How do I love The Adventures of Robin Hood? Let me count the ways: there's the incredibly dashing Errol Flynn in one of his signature roles; the unbelievably alluring (yet always chaste) Olivia de Havilland, simply a vision of grace and spunk; the eye-popping Technicolor palette which I regularly show to those unfamiliar with classic Technicolor to prove to them colors were more beautiful "back then"; and last, but certainly not least, the beyond rousing, Oscar-winning score of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, which layers theme upon theme to bring out the subliminal hero in all of us. And that's just for starters. I have loved this film since the first time I saw it, decades ago, and my love for it has only grown in the intervening years. It may not be deep, and at times it is patently silly, but I for one don't think classic Hollywood has ever fashioned a more complete entertainment than The Adventures of Robin Hood.
A plot summary would be fairly useless for a film as entrenched in the collective unconscious as this one. Is there anyone in any civilized world that hasn't at least seen a still of Flynn as Sherwood's hooded (actually capped in this version) thief? Flynn simply emanates rugged, if well-scrubbed, sex appeal in this role, with a braggadocio mixed with a knowing wink that makes his interpretation instantly lovable and forever unforgettable. He's matched every step of the way by de Havilland as Maid Marian, one of the more slyly proto-feminist characters to ever grace late 30s cinema. De Havilland is simply masterful portraying a woman impeccably feminine who nonetheless is not about to let fate deal her a hand she's not willing to play. Add to the mix the delightful Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains as the bad guys, not to mention the bountiful supply of Warner supporting stars as Robin's Merry Men, and you simply have the kind of cast that could not be assembled today for a production of any size or scope. They don't make character actors like Alan Hale and Eugene Pallette these days, and the film world is a sadder place for it. I guess you could imagine someone like Paul Sorvino playing a Pallette type role, but with none of the joie de vivre that supporting character actors in the Golden Era regularly brought to their work. There's only so far "the Method" can take an actor, and it's instructive to note that Flynn, who simply electrifies the screen every time he's on it, wanted nothing to do with the Stanislavski side of the acting trade.
The Adventures of Robin Hood attained its classic status despite some backstage dramas, not the least of which was director Michael Curtiz being brought on after production had begun and the first director's work had been found wanting. Curtiz, who at times can be a bit too portentous for his own good, found just the right balance between swashbuckling action, ravishing romance and lighthearted comedy in Robin Hood, and that achievement is why the film still is at the apex of its genre now 70 years after its initial release. A lot of other attempts have been made to adapt the Robin Hood legends (in fact, I reviewed one of the better, if idiosyncratic, ones here some time ago, the UK series "Robin of Sherwood"), but The Adventures of Robin Hood is still the paradigm for any attempt--a splendid storybook come alive filled with larger than life characters and all of the major incidents which have made up the Robin legends for untold centuries.
The Blu-Ray Disc
I get the feeling I'm about to invite a lot of hate mail. One of the first HD DVDs I purchased was The Adventures of Robin Hood, and I was struck immediately by some disparate facts--if you judge the film by how it has looked in previous home video releases, you have to give both the HD DVD and Blu-Ray sterling marks. Warner's 1080p VC-1 "Ultra Resolution" transfer is crisp, largely clean and overflowing with that bountiful color spectrum that is only available from early three strip Technicolor. And yet if you look objectively at the transfer, there are some issues, and wishing they weren't so doesn't do anybody any good. There's more than a fair amount of grain throughout the film, at times distressingly so (I know the DNR-phobes will probably be seeing red, but there you have it--for example, watch the first scene between Rains and Rathbone, which is fairly dripping in it to the point that Rains' face looks etched with some geometric design). The film also has occasional specks and chips marring individual frames. I relate these things not to be a buzzkill, but to hopefully bring a little balanced viewpoint to the HD community--there is frankly only so much you can do with a film of this vintage, and Warner has pretty much done it. It's beautiful, yes. But it isn't stupendous.
Unfortunately a lot of original stems are missing from the Robin Hood soundtrack and so we get a DD mono outing that is fine if unexceptional. You won't really mind it too much, at least in the dialogue scenes, but Korngold's music is awfully boxy at times.
Warner has simply ported over the cornucopia of excellent extras from the HD DVD for this new Blu-Ray release. They include the patented "Warner Night at the Movies" option, which allows the viewer to recreate a 1938 night out, with newsreel, short subject, cartoon and coming attractions. Rudy Behlmer's commentary is learned and interesting, if at times a bit dry, but at least he's not the pontificating and extremely annoying Dr. Drew Casper, so be thankful for small (actually large) favors. Two absolutely superb and lengthy documentaries are included: "Glorious Technicolor," detailing the history of cinema's most famous polychromatic process, and "Welcome to Sherwood," a nice history of the film itself. There's also some fascinating, if shorter, supplements with outtakes, blooper reels, home movies made on-set, and a brief examination of Robin Hood throughout film history. "Splitting the Arrow" offers an incredible photo gallery with literally hundreds of stills.
The best audio supplement is the music-only track of Korngold's incredible score. It is a doctoral level thesis in film composition and should be listened to by anyone with even a passing interest in film scoring. There are also a vintage 1938 Robin Hood radio broadcast, and some Korngold excerpts at the piano.
There are also two Robin Hood-centric cartoons offered, "Rabbit Hood" (with Bugs Bunny) and "Robin Hood Daffy," as well as two more vintage shorts, "Cavalcade of Archery" and "The Cruise of the Zaca." Up last are trailers for Robin Hood, The Charge of the Light Brigade and Captain Blood.
This is simply one of the all-time greatest classics ever made, and time has done nothing to diminish its many charms. The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of those films that everyone must see at least once in their lifetime (and after you've seen it once, you're going to watch it again and again), and this new Blu-Ray release is certainly the best way to see it. Easily a hands down DVD Talk Collectors Series release.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet