When it comes to the media of film and television, there are plenty of original ideas that arrive to the big screen with their own stories to tell. However, something that is very prevalent as well is adaptation. Now, while some may complain about there being lots of movies that adapt other works, it is not something unique to film alone nor does it automatically mean that a movie will be bad. In fact, there are plenty of classic films that are based on already-established works. One particular story that is adapted time and time again is the story of Robin Hood. Telling the tale of a rogue fighting to protect the weak from the cruel ways of Prince John, its story has clearly touched upon the cultural consciousness and has endured through the ages in numerous forms. In fact, movies alone offer plenty of versions of the rogue’s adventures, some traditional and some more revisionist. For me, my favorite movie adaptation of the classic tale hails from 1938, in the form of The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Set in England in the year 1191, the familiar story starts with Sir Robin of Locksley opposing Prince John’s oppressive treatment of the Saxons. Forced to give up his lordship and take refuge in Sherwood Forest, Robin gains allies who support him in fighting for an England free of tyrannical rule. As their numbers grow, they become known as the Merry Men, with Robin now taking on the name of Robin Hood. Robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, their efforts even manage to win over Lady Marian, who is initially skeptical but shaken when she sees firsthand how the Saxons are oppressed. From there, it becomes a battle against time as they try to overcome Prince John’s tricks and schemes, as his potential coronation looms in the horizon. The story is still a classic, one which this film chooses to stick to in a traditional style, and the movie delivers on it. It serves it upon a plate of thrills and swashbuckling, the sort that is remembered from action films of the 1930s and early ’40s. More than that, however, it stands out for me thanks to the delightful performance Errol Flynn delivers as Robin Hood.
Remembered for his swashbuckling roles, Errol Flynn starred in numerous action films during the 1930s. Delivering on athletic action along with a charming charisma, Flynn was a major star in his day whose performances in films such as Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk have ensured that he is among the stars most associated with what some call “The Golden Age of Hollywood”. His skillful acting can be seen on full display in The Adventures of Robin Hood. He is by turn devoted to justice with an earnest desire and playful with a good joke or witty remark. He captures the spirit of the character, especially the version most popularized by Howard Pyle’s book, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Though the character and his legends originate in British folklore from long ago, it is Pyle’s book which really presented the heroic version of Robin Hood that people know the character as today. It is that version, the rogue hero who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, which Errol Flynn portrays with ease. He captures the warmth, the humor, and the devotion to justice that have forever become entwined with the figure. Though there have been other movies and adaptations of this familiar story, Flynn’s performance feels like it captures the core spirit of the character strongest. Of course, his performance isn’t the only reason that this is worth watching.
The film itself is a fun slice of swashbuckling and adventure. The action is well-done, delivering on a more old-school approach to action with top-notch direction and presentation. The score is bouncy and delightful, conducted by Erich Wolfgang Korngold with a rhythmic beat to help drive and reinforce the film’s sense of adventure. The performances work well with each other, not only from Flynn’s turn as Robin Hood but also with the work of such actors as Olivia DeHavilland as Lady Marian and Claude Rains as the treacherous Prince John. The visuals are good, having a strong punch thanks to the Technicolor process used to breathe stunning colors into the movie during an age where most films were in black and white. The result is a film that serves as a prime example of a fun action adventure, particularly of the sort from when the silver screen was populated by swashbuckling heroes who would cross swords with dastardly villains. If you’re curious to give this particular iteration of the classic story a try, The Adventures of Robin Hood is available on DVD and Blu Ray.