(Released: 2008 by Warner Home Video)
My Longest Ever DVD Review by Joe Torcivia!
It’s a rare and wonderful thing when an actor becomes the very embodiment of the character he plays. All the more so when the character is the “stuff of legends”, and has been for centuries before the actor’s interpretation!
What a film this is! An early and unusual example of Warner Bros. attempting a Technicolor spectacle – or what we’d call today, a blockbuster – with directorial duties shared by two of Warner’s best directors of the period: William Kieghley (“Bullets or Ballots”, “G-Men”) and Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”, “Captain Blood”).
The credits bill the film as being “Based upon ancient Robin Hood Legends”. Though, unexpectedly, the film breaks with some of the established conventions we commonly associate with Robin Hood.
• Robin’s band is at no time referred to as “Merry Men”.
• The character of Allan A Dale is not present.
• Will Scarlett is Robin’s “second lieutenant”.
• The Sheriff of Nottingham is not the main adversary – and is actually more of a boob and a stooge than an actual villain.
• Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Prince John’s “enforcer”, is Robin’s true adversary.
Just how accurately those “ancient legends” are reflected, is anyone’s guess.
Nevertheless, Flynn swashbuckles (You just KNEW I was gonna get around to that word sooner or later!) his way through one of the great cinematic experiences of all time – further enhanced by Warner Home Video in breathtaking Blu-ray presentation!
As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.
It’s difficult to imagine that WHV could do anything more to improve this magnificent package! Not surprisingly, much of the material originated with a 2003 standard-def release. That, of course, was when Warner was the best of the best among DVD producers. But, did they ever pack it with additional material for this special edition!
The Film: Again, the Blu-ray presentation of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is breathtaking! The picture is sharp and the colors are amazing for a 70-something year old, early Technicolor film. The cast, direction, sets and costumes and the memorable score by the great Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold are all first rate!
• Olivia De Havilland as “Maid Marian”.
• Basil Rathbone as “Sir Guy of Gisbourne”.
• Claude Rains as “Prince John”.
• Patric Knowles as “Will Scarlett”.
• Alan Hale as “Little John”.
• Eugene Pallette as “Friar Tuck”.
• Melville Cooper as “The Sheriff of Nottingham”.
• Ian Hunter as “King Richard the Lion-Heart”.
• Uma O’Connor as “Bess” (Lady-in-Waiting for Maid Marian).
• Herbert Mundin as “Much the Miller’s Son”
The latter two execute a “comic reflection” of the romance between Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
Warner Night at the Movies. Once again, we are treated to the outstanding “Warner Night at the Movies”.
Oddly, for this iteration of “Warner Night at the Movies” and (to my knowledge only this iteration) the optional introduction to the program by film historian Leonard Maltin offers the following disclaimer, regarding the “authenticity” of the experience:
“All of these shorts were playing in theatres in 1938, when 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' was first released and may well have been the curtain raisers for that extraordinary movie”.
The program consists of:
• Newsreel: (Runs 01:21) A look at the US Army’s new “Midget Creeper Tank” that is: “…supposed to replace an entire machine gun squad – men, mules, and carts!” (…Um, did he say “mules”?) On the sobering side: “Austria Absorbed by German Reich in Surprise Coup”.
• “Vitaphone Presents: Freddy Rich and his Orchestra”: (Runs 11:05) Bandleader Rich, his swing orchestra, and trio of girl singers perform “You’re an Education”, a swing version of “Volga Boatman”, and “Loch Lomand”. Just as might have occurred in a Warner cartoon of the day, a persistent fellow continues to interrupt the performance, insisting on an audition. He is turned away with the classic exchange of: “Now?” No, not now!” – until his opportunity is granted at short’s end, and he blows the band away! Released under the banner of “A Vitaphone Melody Master”. This is one of the best Warner musical shorts I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a few of them lately on various WB film DVDs.
• The film itself: An ambitious departure for Warner Bros., whose specialty to this point was gritty crime dramas, light comedies, and musicals. Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone deliver one spectacular cinematic experience! Imagine what this spectacle must have looked like in 1938! Need I say more?
Other Extra Features Include:
Theatrical Trailer Gallery for Errol Flynn:
Commentary Track by Rudy Behlmer: Film historian Rudy Behlmer’s observations include:
• Parallels are drawn between the ballads of Robin Hood and the film.
• “Sherwood” was derived from “Shire of Wood”.
• The film Robin Hood is described as the “Defender of the Saxon people against their Norman overlords”. But, this has never been part of the ballads.
• In addition to William Kieghley and Michael Curtiz, a THIRD director (under contract to Warner Bros.) was called upon to film transitional scenes that featured no cast principals.
• Behlmer describes fighting with quarterstaffs in detail.
• QUOTE: “Very few actors are at ease in, and still fewer are convincing when required to captain a pirate ship, or lead a cavalry charge, or play Robin Hood. Playing a costumed hero with conviction and style is one of the most difficult areas of film acting – and Flynn did it better than ANYONE at the time!”
• For the film, The Sheriff of Nottingham was written as a “blustering, cowardly comic villain”.
• Robin Hood was the subject of film, as early as 1908.
• “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was only the 16th feature to be filmed in Technicolor.
• More stuntmen were used in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” than in any other film to that point.
• The film also boasted the largest Warner orchestra to that point.
“Rabbit Hood” (1948) starring Bugs Bunny (Runs 07:57): In a nice parallel to the "King's Deer" scene in “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, Bugs is caught poaching one of the "King's Carrots" (complete with a Royal Seal). This leads to the usual hijinks with the Sheriff of Nottingham -- who, oddly, is characterized more like Basil Rathbone's "Sir Guy of Gisbourne". That “Rathbone-ian” pompousness just made him a better fall-guy!
“Welcome to Sherwood: The Story of The Adventures of Robin Hood”:
This feature (at a whopping 55:44) looks at the stars, casting, directorial efforts, studio politics, memorable scenes, and the times of the film “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Featured are film historians Rudy Behlmer, Leonard Maltin, Robert Osbourne, Bob Thomas, and others.
Interesting facts and observations simply pour forth from the participants:
• With Cagney unavailable, Errol Flynn was tapped for the role, based on his performance in the swashbuckler (Ha! Used the word again!) “Captain Blood”.
• Born in Tasmania, Flynn may be the only film personality to come from that island… excepting a certain Warner Bros. animated star, of course.
• David Niven was originally selected for Will Scarlett.
• A previous silent film version of Robin Hood in 1922 starred Douglas Fairbanks.
• Alan Hale (father of “Skipper” Alan Hale, Jr.) was Little John THREE TIMES. In the 1922 and 1938 versions – and in 1950’s “Rogues of Sherwood Forest”.
• The Robin Hood ballads, upon which this and all versions of Robin Hood are based, are believed to date back as far as the year 1377 (!) – and, in those ballads (and unlike the film), The Sheriff of Nottingham was the primary villain.
• Film historian Leonard Maltin describes “The Adventures of Robin Hood” as having “…the perfect cast”!
• Maid Marian’s horse would later become Roy Rogers’ fabled “Trigger”.
• Chico, California doubled as Sherwood Forest – with green-sprayed foliage (better for Technicolor) and numerous prop rocks and tree trunks added.
• The setting for the archery tournament was Busch Gardens in Pasadena. This was also the location for the Wilkes Barbeque in “Gone With the Wind”.
• Jack Warner replaced original director William Kieghley with Michael Curtiz, because Curtiz was better adept at big action – and successfully directed Flynn in “Captain Blood”.
• At a cost of two million dollars, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was the most expensive Warner Bros. film to that point.
The Cruise of the Zaca: (18:07) Errol Flynn goes on an actual oceanographic expedition between pictures – and he narrates it, too! Is there ANYTHING he can’t do!
Robin Hood Through the Ages: (06:50) Film historian Rudy Behlmer hosts a program of various action scenes from the 1922 Douglas Fairbanks silent version of Robin Hood, and draws parallels to the 1938 Errol Flynn version.
Music Only Track: Experience the film with Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s wonderful score – and no dialogue and sound effects to get in the way! Truly, you achieve a greater appreciation for Korngold’s efforts – but the non-scored stretches come across as a little creepy – and when the music booms back in, you can become startled.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Piano Sessions: (Audio only) Korngold is at the piano for key score elements of various films, including two pieces from “The Adventures of Robin Hood”.
May 11, 1938 NBC Radio Broadcast: (Audio only) A program of Korngold’s music from “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is hosted by Basil Rathbone.
A Journey to Sherwood Forest: (13:16) Home movie footage, shot by cast and crew during the production of “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Hosted by Rudy Behlmer, who narrates over elements of the Korngold score.
Outtakes: (08:24) Unused scenes, alternate angles of filmed elements, action scenes with stunt doubles and the like, hosted once again by Rudy Behlmer – who, for his efforts on this collection, should be considered for the post of “Honorary Merry Man”!
Additional features list the film’s credits and awards. Given all this, the DVD set ‘tis a prize worthy of King Richard the Lion-Heart himself!
The astounding array of special features will keep you entertained for days – if not weeks! Indeed, you can PLAN YOUR VACATION around this DVD set! And, you don’t have to spend days in the family car, or hours lined up at airports!
The Adventures of Robin Hood: Blu-ray Special Edition is highly recommended for EVERYONE! I don’t believe Warner Home Video could have assembled a better package if Errol Flynn himself was on hand to contribute a commentary!