Monday, June 22, 2009

The Adventures of Robin Hood

There are few movies as joyous to watch as Michael Curtiz's The Adventures of Robin Hood. It's gorgeous to look at, the sets, costumes, and cinematography are terrific. Olivia de Havilland, as Maid Marian, is beyond beautiful. And above all, this movie has what no other Robin Hood movie has: Errol Flynn. He's remembered for his incredible physicality, but I can't help but be drawn into his wry sense of humor. When he goes to confront Prince John (a typically terrific Claude Rains), he does it carrying an illegally killed royal deer over his shoulder. When he insults the Prince in an unexpected way, Marian tells him "You speak treason", "Fluently" he retorts. The twinkle in Flynn's eye during the whole movie, but that scene in particular, is infectious. I had a big ole smile on my face for the entire 102 minutes of the movie.

My parents used to have us watch old movies like this when I was a kid. My mom in particular felt it was important for my brother and I to be exposed to the classics of cinema, so we watched things like Miracle on 34th Street and any Hitchcock movie we could find, while I watched things like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and A Hard Day's Night with my dad (and Monty Python and Mel Brooks later on). I always loved those old movies, and I remember loving this one vividly. I've always loved Robin Hood movies, and this is by far the best. There's no reason to go over the story, we've seen it a million times. But this is the type of movie that always makes me think of one of my favorite quotes, which is Roger Ebert's belief that "a movie is not about what it's about, it's how it's about it." It doesn't matter that we've seen this story so many times, because it's done so perfectly here.

Michael Curtiz must be one of the great underappreciated directors of the movies. Just a quick glance at his filmography, and you'll see not only masterpieces like this one, but Captain Blood (also with Flynn and de Havilland), Angels with Dirty Faces (teaming him with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart), Casablanca (which won him his only Oscar), Yankee Doodle Dandy (which won Cagney his only Oscar), and Mildred Pierce (which won Joan Crawford her only Oscar). He wasn't the original director of The Adventures of Robin Hood, but was brought on when the studio wasn't happy with the footage they were already seeing. With the high amount of stunts, sets, costumes, etc. the movie was to end up being the most expensive movie ever made (at the time, of course). Curtiz was mainly brought in to punch up the action scenes, and he did. The sword fight between Robin and Sir Guy (hateably played by Basil Rathbone) is particularly wonderful, switching between watching the actors do their own sword work, and watching the towering shadows on the wall as the actors move out of frame.

This was not the first Robin Hood movie, and it was certainly not the last. Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, and Ridley Scott are currently filming a new Robin Hood movie. But I can guarantee you already that they're not going to make anyone forget about Errol Flynn. No actor before or since has made the kind of mark he did on the role, even his green outfit is synonymous with Robin Hood now. He is Robin Hood, everyone else is just trying to be him.


Kathy said...

One of my all-time favorite feel good movies. Errol was wonderful, and Olivia was a great match for him. This was made at a time when you knew little about their personal lives, so you didn't know what a Rake Errol was! You could just enjoy the acting. Tom Cruise should take notes!

Kyle said...

Very true, but it's also a testament to the movie that even now when we do know more about the people in it (Flynn in particular), it still works. I was wondering if it would, and it really really does.