Friday, October 1, 2010

Day Ninety-One: The Adventures of Robin Hood

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #239
Year: 1938
Directors: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Starring: Errol Flynn and Claude Rains

When people talk nostalgically about the early days of Technicolor (or faux-nostalgically, since most of the people with the right to talk nostalgically about it are dead), two films always dominate the conversation: Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz – both released in 1939, four years after the first feature-length Technicolor presentation. While it's only right that those films are mentioned, it's unfortunate that their mention often comes at the exclusion of The Adventures of Robin Hood. It came out a year earlier, and it uses color every bit as powerfully as those films did. The modern image of Robin Hood as a green-clad rogue may have its roots in literature, but it took hold of the American subconscious with Errol Flynn's swashbuckling 1938 performance. Later films would try to take the character in other directions – Kevin Costner openly mocked the tights-wearing, feather-capped portrayal while promoting Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Mel Brooks and Cary Elwes would lampoon it in Men in Tights, Russell Crowe reinterpreted it as a much more Russell Crowe-esque role in 2010's Robin Hood – but none of those films are even within sniffing distance of the Top 250, and despite being stuck in the bottom tier of the list, The Adventures of Robin Hood has firmly established itself as a member film.

Even though in the best Robin Hood film the protagonist is an anthropomorphic fox, Flynn's portrayal is indisputably ranked second. It is his performance as well as the aforementioned brilliant use of Technicolor that gives this film its verve. Beyond those elements, however, it's a fairly standard interpretation of the Robin Hood legend. The tales' omnipresent Friar Tuck, Little John, Prince John, King Richard and Maid Marion are all played competently, albeit basically as stereotypes of themselves. The swordplay is all well-choreographed, and in some of the more over-the-top scenes it's obvious why "swashbuckler" was once considered a genre of film, and how happy we should all be that it really isn't one anymore. The Adventures of Robin Hood is perhaps as good as we should expect it to be, but certainly not better.

This brings up the other side of the debate that I addressed in my Rocky post. The Adventures of Robin Hood used color in a revolutionary way, but if it were shot in black-and-white, we almost definitely would not be talking about it 2010. Errol Flynn provided the blueprint for the Robin Hood character, but live-action Robin Hood movies since 1938 have been uniformly mediocre. This version of the legend is very nearly the best there is, but unfortunately, it still isn't great. If you want to see a unique vision of the Robin Hood story that does the legend justice while remaining consistently entertaining and emotionally relevant, see the 1973 Disney version. Watch this one if you want to see the first great use of color in a film.

The Good: The use of color and Errol Flynn's performance.

The Bad: The fact that it's just a pretty average English take on the Italian Peplum using the story of Robin Hood as its backdrop.

The Skinny: I would almost be able to get behind it on the list since it's in such a low position, but that's canceled out by the fact that Disney's version is conspicuously absent.

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