Errol Flynn's 1938 'Robin Hood' a classic exercise in swashbuckling

On movies

June 18, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

One of the more impressive things about the 1938 ''Adventures of Robin Hood'' is its pacing. It is measured and fast. There is hardly a frame of film wasted in the movie, one that starred Errol Flynn as the bandit of Sherwood Forest.

The 53-year old classic is currently showing at the Senator Theatre. The other Robin Hood, of course, starring Kevin Costner, opened at area theaters last Friday.

Two men directed the 1938 film, Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. The supporting cast included Olivia De Havilland as Maid Marian, the titled lady who fell in love with Robin of Locksley.

The movie, while dated, is nevertheless a true classic. Shot in color, it runs 105 minutes but hardly seems that long. It also includes many of the original plot turns that are not included in the Costner version, ''Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.''

The Costner film doesn't bother with the tumble Friar Tuck gives Robin when he is forced to carry Robin across a stream, piggyback. Nor does the new version include the archery contest at which Robin is captured and put in prison.

Both versions do include the first meeting between between Robin and Little John, but the Flynn film gives it only a few minutes. The Costner version goes on much longer and includes several crotch-bashing shots, something they wouldn't have dared use back in 1938 -- it's a very popular device now. You have to look hard to find a contemporary action film that doesn't include this kind of combat.

Alan Dale is Little John, Patrick Knowles is Will Scarlett, who plays a musical instrument (but not too much, thank you), Eugene Pallette is Friar Tuck, Claude Rains is the evil John, brother to the missing King Richard, and Ian Hunter is Richard, who returns home from the Crusades to discover that his country, in the hands of his evil brother, has Saxon pitted against Norman.

In the Costner version, the chief villain is the Sheriff of Nottingham, played with jarring camp by Alan Rickman. In the Flynn version, the sheriff is something of an oaf who stays in the background.

The chief villain in the Flynn version is Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played by Basil Rathbone. Interestingly, in both versions, the villains also include a man of the cloth, the Bishop of Black Canon. Vilifying members of the church is not unusual today, but it was back in 1938.

''The Adventures of Robin Hood'' is a movie of blacks and whites, but the film was made during what may have been a kinder, gentler and more naive time. On film, people were either good or bad. The good guys did fight with each other in the Flynn film, but it was all in the nature of fun. They might whack PTC each other with staffs, but none of this meant anything. They were just being, well, merry men.

The ending of the 1938 version has all the Saxons and Normans throwing down their arms in what may have been a call for peace, perhaps symbolic of worldwide peace. After all, in 1938, World War II was just around the corner.

Flynn played Robin Hood with unbounding enthusiasm. It had to be tough on the others in the cast. It had to be tough on the other bandits in the forest. Nothing dimmed the man's spirits. He was hardly without a smile. What a rogue.

''Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves'' is a bit dark. ''The Adventures of Robin Hood'' was in no way dark.

It would be a few years before limbs would be chopped off on camera.

It seems ''The Adventures of Robin Hood'' was exactly what the public wanted in 1938, escapism.

De Havilland would do ''Gone With the Wind'' the following year. She would also go on to win two Academy Awards, and when you watch her in this film, you can see why she won those statuettes. Hers was really a supporting role, an almost colorless one, but De Havilland was not about to walk through it.

''The Adventures of Robin Hood'' will remain at the Senator through July 11. The print is a new one, struck from the restored negative, thanks to Turner Entertainment.

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