The Adventures of Robin Hood gets by on a lot of charm. Charm and costuming (good and bad). The film opens with title cards setting the scene. Sherwood Forest, evil King’s brother, righteous nobel, beautiful damsel, insidious villain, and Technicolor tights–Claude Rains looking like a Little Lord Fauntleroy grew up and broke bad.
Rains, with sidekicks Basil Rathbone, Melville Cooper, and Montagu Love, isn’t a terrible villain. When there’s first act banter between Rains and Flynn, it seems like Rains is going to be a great one. It’s like Rains is buying into the pomposity of the production. Maybe it’s when Keighley is still directing the film, maybe it’s Curtiz. They didn’t work together; the studio canned Keighley for weak action scenes.
And action scenes are Robin Hood’s weakness. Neither Curtiz or Keighley has much of a handle on them. There’s almost a discomfort around the castle sets, like neither director knows how he wants to shoot the exteriors. There are some decent moments on the outdoor castle and village set, but not many. Robin Hood’s best directorial moments are indoors. Even the problematic ones; one of the directors has some real issues with framing the grandiose castle interiors, like he’s going for something and it just doesn’t translate.
Olivia de Havilland’s condemned Maid Marian, tinily waiting her sentence, is a somewhat effective moment, but it’s not a style the directors use in the rest of the film. Just for inside the castle for a bit in the second half of the film, specifically as the second act winds down. de Havilland’s gowns are always exquisite–quite the opposite of the men in tights–and the shots sort of showcase them, but her performance during her bigger character moments could’ve been shot a lot better.
There’s also Ralph Dawson’s editing.
But the problem is the script more than anything else. Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller string together some introductions to familiar Robin Hood supporting cast through the first act–while setting up Rains’s villainry–and that first act is pretty much the most Flynn gets to do in the film actingwise. He and de Havilland flirt wonderfully through the rest of the film, but it’s all easy stuff. And then in the second act, de Havilland gets a lot more to do, only to lose it all for the third act. Third act is a mostly even split between Flynn and Rains, along with the deus ex machina sauntering around, but it’s not a return to the first act.
Robin Hood has a lot of (tighted) buts to it. Basil Rathbone’s an effective strong man villain, but he has no character and Rathbone doesn’t bring one to it. He just sweats well during the sword fights. Same goes for the Merry Men. Patric Knowles gets top billing despite having nothing to do. He’s purely functional. At least Eugene Pallette and Alan Hale eventually bicker, though it comes out of nowhere.
The best parts of the supporting cast are this underdeveloped, but frequently utilized, romance between Flynn’s “squire” Herbert Mundin and de Havilland’s lady-in-waiting Una O’Connor. And Melville Cooper’s cowardly Nottingham Sheriff is eventually funny, just because the script doesn’t forget about the joke. Cooper’s character gets a singular consistency and he does well with it.
Shame Rains doesn’t have a similar success.
Beautiful Technicolor cinematography from Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito. Omnipresent and overbearing, but still good in parts, score from Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
The Adventures of Robin Hood ought to be better, even though some of the cast does all right.
Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley; screenplay by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller; directors of photography, Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito; edited by Ralph Dawson; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Errol Flynn (Robin Hood), Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian), Basil Rathbone (Sir Guy of Gisbourne), Claude Rains (Prince John), Patric Knowles (Will Scarlett), Eugene Pallette (Friar Tuck), Alan Hale (Little John), Melville Cooper (High Sheriff of Nottingham), Una O’Connor (Bess), Herbert Mundin (Much), and Montagu Love (Bishop of the Black Canons).