The Adventures of Robin Hood is a 1938 American Technicolor swashbuckler film, produced by Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke, directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, that stars Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Rains.
Written by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller, the film concerns a Saxon knight who, in King Richard's absence in the Holy Land during the Crusades, fights back as the outlaw leader of a rebel guerrilla band against Prince John and the Norman lords oppressing the Saxon commoners.
In 1995, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. It is considered by some to be one of the greatest films ever made.
Richard the Lionheart (Ian Hunter), the King of England, is taken captive in 1191 by Leopold V, Duke of Austria while returning to England. Richard’s treacherous brother Prince John (Claude Rains) usurps the throne and proceeds to oppress the Saxons, raising taxes to secure his own position.
Only the Saxon nobleman Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) opposes him. Robin acquires a loyal follower when he saves Much the Miller's Son (Herbert Mundin) from being arrested for poaching by Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone). At Gisbourne's castle, Robin boldly tells Prince John and his followers and a contemptuous Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Olivia DeHavilland) that he will do all in his power to restore Richard to the throne. Robin escapes, despite attempts by John's men to stop him.
Robin and friend Will Scarlet (Patric Knowles) take refuge in Sherwood Forest and recruit Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.), while other men join their growing band, including the rotund Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette).
Known now as the outlaw Robin Hood, he binds his men by an oath: to fight for a free England until the return of Richard, to rob the rich and give to the poor, and treat all women with courtesy, "rich or poor, Norman or Saxon".
Robin and his men capture a large party of Normans transporting tax proceeds. Among Robin's "guests" are Sir Gisbourne, the cowardly Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) and the Lady Marian. At first disdainful of Robin, Marian comes to accept his good intentions and begins to see the reality of Norman brutality. Robin allows the humiliated Gisbourne and the Sheriff to leave Sherwood, telling them that they have Marian's presence to thank for their spared lives.
The Sheriff comes up with a cunning scheme to capture Robin by announcing an archery tournament, sure that Robin will be unable to resist the challenge. All goes as planned: Robin wins, is taken prisoner, and is sentenced to hang.
Marian helps Robin's men rescue Robin, and he later scales a castle wall to thank her. Both pledge their love for each other, but Marian declines to leave, believing she can help the rebellion as a spy by staying where she is.
King Richard and several trusted knights have returned, disguised as pilgrims. At an roadside inn, the Bishop of the Black Canons (Montagu Love) discovers their presence and alerts Prince John and Gisbourne. Dickon Malbete (Harry Cording), a degraded former knight, is given the task to dispose of Richard in return for the restoration of his rank and Robin's manor and estate.
Marian overhears their plot and writes a note to Robin, but Gisbourne finds it and has her arrested. Marian's nurse, Bess (Una O'Connor), romantically involved with Much, sends him to warn Robin. On his way, Much encounters and kills Dickon.
King Richard and his men disguise themselves as wealthy monks and journey through Sherwood Forest and are soon stopped by Robin. Richard assures him that he is traveling on King Richard's business. Will finds the injured Much, who tells Robin of Marian's peril and that Richard is now in England. Robin orders a thorough search to find Richard and bring him to Robin for safety. Now certain of Robin's loyalty, Richard reveals himself.
Robin devises a plan to sneak his men into Nottingham castle. He coerces the Bishop of the Black Canons to include his men, disguised as monks, in his entourage. During John's coronation in the great hall, a huge melee breaks out. Robin and Gisbourne engage in prolonged combat, ending with Gisbourne's death. Robin releases Marian from her prison cell, and Prince John's men, now defeated, throw down their swords, shields, and banners in surrender.
Richard exiles John and his followers and then pardons the outlaws. He ennobles Robin as Baron of Locksley and Earl of Sherwood and Nottingham, and commands that Robin marry the Lady Marian. With Marian now by his side, from across the great hall, Robin replies with enthusiasm, "May I obey all your commands with equal pleasure, Sire!"
- Errol Flynn as Sir Robin of Locksley (Robin Hood)
- Olivia de Havilland as Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Maid Marian)
- Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne
- Claude Rains as Prince John
- Patric Knowles as Will à Gamwell (Will Scarlett)
- Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck
- Alan Hale, Sr. as John Little, aka Little John
- Herbert Mundin as Much, the Miller's Son
- Melville Cooper as the High Sheriff of Nottingham
- Una O'Connor as Bess
- Ian Hunter as King Richard the Lionheart
- Montagu Love as the Bishop of the Black Canons
- Harry Cording as Dickon Malbete
- Ivan F. Simpson as the proprietor of the Kent Road Tavern
- Leonard Willey as Sir Essex, a supporter of Prince John
- Robert Noble as Sir Ralf, a supporter of Prince John
- Kenneth Hunter as Sir Mortimer, a supporter of Prince John
- Robert Warwick as Sir Geoffrey, a supporter of Prince John
- Colin Kenny as Sir Baldwin, a supporter of Prince John
- Lester Matthews as Sir Ivor, a supporter of Prince John
- Lionel Belmore as Humility Prin, proprietor of the Saracens Head Tavern
- Charles Bennett as peddler at tournament
- Frank Hagney as a man-at-arms
- Holmes Herbert as the archery referee at the tournament
- Howard Hill as Elwen the Welshman, Robin's rival in the archery tournament
- Crauford Kent as Sir Norbett, a supporter of Prince John
- Carole Landis as a guest at the banquet
- Leonard Mudie as the town crier and as an eye-patched man stealthily telling men to meet Robin at the Gallows Oak
- Reginald Sheffield as the herald at tournament
- Trigger as Lady Marian's horse
- Sam Jaffe
The Adventures of Robin Hood was produced at an estimated cost of $2 million, the most expensive film Warner Bros. had made up to that time. It was also the studio's first large budget color feature utilizing the three-strip Technicolor process. It was an unusually extravagant production for the Warner Bros. studio, which had made a name for itself in producing socially-conscious, low-budget gangster films, but their adventure films starring Flynn had generated hefty revenue and Robin Hood was created to capitalize on this fact.
James Cagney was originally cast as Robin Hood, but walked out on his Warner Bros. contract, paving the way for the role to go to Flynn. The filming was postponed three years, as a result.
Location work for The Adventures of Robin Hood included Bidwell Park in Chico, California, which substituted for Sherwood Forest, although one major scene was filmed at the California locations "Lake Sherwood" and "Sherwood Forest", so named because they were the location sites for the earlier Douglas Fairbanks production of Robin Hood (1922). Several scenes were shot at the Warner Bros. Burbank Studios and the Warner Ranch in Calabasas. The archery tournament was filmed at the former Busch Gardens, now part of Lower Arroyo Park, in Pasadena.
Stunt men and bit players, padded with balsa wood on protective metal plates, were paid $150 per arrow for being shot by professional archer Howard Hill. Hill, although listed as the archer captain defeated by Robin, was cast as Elwen the Welshman, an archer seen shooting at Robin in his escape from Nottingham castle and, later, defeated by Robin at the archery tournament. To win, Robin splits the arrow of Philip of Arras, a captain of the guard under Gisbourne, who had struck the bullseye. Stuntman Buster Wiles, close friend of Errol Flynn and his frequent on-set stand-in, maintained that the arrow-splitting stunt was carried out using an extra large arrow (for the target) and that the second arrow had a wide, flat arrowhead and was fired along a wire. Wiles discusses the scene in his autobiography, My Days With Errol Flynn. The Mythbusters episode "Myths Reopened" revisited the Robin Hood arrow-splitting stunt. An Olympic-grade archer was unable to fully split a straight-grained cedar arrow from about 50 feet (the arrow only split along a third of its length), but split a hollow bamboo arrow from nock to arrowhead. This tends to support Wiles' statement.
Hill can also be seen as one of the Merry Men in the scene where Robin is rescued from the gallows. Concealed in a wagon, he shoots a mounted man-at-arms, whose horse is instantly mounted by the bound Robin Hood and ridden to the city gate.
Korngold's music score
In 1938, Korngold was conducting opera in Austria when he was asked by Warner Bros. to return to Hollywood and compose a score for The Adventures of Robin Hood. The film is considered the finest of its kind, with a continuous series of romantic and adventurous sequences propelled by Korngold's dynamic score. Music historian Laurence E. MacDonald notes that there were many factors which made the film a success, including its cast, its Technicolor photography, and fast-paced direction by Michael Curtiz, but "most of all, there is Korngold's glorious music". And film historian Rudy Behlmer describes Korngold's contribution to this and his other films:
- “Korngold's score was a splendid added dimension. His style for the Flynn swashbucklers resembled that of the creators of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century German symphonic tone poems. It incorporated chromatic harmonies, lush instrumental effects, passionate climaxes—all performed in a generally romantic manner. Korngold's original and distinctive style was influenced by the Wagnerian leitmotif, the orchestral virtuosity of Richard Strauss, the delicacy and broad melodic sweep of Puccini, and the long-line development of Gustav Mahler.”
- ―Rudy Behlmer
In reply to Warner Bros.’ request, Korngold told studio head of production Hal B. Wallis that he was a composer of drama and the heart, and felt little connection to what he perceived as “a 90% action picture.” Wallis was persistent, with Korngold finally agreeing to begin composing on the condition that he not have a contract, and work on a week-by-week basis so that he could withdraw if he were dissatisfied with the music he composed.
Before Korngold began composing the score, Austria was annexed by the Nazis, and his home in Vienna was confiscated. This meant that all Jews in Austria were now at risk, so Korngold stayed in America until the end of World War II. He later said, "We thought of ourselves as Viennese; Hitler made us Jewish". Korngold noted that the opportunity to compose the score for Robin Hood saved his life.
Korngold called his film scores “Opern ohne Singen,” operas without singing, but otherwise approached their composition just as he would for the operatic stage. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was, therefore, a large-scale symphonic work and, despite the studio music department’s providing a team of orchestrators, including future Oscar-winner Hugo Friedhofer, to assist Korngold, the amount of work was immense, especially for the limited time he was given to compose. In describing this dilemma to his father, Julius Korngold, one of Vienna’s foremost music critics, the elder Korngold suggested that themes from his 1920 symphonic overture “Sursum Corda” (“Lift Up Your Hearts”) would serve splendidly for much of the most demanding action-scene music, and Erich agreed.
It also gave him his second Academy Award for Best Original Score and established the symphonic style that would later be used in action films during Hollywood's Golden Age. Modern day epics such as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies similarly included original symphonic scores. Composer John Williams has cited Korngold as his inspiration in scoring the Star Wars series.
The film was released for the first time in New York City on May 12, 1938. It was released in Philadelphia from Pennsylvania on May 13, 1938. It was released in the United States on May 14, 1938 by Warner Bros. Pictures through First National Pictures and Vitaphone
Contemporary reviews were highly positive. "A richly produced, bravely bedecked, romantic and colorful show, it leaps boldly to the forefront of this year's best", wrote Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times. "It is cinematic pageantry at its best", raved Variety. "A highly imaginative retelling of folklore in all the hues of Technicolor, deserving handsome box office returns". Film Daily called it "high class entertainment" with "excellent direction" and an "ideal choice" in the casting of Flynn. "Excellent entertainment!" wrote Harrison's Reports. "Adventure, romance, comedy, and human appeal have been skilfully blended to give satisfaction on all counts ... The duel in the closing scenes between the hero and his arch enemy is the most exciting ever filmed". John Mosher of The New Yorker called it "a rich, showy, and, for all its tussles, somewhat stolid affair", praising Flynn's performance and the action sequences but finding the "excellent collection" of supporting actors to be "somewhat buried under the medieval panoply". Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of critics gave the film a positive rating based on 46 reviews, with an average score of 8.94/10. The film is among their list of the 100 best-rated films in cinema. Rotten Tomatoes summarizes the critical consensus as, "Errol Flynn thrills as the legendary title character, and the film embodies the type of imaginative family adventure tailor-made for the silver screen".
The Adventures of Robin Hood became the sixth-highest-grossing film of the year, with just over $4 million in revenues at a time when the average ticket price was less than 25 cents.
According to Warner Bros records, the film earned $1,928,000 domestically and $2,053,000 overseas.
In 1938, The Adventures of Robin Hood was the eighth highest-grossing film nationally in the U.S. and the highest-grossing film the same year in the southern states of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
Warner Bros. was so pleased with the results that the studio cast Flynn in two more color epics before the end of the decade: Dodge City and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.
A sequel, Sir Robin of Locksley, was announced but never developed.
Awards and nominations
The film won three Academy Awards at the 11th Academy Awards and was nominated for one more:
- Academy Awards (1938):
- Won: Best Art Direction (Carl Jules Weyl)
- Won: Best Film Editing (Ralph Dawson)
- Won: Best Original Score (Erich Wolfgang Korngold) – The love theme of Robin and Marian went on to become a celebrated concert piece.
- Nominated: Best Picture (Hal B. Wallis, Henry Blanke)
- Other honors:
- In 2001 the film came in at #84 on "The Best Films of All Time" as voted on Channel 4.
- In 2001 the film appeared at #100 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills list.
- In 2003 the main character, Robin Hood, appeared as the #18 Hero on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list.
- In 2005 the film appeared at #11 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores list.
The film's popularity inextricably linked Errol Flynn's name and image with that of Robin Hood in the public eye, even more so than those of Douglas Fairbanks, who had played the role in 1922.
This was the third film to pair Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (after Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade). They would ultimately star together in nine films, the aforementioned and Four's a Crowd (1938), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Dodge City (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940), They Died with Their Boots On (1941) and Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), although they shared no scenes in the last film.
Scenes and costumes worn by the characters have been imitated and spoofed endlessly. For instance, in the Bugs Bunny animated short film, Rabbit Hood, Bugs is continually told by a dim-witted Little John, "Don't you worry, never fear; Robin Hood will soon be here." When Bugs finally meets Robin at the end of the film, he is stunned to find that it is Errol Flynn, in a spliced-in clip from this film (he subsequently shakes his head and declares, "It couldn't be him!"). Other parodies were Daffy Duck and Porky Pig in Robin Hood Daffy and Goofy and Black Pete in Goof Troop's Goofin' Hood & His Melancholy Men.
The Court Jester, a musical comedy starring Danny Kaye, is in great measure a spoof of Robin Hood. Basil Rathbone even appears as the villain and has a climactic sword fight with Kaye.
Most of the Mel Brooks parody Robin Hood: Men in Tights relied on this film for its aesthetics, although the plot was almost completely a riff on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
A fragment of one of the film's sword fighting scenes was converted to sprites by Jordan Mechner and used for his 1989 platform game Prince of Persia.
Errol Flynn’s acrobatic swordplay became a crucial touchstone for the light-saber duels choreography in Star Wars movies.
In Disney’s 2010 animated film Tangled, the appearance and personality of Flynn Rider are partly inspired by that of Errol Flynn, with his surname also being used in homage.
Knockout Comic (weekly picture paper • Amalgamated Press, London) No 434, June 21, 1947 – No 447, September 20, 1947 • 14 issues, 28pp in black-and-white (Drawn by Michael Hubbard) Produced when the film was first revived after World War II, with several deviations made from the film's plot, the picture strip's storyline is generally faithful to the look and narrative of the Warner Bros.' feature. However, the famous climactic duel between Robin and Sir Guy is reduced to only a couple of panels, with Robin still dressed in his earlier monk's habit. The strip opens with a joust between Robin and Sir Guy, a scene which was in the original screenplay but was never actually filmed.
- The Adventures of Robin Hood at AllMovie
- The Adventures of Robin Hood at the TCM Movie Database
- The Adventures of Robin Hood at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Adventures of Robin Hood at Virtual History
- The Adventures of Robin Hood essay by Daniel Eagan in America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry, A&C Black, 2010 ISBN 0826429777, pages 275-276 
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