Having read Howard Pyle’s perfectly delightful book on Robin Hood, become a little bit obsessed with the Robin Hood legends, and watched as much as I could of the Kevin Costner debacle, I became curious to see the big famous Errol Flynn film. It’s one of those movies I’ve seen clips of forever, but never actually watched, and heard of the legend of Errol Flynn, while never actually having seen him. And what were the shocking results?
It’s pretty good, schmaltzy in an agreeable way, and generally good-natured and fun. Unfortunately, I was not blown away in any regard, but it’s kind of what you expect, in a satisfying way. Which doesn’t make for a very exciting review, but there we are.
The movie moves the Sheriff of Nottingham to the side and places the brother of King Richard in the villain’s seat. It also moves the romance with Marian to the center, a vast difference from the Pyle telling, in which there are NO female main characters [zip, zilch, zero]. To their credit, they really make the romance the center of the film, and it works. Marian is against Robin until he shows her that the money and goods they steal go straight to those left poor by the ruling monarchy, which changes her whole feelings about the ruling order and her place in it, while also explaining his virtue to us, the audience. His clandestine visit to her chamber is quite genuinely romantic, and in general, moving the romance to the center of the story pays off in numerous ways—it doesn’t feel forced by studio demands.
By the way, one of the things I was surprised to learn is that Robin Hood is a figure of numerous ballads but no major source—meaning that, like King Arthur, there is no one definitive account of his character and adventures, there are numerous versions that have to be combined together to make each story. So there’s no “getting it right,” as opposed to a version of a novel, as here, each story has a claim to legitimacy.
Seeing Errol Flynn for the first time, I regret not being blown away. Unlike seeing old Brando movies or finally watching a James Cagney film, where you come away saying “Okay, now I get why this guy is a sensation,” Flynn was, umm, a bit fine yet underwhelming. The Korngold score is fine. The stunt work is fine. Basil Rathbone is fine. It’s all fine, but it’s pretty much exactly what you expect.
Anyway, don’t get me wrong, it’s quite delightful in that old classic movie way, it’s just that it offered little surprise or excitement, given that I knew it was an old established classic. Yeah, it’s pretty good. Kinda thought it would be, and it is. There ya go.