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Rob(b)in My Heart

26 Aug
Rob(b)in My Heart

In The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Errol Flynn runs around a forest in green tights with his BFF who looks like he’d like nothing better than a cuddle from his comrade in arms, and falls for a girl dressed in medieval Europe’s version of the hijab. Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, it is an enduring classic. And watching it again for the purposes of my self-declared Flynn Week made me remember why.

If you speak English, you know the story. In fact, it’s been made and remade so often, for television and film, that I was pretty sure I had Robin-fatigue. Part of the reason for this feeling, quite apart from the individual merits of the films or television shows made after the 1938 version, I realized, is because when you’re remaking an old classic, the burden is on you to find “something new” to justify the remake.

Better sets and better costumes that introduced moody lighting and did away with the famous tights. New interpretations of old characters that gave them a bit more to do than be candles to Robin’s star. Realistic styles of warfare involving a great deal of blood and screaming. A hook that announces to the audience that this is not the same old stuff that you saw in your childhood.

By that same token, however, the charm of The Adventures of Robin Hood is that it is precisely that movie you saw in your childhood… and loved very much. The sets seem made out of play dough; the costumes are hilarious; the fighting is choreographed like a slightly less graceful ballet; the story is a wafer thin concoction of action scenes culled from lore; and any true unpleasantness like blood and death are presented in a way calculated to preserve the innocence and sensibilities of the infants of an era past wherein incredible amounts of mindless, desensitizing violence wasn’t the cultural norm. And yet, it is a benchmark because, quite simply, it is fun.

I’ve lost count of how often I saw this movie as a child, or even as an adult because I never missed it if it was on TV, but it has been a few years now and this is the first time I’m writing about it. That brings the realization that my idea of what it means to be A Hero has been indelibly shaped by Flynn’s portrayal of Robin Hood.

“He’s brave and he’s reckless,” gushes Maid Marian (the very lovely Olivia de Havilland) to her nurse (the very funny Una O’Connor). “And yet, he’s gentle and kind, not brutal…”

Flynn’s Robin is indeed all these things and more besides. In fact, my deeply held belief that true heroes are wonderful men who must be a phenomenal pain to know in person stems from his portrayal of Robin in this movie. Childish me thought him exceedingly romantic – grown up, stodgy me doesn’t grudge poor Marian a lifetime of following in the wake of the fires he’s bound to start because he thought the night called for some warmth and by building the biggest bonfire he could, he’d have some fun and something pretty to look at besides. But the magic of Flynn’s Robin is that despite knowing all this, you still either want him or want to be him.

His hot-headed nobility would be insufferable if it weren’t for his humor and obvious intelligence. Of course, it helps that Flynn is also the personification of male beauty at his very prime, with a truly excellent pair of legs he puts to good use during intensely acrobatic fights that require him to run, jump, and swing around like a monkey. And then there is that cocky little grin doing a lot more damage than any of the arrows he lets loose in the movie.

Helping him along is his chemistry with co-star de Havilland. Unlike the majority of versions, in The Adventures of Robin Hood, Maid Marian is not the childhood sweetheart of Robin of Locksley. She is instead a snooty Norman ward of the King of England, very much a partisan in the on-going ethnic strife between Saxons and Normans, and doesn’t care all that much for Robin at first sight, pretty face or not.

You can’t really blame her: Robin has a taste for mouthing off to royalty in the guise of the villainous Prince John (Claude Rains), appears at parties with the carcasses of forbidden game that he dumps on the main table, a habit of jumping up on tables where food is being served, his friends are a ragtag bunch of extremely common commoners, and his main occupation is running around shooting or robbing her friends, especially her would-be beau Guy of Gisborne (Basil Rathbone). Hardly endearing behavior.

Once she adopts his cause, however, Marian is anything but a wilting flower. She gently nudges him back to the path of duty when he starts dreaming of a countryside idyll with her by his side, and plots his escape when he inevitably gets into trouble through his reckless actions. She is also the one who puts her life in danger to send him word of King Richard the Lion-Heart (Ian Hunter), who has returned to England after escaping his captors.

And in the midst of all the things that are going on – kings to be restored to thrones, villains to be defeated, fair maidens to be rescued, a kingdom to be freed from the greed of a racist tyrant – The Adventures of Robin Hood even takes a moment to comment on current affairs circa 1938. The Merry Men of Sherwood Forest, you’ll be happy to know, were decidedly non-interventionist. Oh, irony.

The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of those rare movies that delivers exactly what it says in the title: Adventure with a capital A. If you somehow passed your childhood without access to its magic, you need to rectify it today!

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7 Comments

Posted by on August 26, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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7 responses to “Rob(b)in My Heart

  1. memsaab

    August 26, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    I love this film, and I love the Olivia-Errol pair. Always lots of chemistry, and such fun films. And I love it precisely for its simplicity, as you say :)

     
  2. bollyviewer

    August 26, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    I never did see this film as a child, but I would’ve found this just as satisfying back then, as I do now. The sets, the costumes, the story, the dialogues, even the ballet-like fight scenes (LOVED them!) are all exactly as I imagined them as a kid. :D :D

    It’s interesting what you say about Robin being unbearable to live with. Have you seen Robin and Marian? That is exactly what Marian did find him to be – a pain in the… :D

     
  3. dustedoff

    August 27, 2010 at 2:09 am

    Would you believe it? I actually didn’t see this as a kid. But that situation was remedied a few months back, and with much satisfaction gleaned from it. :-)

     
  4. cinemachaat

    August 27, 2010 at 5:01 am

    I LOVED this film as a kid, and I still do :) In fact, any man considering impressing me by prancing about a giant oak while wearing tights needs to know that this set the standard.

     
  5. Amrita

    August 27, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Memsaab – they are crackling together! And so perfectly made for each other.

    BV – “exactly as I imagined them as a kid” is right! I dont think I’ve been able to warm up to a single other Robin because Errol Flynn is just him.
    I’ve never seen Robin and Marian, somehow, although I always mean to. Will see one of these days.

    Dustedoff – satisfaction guaranteed should be its tagline!

    Temple – why have men stopped prancing on oak trees in green tights is the question!

     
  6. Read Robin

    August 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Dear ma’am,

    I confess, I have much to rectify.

    All the adult stuff, I watched/read in childhoood. All the childhood stuff, I watch/read now. What is wrong with me?

    Yours EVER truly,
    (Red Riding) Hood

    Seriously, what timing! I’d call this post The Great (Thought-)Train Robbery! :-P I was gonna watch this movie since (as confessed above) I’d never done so as a child, but also as a follow up to Thomas Love Peacock’s ballad-like 1822 novella Maid Marian that I just read. Roger Lancelyn Green, in his foreword of The Adventures of Robinhood, calls Peacock’s work “the best prose story of Robin Hood yet written”.

    My favorite passage in it is this one that showcases the little friar’s expertise in “fish” over a little exchange about “lake trout” vs “river trout”:

    “Spoken,” said brother Michael, “with a sound Catholic conscience. My little brother here is most profound in the matter of trout. He has marked, learned, and inwardly digested the subject, twice a week at least for five-and-thirty years. I yield to him in this. My strong points are venison and canary.”

    “The good qualities of a trout,” said the little friar, “are firmness and redness: the redness, indeed, being the visible sign of all other virtues.”

    “Whence,” said brother Michael, “we choose our abbot by his nose:

    The rose on the nose doth all virtues disclose:
    For the outward grace shows
    That the inward overflows,
    When it glows in the rose of a red, red nose.”

    “Now,” said the little friar, “as is the firmness so is the redness, and as is the redness so is the shyness.”

    “Marry why?” said brother Michael. “The solution is not physical-natural, but physical-historical, or natural-superinductive. And thereby hangs a tale, which may be either said or sung:” Read more here (though there’s nothing like holding the damn book in your hands, you know that).

    I also LOVE these closing lines from the Green foreword:

    “Robin Hood’s is a story that can never die, nor cease to fire the imagination. Like the old fairytales it must be told and told again — for like them, it is touched with enchantment and few of us can fail to come under its spell –
    Calling as he used to call, faint and far away,
    In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

    It’s as if Hilaire Belloc was thinking up an epitaph (not for himself but) for our legendary Hero here, even as he wrote:

    “When I am dead, I hope it may be said: His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”

     
    • Amrita

      August 29, 2010 at 4:28 pm

      I need to get my hands on a copy stat!

       
 
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