In 12th century England, King Richard the Lionheart has departed for the Crusades and left his trusted friend, Longchamps, as regent bypassing his brother, Prince John, for the role. When Richard is taken prisoner on his way back to England, John organizes the Norman barons to capture the country and the throne. The local Saxon peasants are oppressed by the barons, particularly Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and need a champion. Sir Robin of Locksley, a Saxon noble, steps forward to lead Saxon resistance to John, thus making himself an outlaw. Based out of Sherwood Forest, Robin gathers a group of willing rebels to return Richard to the throne. At the same time, Robin wins the royal ward, Maid Marianís, heart. She aids Robin in escaping a death sentence from Prince John and is spying at court for him. When her espionage is discovered, she is imprisoned. Richard finally returns to England and Robin and his men unite behind him to regain the throne and free Marian.
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This telling of the legend of Robin Hood is still considered the classic screen version and rightly so. It has a timeless storybook quality akin to the spell ďThe Wizard of OzĒ still casts. It is a technicolor marvel, which boasts lavish costumes and sets, a perfect cast and a story, both entertaining and heroic, that moves swiftly.
Two directors contributed their efforts to this film. William Keighley was ultimately replaced by Michael Curtiz because Warner Brothers didnít think he could handle the action sequences as well. Keighley is still included in the filmís credits however and his work is present in the final result, largely in the Sherwood Forest scenes. The two directorís work meshes seamlessly, in no small part due to the editing, for which the film won an Academy Award. In all the film won 3 Oscars, the others for art direction and best musical score. Erich Korngoldís beautiful score never overwhelms the actors or the story and often offers an emotional underpinning, particularly in the scenes between Marian and Robin.
Even with the disruption over directors, the remarkable thing about this film is how all of its elements seem to come together effortlessly to invoke a perfectly idealized past. The brilliant technicolor cinematography captures a world where every day is a sunny, bright, cloudless one - the sky always a perfect azure. No dirt ever besmirches a ladyís train and the nobleís bejeweled robes glitter gorgeously in candlelight. So much romanticizing of even a famous legend such as Robin Hood might have been too much, making the film an elaborate confection. The movie is imbued, however, with a wonderful light spirit that erupts through its perfect veneer, occasionally in slapstick humour, often in expertly choreographed duels that are exciting and fun at the same time.Ē
The cast is also a major factor in the filmís success. Errol Flynn, in the title role, is an actor of great charm and physical grace, so necessary to the swashbuckling style, which he pretty much patented during his years in Hollywood. He enjoys a wonderful rapport with Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian. She helps to ground the film in another way by making Marian a thoughtful, intelligent woman. She is very much aware of all the political machinations around her and is impressed by Robinís moral crusade on behalf of a demoralized peasantry. Despite the fairy tale quality of the story, one can still believe in a relationship between these two characters. Claude Rains is suave and conniving as Prince John. Rains is joined in villainy by Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy, and he gives Gisbourne a Saturday matinee wickedness that is just right for this material.
Itís easy to see that this film has been enormously influential with later filmmakers, particularly Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Watching the great set piece action scenes - a castle banquet where Robin declares his opposition to Prince John and then must fight his way out; an archery contest that erupts in choreographed mayhem or Robinís great escape from his own hanging - one is constantly reminded of the Indiana Jones series. Many others are reminded of the Star Wars trilogy by the story of a small band of rebels fighting against dark forces who threaten to disrupt the peace of an entire realm. In other words, Luke Skywalker as Robin Hood in space.
The Adventures of Robin Hood should work for just about any audience, whether children whose imaginations still live in a storybook world or adults who still love escape at the movies.