The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938)

Info SidebarThe Adventures Of Robin Hood is masterful entertainment, filmed in rich Technicolor, with a vibrancy of spirit, good heart, good morals, and a kind of kinetic energy that delivers its message truthfully despite being gay and relatively carefree.

At its heart is Errol Flynn, who embodies the character of Robin Hood with a certain kind of smug swagger. He knows how good he is with a bow and arrow, he knows how charming he can be with Maid Marian, he knows how well he can manipulate situations and rally downtrodden villagers to his cause. Most of all, he knows how to enjoy himself. He is never burdened by the task he has appointed himself, never weary or tired. It’s an amazing thing that he manages to remain exuberant even while he engages in intense swordplay. To him, the freedom of England is a serious matter, yes, but it’s not without its perks.

Consider a scene early on in the film. Robin has just saved a poor farmer (Herbert Mundin) from harsh trial by taking the blame for the farmer’s poaching of royal deer (it’s a terrible offence to kill animals in the king’s forest). That night, while the sinister Prince John (Claude Rains) holds a banquet for his court and mocks the Saxons and his brother, King Richard (Ian Hunter), Robin crashes the party and casually whacks one of the doormen over the head with the deer that’s slung over his broad shoulders. You’ve seen this before in Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men In Tights, but that movie played for laughs. This one plays for mockery. Robin saunters into the Great Hall, unwelcome, and proceeds to own the room by returning John’s derision, dumping the dead deer on the king’s table and marching over a knight’s table before settling in his seat and stealing his game meat. When told of his plans to combat John until Richard returns from the Crusades, Maid Marian (Olivia De Havilland) rises and accuses: “Why, you speak treason!”, to which Robin concurs with a smirk: “Fluently”.

Flynn’s Robin is one of the great Hollywood heroes, even though the story he occupies is British, and the challenges he faces would never, for a second, be faced on American soil. Flynn’s Robin stands for truth and equality, and his moral centre is so established that the riches he steals from the wealthy hold no power over him. When he and his merry men capture John’s righthand man, Sir Guy (Basil Rathbone), and Guy’s calvary, Marian fears that Robin intends to keep all his loot for himself. She sees in him the possibility of selfishness and desperately wants to believe the opposite. How Robin responds is spectacular. Flynn never lets us question his motives. He is a just man through and through.

Consider also when Richard returns from the Crusades and presents himself to Robin. Robin, up until this point, has been positioning himself as a saviour for the lowly, and yet when in the presence of his king, kneels before him in complete humility. Had Robin matched his ego against Richard’s, he would’ve made a far less convincing hero. Disappointing even. His greatness lies in his clarity of vision.

Robin Hood’s plot is fairly routine. It is perhaps the one aspect of the movie that has grown familiar over the years. There have been at least three major Robin Hood adaptations since this one; we know the characters of Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham like our own siblings. We also know where they go and what happens to them. This is not important to The Adventures Of Robin Hood. What is, is the way this familiar story is told. The sets are looming and tangible. We feel as if we could climb up the castle walls and arrive at the highest tower at the highest peak. The halls are expansive. We can imagine the echoes. The costumes by Milo Anderson shimmer and glisten in Technicolor. Will Scarlett’s felt tights are saturated. The movie is lovely to look at. And Flynn’s performance as the noble Robin makes it lovely to sit through. He could be our friend. In fact, in many ways, he already is.


Best Moment | Either Robin splitting his opponent’s arrow in two during the archery tourney, or the gorgeous fight scene between Robin and Sir Guy, which features the inspired shadow shot.

Worst Moment | Nope.

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