Hood stories. It lasted for several months.
The Disney Studios have done several versions of the story. They did a live one in 1952, ''The Story of Robin Hood and His Merry Men.'' Richard Todd starred. In 1973, the same studio did an animated version. There was also an operetta, done for the stage in the 1920s.
Robin Hood, who may or may not have actually lived, died in the book, but in most instances has not been allowed to expire on either the large or small screen. Readers, who have thrilled to this tale for decades, prefer that he live on in dramatic form.