PG for old-timey serial style violence. Don't get me wrong. People get stabbed and die on camera. But there's something wholesome about these stabbing death that we just don't get anymore. The Greatest Generation, they knew how to stab someone on camera and still leave with their souls in tact. But there's violence and the justification of thievery. With time and recent history against us, there's some things that seem even more gross, but I'll probably talk about that later. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTORS: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Do you know what has been hanging over my head for a while? Errol Flynn was probably a Nazi and an all-around monster. I say probably because I did a Google search for "Errol Flynn Nazi" and got a lot of hits. There's a long Washington Post article all about it. It was one of those long-form storytelling articles and I realized with a baby getting mildly fussy in the background, I only had so much time to peruse it. But it seems like the consensus was, "Yeah, he probably was a Nazi and super gross." The thing is, I grew up with The Adventures of Robin Hood. These are pre-Internet day (okay, commercial and domestic Internet use). I was a kid and my dad was super into Robin Hood, with the exception of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Boy, he hated that movie.
But I grew up and slowed down on the Adventures of Robin Hood re-screenings. I went from watching it on the reg to having seen it once in the past two decades. (I realized that I'm getting very old based on the sentence I just wrote.) See, I didn't watch The Adventures of Robin Hood because I was itching to see Errol Flynn as a Nazi. No, it's part of this weird algorithm that decides which movie comes next. (That sounds fancier than it is.) The Adventures of Robin Hood was next and I thought that I was going to go in for a good time. The last time I watched it, I had this nostalgic good time. Beyond the movie itself, I remembered my childhood and hanging out with my dad. It was more of the personal experience than it was the movie. But this time, it wasn't about revisiting the past. It was about watching a movie that I had seen a bunch of times and had gotten the feels out of the way. And do you know what I discovered? The Adventures of Robin Hood isn't great.
I know. That's a bit of blasphemy. I never got into other Errol Flynn adventures. For some reason, Captains Courageous always seemed like it wasn't going to be my cup of tea. One day, I'll probably really get into it. It's just one of those cultural touchstones that seems to be fading away and losing validity. But The Adventures of Robin Hood almost feels like it was made for real little kids. I compare this movie readily to those old-timey serials. There is no one cohesive story in The Adventures of Robin Hood that makes it a strong narrative. Rather, the filmmakers wanted to do all of Robin Hood. What happens is that the film comes across as extremely episodic. There is absolutely zero characterization in the movie. And that comes from the idea that people know who Robin Hood is. The whole "rob from the rich and give to the poor" element of the movie is so culturally ingrained in the collective consciousness that everything seems like a shortcut. Little boys (sorry, I'm aiming for stressing the gender norms of the early 20th Century) would tell these stories so much that the only thing that the movie could offer was a visual confirmation of what these boys imagined.
I read an article on Cracked.com (I think) about why there is a Robin Hood film every couple of years. A lot of it comes from the fact that it is public domain. The same reason that we keep getting Sherlock Holmes interpretations is the same reason that Robin Hood keeps on thinking that it is relevant. They kind of have a point. The Adventures of Robin Hood is possibly one of the better Robin Hood movies, almost because of the lack of characterization. This seems like a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. Because The Adventures of Robin Hood tried covering the bulk of the Robin Hood mythos, with the exception of the content covered in Robin and Marian, it really forced every other interpretation to focus on the deep dive of characterization. What I want out of a movie like The Adventures of Robin Hood is a healthy medium.
My biggest issue is Robin's itch to take down Prince John. It was 1938. The Capitol riots hadn't happened yet. But I think that the run-and-gun approach to storytelling in The Adventures of Robin Hood is kind of irresponsible when it comes to Robin's motivations. Robin starts off the film ready to rebel against Prince John. Richard the Lionheart had just gone missing during the Crusades. Robin sees a man arrested for poaching and instantly gets violent with the soldiers arresting. Because we all know, we know that Prince John is starting to tax people into abject poverty, forcing the people to break the law to survive. But from Robin's perspective, this guy is just breaking an established law. Any level of thought would place Robin as an anarchist.
The same thing holds true for Robin's visit to the castle for the first time. Robin, knowing that he broke the law, spits in the face of Prince John and comes in, ready to fight everyone. He doesn't even really have a plan. He just plans to fight everyone to escape and insult the Prince. But again, from his perspective, when Prince John claims that he must tax the people to raise the ransom to free Richard the Lionheart, there's no reason to really think that he's lying. It's only because we know that Robin Hood is the good guy that his actions seem justified. Because --and this is important --Robin claims to be taking the money from the people he's robbed to raise the money to free Richard.
Now, the reason why I'm still on Robin's team at the end is because I'm all about taxing the rich and holding law enforcement accountable for their actions. But Robin never really gives anyone a chance to fail before he declares a revolution against John's temporary leadership. Give them a chance to fail before standing up for the rights of citizens. Yeah, he ended up being right, but he didn't really know that, did he? Everything worked out because the tale of Robin Hood technically exists in the world of Robin Hood. (This is pretty heady.) Robin Hood can justify all of his actions in this movie with the knowledge that he is absolutely in the right. There are no doubts, despite the fact that there are no laws broken. Robin, from moment one, is dressed in his full green regalia, ready to fight crime with the confidence that he is in the moral right. But that's only because this is a world that needs Robin Hood. In the trailer for Man of Steel (one day, I'll have to power through this to give it a fair shake), there's a young Clark Kent running around his backyard wearing a red towel for a cape. In that world, Clark is emulating Superman. In The Adventures of Robin Hood, Robin of Locksley is emulating Robin Hood.
There's something almost childish about the movie that is kind of heartwarming while being fundamentally stupid. It's almost like the movie is playing improv as children. Marian, while Robin is being held prisoner for his own hubris (which he's never really punished for), escapes and lets the Merry Men in on a plan to save Robin from being hanged. It becomes this pivotal moment for Marian because she has chosen her allegiance and she is now at risk from Prince John and Guy of Guisborne (why is the Sheriff of Nottingham such a small part in this version?). But what is her plan that she needed to do this? How did she really change Robin's fate? Her plan, honestly, was to break Robin out? That's not a plan. That's just encouragement. They were going to do that anyway. And that scene is so typical for the movie. Any time that Robin needs to stymie Prince John, he just punches his way through things.
One thing that actually made me really happy was the relationship between Much and Bess. Maybe it was because it was one of the few original elements to the story that wasn't trying to fill in the entire canon of Robin Hood legend, but it was really cute. It was also actual characterization. Sure, it was thin, but it was characterization. I suppose that I'm throwing Marian under the bus for characterization, but it also is kind of weak. She really changes her entire political beliefs mainly for love. I don't know how much I should be advocating that Marian is a well-developed character. It doesn't matter though. It's fun.
I feel like I'm somehow betraying my father by now bowing down at the altar of this movie that I loved growing up. It's still fun, but that's really all it is. It's the Transformers of 1938, which may be too harsh because I consider Transformers to be unwatchable. It's a movie that plays up to little boys' fantasies, which is fine. But I do want to point out, my favorite thing about this movie is the massive sword fight at the end and the totally inaccurate foley that is going on during it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.