Warner Bros. // 1938 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 15th, 2008
Only the rainbow can duplicate its brilliance!
"Men, if you're willing to fight for our people, I want you! Are you with me?"
It is a time of wickedness in England. King Richard the Lion-heart is off fighting a crusade, and evil people have taken over in his absence. The villainous Prince John (Claude Rains, Casablanca) and his evil aide Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone, Romeo and Juliet) are oppressing the people. Taxes keep increasing, the poor keep getting poorer, and the rich keep getting richer. The people need a savior. Thankfully, there's one man who is ready to take on the wicked government. That would be Robin of Locksley, known better as Robin Hood (Errol Flynn, They Died With Their Boots On). He's a lean, green, stealing machine, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, in order that oppression might be no more. As most men named Robin Hood are prone to do, he falls in love with a lovely lady named Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland, Santa Fe Trail). Will Robin save the people, get the girl, and defeat Prince John and Sir Guy? Find out in...ah, never mind, you can bet your tights that Robin Hood will accomplish every last one of his goals.
I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to see The Adventures of Robin Hood back in 1938. It's an epic tale of romance and adventure, presented at a charmingly energetic pace. It featured heartthrobs like Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, and great character actors like Claude Rains, Alan Hale, and Basil Rathbone. Best of all, it featured terrific set design, cinematography, and costumes, all presented in the newfangled wonder of glorious Technicolor! Though technology has developed considerably over the last 70 years, The Adventures of Robin Hood still stands a strong cinematic achievement today.
There are a lot of things to praise about The Adventures of Robin Hood, but I think the primary reason it works is that sense of joyous excitement. Rarely can you find so much enthusiasm bottled in a single cinematic work. The actors all seem thrilled to be participating in such a groundbreaking film, and at times they seem to be barely able to contain their energy. Many early Technicolor efforts were a bit overdone, adding garish color simply for the sake of showing off, but here the bright and vivid design just seems like a logical extension of the film's unique personality.
Errol Flynn has rarely been more dashing than he is here. Sure, his passionate acting paired with his somewhat silly outfit is easy to poke fun at. However, Flynn is so dedicated to the part that he permanently lands himself a spot as the definitive Robin Hood (with apologies to that cartoon fox). Flynn plays the stereotypical noble hero splendidly, raising his chin and fervently vowing things with endearing conviction. Basil Rathbone makes a fine match as the villainous Sir Guy; those only familiar with his Sherlock Holmes persona may be surprised to see him play an effectively nasty villain. Claude Rains also seems to be having lots of fun, wandering somewhere just outside the action as the vaguely baffled Prince John. Flynn's frequent collaborator Olivia de Havilland doesn't get quite so many interesting scenes as Maid Marian, but she is a very good fit for the role.
The story here is tossed off rapidly. We more or less cover the entire Robin Hood legend in a tight 102 minutes, and the energy level is always pretty high. The movie creates grand sets and costumes, but never dwells on them any longer than it absolutely needs to. I imagine there might have been a temptation to turn The Adventures of Robin Hood into a self-indulgent three hour epic, filled with long and turgid scenes that serve no purpose other than to show off various technical attributes and expound on story points. The Adventures of Robin Hood always puts excitement first. If the story ever comes to a point that would potentially cause the film to slow down, the movie quickly displays a title card informing us that such and such happened, and then thrusts us back into the action. I can't wipe the silly grin off my face when I watch this movie.
If there was ever an appropriate composer for the films of Errol Flynn, it was Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The scores for The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk more or less defined the sound of "swashbuckling" film music. Korngold's brassy, vibrant themes add a real buzz to the film's atmosphere, and completely sell impassioned moments of heroism that might have fallen flat otherwise. The Adventures of Robin Hood sports one of the truly great film scores of the 1930s. It may very well be one of the greatest scores of cinematic history. It's presented fairly well here, despite the obvious limitations of mono sound. The visuals are quite splendid in this hi-def transfer. Of course any film from 1938 is going to be a bit grainy and rough-looking in spots, but Warner Brothers has obviously put a great deal of work into making sure this film looks as strong as it possibly can. I'm very impressed.
And wow, this Blu-ray disc is simply jam-packed with extras. They're all standard-def, but this disc really demonstrates just how many supplements can be included in addition to a film on a single Blu-ray disc. We get a good commentary with film history Rudy Behlmer, who offers a tremendous amount of info on the film's production. There's an hour-long documentary on the making of the film, and another hour-long documentary on the glories of Technicolor. That would be plenty, but there's so much more here. There are classic cartoons, vintage shorts, old radio shows, outtakes, piano sessions, pieces from older Robin Hood films, posters, promotional materials, Errol Flynn trailers, home video footage from Basil Rathbone and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Leonard Maltin hosting a "Warner Night at the Movies" selection of goodies. Wow!
You do have to be willing to accept a certain level of silliness to enjoy the film. There are a few scenes that defy logic so brazenly you can't help but laugh at them, but some might prefer a bit more credibility in their heroic epics.
Hahahahaha! Robin Hood cares not whether his alliances lie with HD-DVD or Blu-ray! Robin Hood only cares about justice! Three cheers for King Richard! Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!
Sure, like I'm going to try convicting Robin Hood? The guy would just escape and leave an arrow in my back, anyway. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1938
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Commentary w/Rudy Behlmer
* Warner Night at the Movies
* "Welcome to Sherwood: The Story of The Adventures of Robin Hood"
* "Glorious Technicolor"
* "Robin Hood Through the Ages"
* "Journey to Sherwood Forest"
* "Splitting the Arrow"
* "Breakdowns of 1938"
* Two Classic Cartoons: "Rabbit Hood" and "Robin Hood Daffy"
* Two Vintage Short Subjects: "Cavalcade of Archery" and "The Cruise of the Zaca"
* Audio-Only Bonuses
* Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery