THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) has always been one of my favorite films, but to date I've not had occasion to write about it at length. I was very fortunate to see it today in 35mm as part of UCLA's monthly Family Flicks series, and that also provided the perfect opportunity for me to share some thoughts on this special movie.
Over the years I've seen ROBIN HOOD in 35mm on several other occasions, including screenings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Vagabond Theater. Today's viewing cemented my opinion of the film's greatness as an exemplar of studio system craftsmanship at its finest.
CITIZEN KANE (1941), CASABLANCA (1942), and VERTIGO (1958), or perhaps GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), but if I had to choose just one film to represent everything I love about the classic film era, my vote would go to THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), a truly perfect movie in every respect. Perhaps one reason I haven't written about the movie in the past is that I knew that once I started writing about it, it would be hard to stop piling on the superlatives! But they are truly deserved.
Every element works in ROBIN HOOD: cast, script, costumes, Technicolor photography, and most of all the glorious musical score; what's more, the line readings are as beautiful as the music. Between the music and the superbly rendered dialogue, simply listening to this movie is a great pleasure in and of itself, but on top of that there are Technicolor visuals which lift the movie into the stratosphere.
It's an expertly paced film which moves from one exciting set piece to the next, the kind of movie where a viewer thinks "This is my favorite part" about 10 different times and when 102 minutes doesn't feel like enough because it's all so much fun. The movie brings endless joy no matter how many times one has seen it, and I've seen it plenty!
It goes without saying that Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone couldn't be improved upon as evil Prince John and Sir Guy of Gisbourne. And could there be any other Little John or Friar Tuck but Alan Hale Sr. and Eugene Pallette? My favorite casting also includes sometime leading men Patric Knowles and Ian Hunter as Will Scarlett and King Richard. Knowles is dashing and genial as Will, and Hunter in his few scenes makes Richard an imposing figure, both physically and dramatically.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold won the Oscar for Best Score, and this was an occasion when the Academy got it more than right. For my money Korngold's ROBIN HOOD is the greatest film score ever composed. It's all thrilling, whether it's the aforementioned love scene, the Merry Men attacking Sir Guy's caravan, or the procession for Prince John's coronation. The music, in fact, is an integral part of the storytelling, as necessary to the movie's success as the dialogue. I suspect it strongly influenced John Williams' score for STAR WARS (1977), among others. Hugo Friedhofer, incidentally, did the orchestrations.
The supporting cast includes Una O'Connor, Herbert Mundin, Melville Cooper, Montagu Love, and Kenneth Hunter. Notable behind-the-scenes talents included fencing master Fred Cavens and archer Howard Hill.
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD was directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. It was filmed in Technicolor by Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito. The script was by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller.
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix. It can also be streamed via Amazon Instant Video.
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is shown regularly on Turner Classic Movies. It will air again on March 21st, April 11th, and April 14, 2014. The trailer is here at the TCM site.
Most highly recommended.