King Richard (Ian Hunter) has left England to take part in the Crusades. The mission that would have made him a hero has instead turned him into a prisoner, when he is captured and held for ransom.
Unfortunately for King Richard, his brother, Prince John (Claude Rains), is in no hurry to pay that ransom and get him freed. John and his sidekicks, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) and the High Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper), are planning on taking over the throne.
Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn), who becomes known as “Robin Hood,” isn’t exactly a fan of Prince John. After being stripped of his title and lands by the prince, he and his band of supporters set out to protect the Saxons, who are being oppressed by Prince John and the Normans. And perhaps, along the way, he can win the heart of the lovely Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland).
The Adventures of Robin Hood was directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. The script was written by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller, “based upon ancient Robin Hood legends.” The film was nominated for several Oscars upon release, taking home the trophies for Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, and Best Music – Original Score.
There is an oft-repeated fun fact regarding this film’s leading man: James Cagney was originally attached to The Adventures of Robin Hood in the titular role of Sir Robin. Errol Flynn replaced him after several years of postponement, following Cagney’s contract walk-out from Warner Bros. As much as it pains me to say, as a fan of Cagney, I couldn’t be happier that this film was made without him.
It’s not that I think Cagney would be incapable of filling the role; I just can’t picture him in it, because Flynn is such a brilliant fit. His charm is matched by an air of confidence and sense of valor. These qualities add up to a magnetic performance, and a heroic character that viewers continue to admire nearly eighty years after the film’s release.
The film on the whole matches its star’s magnetism. It’s a lavish feast of color, adventure, drama, and wit that doesn’t lose the viewer’s attention for a single second. The pace is kept fast, with plenty of action – battles of swords and arrows. The mood is kept pretty light and very fun, despite the presence of two nefarious villains, played brilliantly by Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains.
On top of all of that, there’s plenty of romance. It’s impossible to discuss The Adventures of Robin Hood without also discussing the legendary screen pairing of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. They made eight films together, including this one. (A few more “Errolivia” titles: Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade, They Died with Their Boots On) And boy, do they make a wonderful pair. Their chemistry here is quite playful, Robin amused by Marian’s refined manners and elegance.
In one scene, which perfectly encapsulates just how stinkin’ adorable Errol and Olivia are together, Marian seems genuinely repulsed by the fact that Robin and his men are eating meat straight off the bone. She tries it herself, but very reluctantly, while Robin smirks at her side. Perhaps the cutest movie scene featuring animal bones, aside from Audrey Hepburn stuffing chicken in Gary Cooper’s pocket in Love in the Afternoon.
Whether or not you usually enjoy tales of medieval adventure, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a must-watch classic — a Technicolor marvel of the highest order, featuring great performances and a captivating story.