Wikipedia tells us that the story of Robin Hood has been kicking around for centures. The name itself began kicking around in 1228, but people were probably telling stories about the character for a long time before that.
There’s been many iterpretations of the Robin Hood story, including several on film which have varied from poor action adventures (Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves), to weird comedies (Robin Hood – Men in Tights), to an animated version (Disney’s Robin Hood), that probably has most furries creaming their jeans.
But to me the best version of the story ever made was the 1938 Technicolor classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood. It has everything you could ever want in an adventure film: a sneering villain (Basil Rathbone), a beautiful heroine (Olivia de Havilland), a dashing hero (Errol Fylnn), great sword fights, wonderful dialogue, beautiful costumes, amazing sets, and an all around feeling of lighthearted joy and delight!
You know the story: Robin of Locksley goes out to stop the evil Prince John (Claude Rains), and his henchman, the Sherif of Notingham. Along the way he teams up with his Merry Men (including Little John, played by Alan Hale Jr, a man I was most used to seeing as the Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island”), enters an archery contest, and wanders around with the kind of smirk Johnny Depp nearly managed to imitate in Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl.
There’s several things that make this a great film. First, it’s insanely entertaining! It’s never slow or dull. It has brisk pacing that never lets up. The cinematography is well-done and fascinating to see, given that it was one of the first Technicolor epics (though you might go a little blind from the bright colors). The writting is sharp and clever. Even the music is everything you’d want from a movie like this! But the real gem here is the acting.
Consider the by-play between Robin and the Sheriff, or Robin and the Prince, or Robin and Maid Marion or, hell, Robin and a brick wall! Errol Flynn had this magical sort of charisma that forced you to pay attention to him every time he was on the screen and to be happy you were doing so. He brough a casual ease to his characters in movies like Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk. He’s so important to The Adventures of Robin Hood that it’s basically impossible to imagine the movie without him, how much more vapid and uninteresting it would’ve been with just about anyone else playing the lead. It’s his swaggering, his smart-ass attitude and his talent with the sword that makes him the most memorable part of this film.
This isn’t to take away from the rest of the cast. A hero is nothing without a great villain and you’d be hard-pressed to find one better than Basil Rathbone, with his sneer and his (frankly superior), fencing skills, he made a worth advesary for a hero like Flynn’s Robin.
The movie is relentlessly fun, light-hearted and enjoyable. If you haven’t yet seen it, you’re doing yourself a great diservice. Watch it and see the swashbuckler genre done to a perfection that has hardly been seen since!