Monday, June 28, 2010

Film # 26: The Adventures of Robin Hood (Jun 27th)

The Adventures of Robin Hood

1938, 102 min.
Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley

My, my. Ain't I a trooper? After Terms of Endearment and Places in the Heart on Sunday, I had but about 20 minutes to stretch and see what was in store for the evening's screening of The Adventures of Robin Hood. That's right, three movies back to back to back. Since I knew there were activities to be held before the last film, I rushed out to see what events were happening. I knew there was to be an archery competition indoors, and I was curious to see what that would entail. Surely, they wouldn't be using real bows and arrows. That could have been disastrous. Therefore, I was expecting a Nerf kind of affair. As I entered the parlor upstairs I found the competition.

It was a toy bow & arrow exhibition, thank goodness. Two targets were set up while patrons took their turns firing three suction cup arrows at them. If you hit the bulls' eye, you won a coupon for a free soft drink or popcorn. Neat-o!

Dozens of people took their turn as archers, and a great many did very well. It was fun to watch and to hear the crowds be supportive. I even took a turn and hit the mark on my second attempt. Walking downstairs to redeem my soda coupon, I was greeted by another surprise. There were several people downstairs in Renaissance attire to celebrate the screening of Robin Hood. All were in character and interacting with patrons and ushers alike. Ah, good times.

Below are some photos I took of the event.

Equipped with a soda and a huge smile, I made my way into the auditorium and took my seat. I was looking forward to this movie because of the influence it has brandished on action films in the decades since its release.

The character of Robin Hood has been revisited many times over the years and it seems like everyone's taken a swing at recreating the legendary figure. Kevin Costner had his version about 20 years ago (my goodness, has it been that long?) that I only remember because of that damn Bryan Adams song. Mel Brooks made a spoof with Cary Elwes (best known from The Princess Bride), and Ridley Scott just made an epic version with Russell Crowe. Even Disney once adapted a version with a charming fox playing the titular hero. But tonight was about the definitive model for most, the original swashbuckler (sorry, Douglas Fairbanks) himself, Errol Flynn.

There was a special treat before the film. It was another Merrie Melodies cartoon. I hadn't seen one of those in a while, and it even has Bugs Bunny! Presenting, "Rabbit Hood!"

When the surprise cameo appeared at the end of the short, the crowd went absolutely wild. Oh, this was gonna be a good time.

The movie then began. It started with an awful lot of preamble, setting the tale amidst the battles between Saxons and Normans. King Richard has been abducted on his way back from The Crusades and his shifty brother, Prince John (Claude Rains), is plotting to permanently plant himself upon the throne. Very few will defy John or his right-hand man, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone). They announce that taxes will be raised to pay the (literal) king's ransom, a move here that would get Tea Partiers up in arms. Robin, Earl of Loxley (Errol Flynn), calls the duo out on what he sees as a money grab. Of course, this doesn't mean he's Republican. Since Robin believes in giving this wealth back to the poor, the GOP would quickly label him as Communist.

Early on, we see Robin defy the rulings of the current administration. When Sir Guy (gotta love that name, huh?) attempts to arrest a man for hunting one of "the king's deer," Robin steps in and sends Guy on his way with a wink, a quip, and an arrow pointing at his chest. He knows acts of defiance like this will win sympathy from the masses while painting a target on your back. He shows up at the King's (er, Prince John's) dinner later with the very same deer and flings it onto the table while renouncing his formal title. How's that for a "f#&% you?" The Earl of Loxley then becomes the outlaw Robin Hood. Along the way he recruits more men to his cause and beguiles a skeptical Maid Marian.

Now England's most wanted, Robin lives in Sherwood Forest with his pal Will Scarlet (who is dressed in red, natch) and his growing band of merry men. I always thought that term was a bit derogatory, but after watching this movie I know why. These bandits are incredibly happy, always laughing and cavorting about like a college fraternity. Robin's behavior is particularly queer (as in "odd"), as I swear he bellows laughter after 80% of his lines. These indeed are merry men... in tights.

Overall, I found Flynn's performance and depiction of Robin Hood to be more "cartoony" than expected. At times, it was like he channeled Bugs Bunny himself as inspiration. Always ready with a one-liner and a mischievous attitude, all he needed was to be munching on carrots and to mention that left turn at Albuquerque. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the fun and light performance. The main reason I skipped this year's version was because I didn't feel like watching a surly Russell Crowe grumble through yet another historical epic (he can be quite a downer). I was just surprised this film was so light in fare while being so Technicolor bright. It gave a real Wizard of Oz vibe. The colors really popped in a 1960s Batman kind of way, yet the movie wasn't quite as campy as the adventures of that caped crusader. Yes, I doubt England was that vivid in its hues back then, but it is the movies, after all. They were aiming for the entertainment factor here, and hit the bullseye.

The romantic angle was a bit simplistic for my tastes. Olivia de Havilland was a lovely Maid Marian, and I was more concerned that she see the scope of Robin Hood's efforts rather than become a mere love interest. She becomes rather instrumental to the plot as the film goes on, and it was the scenes where she was plotting and spying on Prince John's minions that captured my attention more than her swooning over Robin himself.

For me, a large part of the fun was the performances by the villains. Basil Rathbone is so pompous and heinous as Sir Guy that it's hard to believe he was chosen to be the iconic Sherlock Holmes in the years following this film. There's a detectable suave presence about him, though. He's the perfect henchman, and was clearly a model for Christopher Guest's character in The Princess Bride.

Claude Rains is excellent as the conniving Prince John, and he performed the role in a sinister yet foppish manner. I'm pretty sure Shrek's dastardly Lord Farquaad is directly based on Rains from this film. In fact, you could say this Prince John is the prototype for villains that are a bit of a dandy. We've seen different variations on this brand of antagonist (or stereotyping, if you will) in the decades since. Think for just a moment of the foes who fit this cliché over the years: Joel Cairo (from The Maltese Falcon), most James Bond villains, Tim Roth from Rob Roy, the Prince from Braveheart, etc. Even foes in animated fare follow the same pattern: How about Scar (from The Lion King)? Skeletor? Cobra Commander? Stewie Griffin? I could go on and on. Although that pattern may hint at something darker in our society, the point here is that Rains made it work. He's a real bastard in this movie. You just can't help but boo at him.

As far as the action was concerned, that's where I felt the real style of the film was found. Say what you will about the silliness of the performances, but the assembly of the film is top notch. Robin Hood is chock full of achievement in editing and choreography. There's a reason that the film is so highly regarded after 70 years. The only question is why anyone even tries to top it. It can't be done.

Despite some moments of excessive levity, The Adventures of Robin Hood is still a lot of fun. It was certainly a great experience as moviegoers young and old were swept up in the movie's action and humor that day. There were numerous cheers and applause for our green-clad hero as he charmed and fought his way through all obstacles. Everything was so lavish and vibrant; one couldn't help but admire this perfect popcorn movie. In many ways, it reminded me when I would go to The Renaissance Fair (near Plantersville, TX) in my youth. So many different people gathering together to have a great time escaping from the toils of our days. I mean, who wouldn't want a little swashbuckling fun on a Sunday? For me it was the perfect cap to an evening filled with bows, arrows, and free soda. Huzzah!

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