Every Sunday Film School Rejects presents a film that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents:
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
I have to wonder if the men and women singing songs about Robyne Hude in 15th century England had any clue that the legend would spread so far that the character would make hundreds of appearances in film and television – the most recent being Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. Considering that a television would seem like witchcraft and they’d throw stones at it, probably not.
However, it’s fascinating that the character has had such a cultural echo – one that has lasted around 600 years in Western storytelling. It gives us the unique chance to compare films featuring the same figure that have similar story elements but are radically different because of the technological limitations and artistic choices of the time.
One of the best examples to this day is The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Flynn’s personal technological advancement, of course, was his ability to complete jaw-dropping feats of acrobatics that CGI would still struggle with. De Havilland had an effortless beauty.
Acting alongside and against these heroes are Claude Rains as King John and Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne (who seems to be even more of a Sheriff figure than the Sheriff of Nottingham in this particular version).
These huge names match the hugeness of the entire production. It’s shot in glorious three-strip Technicolor, and cinematographers Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito tried their hardest to get every single extra into frame even if there were hundreds on screen. It’s an epic-feeling, big picture version of Robin Hood done with the same dashing and easy smiling adventure that was common for the time.
Flynn is handsome and buckles a ton of swash. De Havilland is gorgeous and just sexual enough to create a sly sensibility. Rathbone and Rains are evil incarnate even if their portrayals seem a bit flamboyant or light after seeing Alan Rickman threaten to cut our hero’s heart out with a spoon.
The latest incarnation of Hood promises to be a bit different, but Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves isn’t a bad touchstone for how different the modern interpretation is from the 1938 version.
But despite a lack of grittiness or dirt, The Adventures of Robin Hood is the kind of classic thrill that seems to work even in modern times because it shows off its bid budget flair without a care in the world. It’s all done on sets and sound stages, the costuming is more theatrical than accurate, and the epic battles feature no blood, but it remains one of the best tellings of the Robin Hood fable simply because it was the best product possible at the time.
And somehow, that product still resonates today.
I have no doubt that a need for realism in our stories will ultimately make Robin Hood a grizzled yeoman whose life is lived out in the cold mud between raids, but The Adventures of Robin Hood is the eternal antidote, a film that swells with vibrant color, and reminds us when Robin’s men really were merry.
The trailer from 1938 should give you an idea: