Thursday, July 23, 2009

Errol Flynn: The definitive Robin Hood

Last night just as I was about to go to bed, I got pulled into watching a movie on TV, 1938’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” starring Errol Flynn. I decided reviewing that film would be a far more pleasurable endeavor than what I had originally intended to write about.

From time to time, I think I’ll forgo reviewing a new movie and point people to a classic. I was going to write about “Bruno” this week. I’ll sum up for you what I would’ve said: skip it. Even if you liked “Borat” I can’t guarantee you’d like “Bruno,” so better to save your money.

Now back to last night and my adventures with Robin Hood. Watching Flynn in all his swashbuckling glory reminded me of my childhood. No, I wasn’t a swashbuckler, but as a boy I had a Flynn phase.

I loved him in such films as “Captain Blood” and “The Sea Hawks,” but it was “Robin Hood” that had the most profound effect on me. I’d take walks in the forest with friends and family pretending to be merry men. When we came to bridges crossing streams staff battles would inevitably ensue.

It was around this time that 1991’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” came out, a fine film, but even at 8 years old I knew Kevin Costner was no Errol Flynn. Flynn’s Robin Hood, with his jovial laugh, mischievous grin and sharp tongue, is the defining image of the iconic hero from Sherwood Forest.

Flynn was a true movie star and too often they get dismissed as not being genuine actors. What Flynn did was hardly easy. He had believable physicality to his fight scenes, but wasn’t a stiff bore when it came to line delivery. Far from it. He was a charmer who could deliver a one-liner with the precision of a great comic and who could sweep any girl off her feet.

“The Adventures of Robin Hood” was release in Technicolor more than a year before “The Wizard of Oz,” the film that generally gets acknowledged as the first color film. Technicolor makes colors seem brighter and more brilliant than they are in reality and helps the films it is employed in seem as if they come from a magical other world.

It is clear that the producers of “Robin Hood” were excited to use color and grabbed every color they could find. The film is populated with bright greens, reds, blues and purples.

In addition to Flynn's charismatic portrayal of Robin, the film is populated with great actors. Claude Rains as Prince John and Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne provide excellent villainy. Rathbone and Flynn’s climatic sword fight is the stuff of film legend.

Olivia de Havilland is a lovely Maid Marion, who holds her own against the saucy Robin. Flynn’s frequent sidekick Alan Hale is a delightful Little John as is Eugene Pallette’s Friar Tuck. Flynn’s initial encounters with both these characters are classic scenes as is the archery contest.

There is an idea that kids won’t like or watch old movies. I say poppycock, that’s right you heard me, poppycock. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” captured my imagination as a kid and how could it not? It has adventure, humor and romance, but not too much of that icky kissing stuff. No matter your age, if you haven’t seen this timeless piece of cinema than seek it out. If you have seen it, perhaps the time has come to revisit it.

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