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
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.