Wednesday, June 1, 2011

DVD Review: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Blu-ray Special Edition

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Blu-ray Special Edition

(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!

Errol Flynn IS Robin Hood! Errol Flynn is the DEFINITIVE Robin Hood. Whatever your impressions of the legendary 12th Century nobleman turned outlaw, Errol Flynn most likely meets them – with his great bravado, hearty infectious laugh – and just his screen presence.

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”).

They’re all here: Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Will Scarlett, John Little (Little John), Friar Tuck, and THREE villains for your gold pieces: Prince John, The Sheriff of Nottingham, and (best of all) Sir Guy of Gisbourne – played by the great Basil Rathbone. …And, of course, “Sherwood Forest”.

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”.

• Little John is just a strong, spirited strapping member of the band, and is not more of a featured “trusty sidekick”.

• 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.


There isn’t a whole lot to criticize here. Oh, yes… The SOUND LEVELS differ significantly among the different features of the set. You will give your volume control a workout when viewing this set. Even the two “extra cartoons” featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, that you might think originated from the same source, differ widely – with Bugs far louder than Daffy. (Isn’t it usually the other way around?) Oh, well… It’s always something.


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!

The Cast:

• Errol Flynn as “Robin Hood”.

• 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.

Extra Features:

Warner Night at the Movies. Once again, we are treated to the outstanding “Warner Night at the Movies”.

Warner expertly recreates the movie-going experience of the day as a viewing option for “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. The film may be viewed as part of the entire program, on its own, or the viewer may pick and choose among the included items.

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:

A theatrical trailer for “Angels with Dirty Faces”: Starring James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, and The Dead End Kids.

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.

“Katnip Kollege”: (Runs 07:26) A Merrie Melodies cartoon, directed by Cal Dalton and Cal Howard, about some “hep-cats” studying “Swing-ology” at a sort of university for felines. A “square”, bespectacled, high-pantsed cat just doesn’t get it – until the rhythm hits him, while sitting in detention at the brutal hour of 8 PM! Then, he becomes better than the rest, gets the girl, and you know… At least he didn’t “save-the-other-cruel-and-derisive- cats-from-some-deadly-danger” while suddenly becoming super-cool! That would have been a Paramount cartoon! The colors in this short are especially bright and vivid, and its main attraction was surely the swing music sound track.

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:

Trailers for: “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938 Release), “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1942 Re-release), “Captain Blood” (1935), “The Prince and the Pauper” (1937), “Dodge City” (1939), “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (1939), “The Sea Hawk” (1940), “Dive Bomber” (1941), “The Died with Their Boots On” (1942), “Objective Burma” (1945), “Kim” (1950), and “The Master of Ballantrees” (1953).

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.

• The year 1377 is believed to be the first mention of Robin Hood – and, alas, there is no historical evidence to support the existence of Robin Hood as anything but a legend.

Extra Cartoons: Just in case you were less than enthused over “Katnip Kollege”, Warner gives you two of its BEST cartoons, written by the great Michael Maltese and directed by the great Chuck Jones – and with Robin Hood themes, no less:

“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!

This cartoon has one of my all-time favorite Bugs Bunny gags, where he fast-talks the Sheriff into "buying" a plot of the Royal Grounds... and the Sheriff doesn’t realize he's been had until he's already completed building the frame of his house -- over and around the King's Rose Garden!!! Features an end-of-cartoon cameo by the real Errol Flynn as Robin Hood!

“Robin Hood Daffy” (1957) starring Daffy Duck and Porky Pig (Runs 06:39): Friar Porky wants to join up with Robin Hood's band. Daffy *IS*, in actuality, Robin Hood but, due to his epic ineptness, cannot convince the skeptical Pig of that fact. The quarterstaff duel atop a stream-traversing log, between Flynn's Robin Hood and Alan Hale's Little John, is recreated here, with Daffy employing his "Buck-and-a-quarterstaff". Coincidently, both Flynn and Daffy end up in the drink!

“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:

• James Cagney was originally considered by Warner Bros. to play Robin Hood! Only a contract dispute between Cagney and Warner prevented this! Personal Note: I love the gangster films of Mr. Cagney – but I cannot envision him as Robin Hood. Fists and guns, yes! Arrows and swords… I just don’t see it! …And he was short, to boot!

• 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”.

• MGM originally planned to do a MUSICAL version of Robin Hood, with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, prompting Warner Bros. to title their version “The ADVENTURES of Robin Hood”.

• 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.

Breakdowns of 1938: (12:45) “The Studio’s Notorious Annual Year-End Blooper Reel”. Suitably, this begins and ends with the Looney Tunes theme, and is a parade of stars big and small flubbing their lines, laughing and/or cursing. Personalities range from Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn to Allen (“Officer Dibble”) Jenkins and Fritz (“Lost in Space”) Feld. From “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, we see blown takes from the meeting of Robin Hood and Friar Tuck – and Basil Rathbone (as Sir Guy) trying on a vast array of knightly headgear.

Cavalcade of Archery: (08:32) Features Howard Hill, billed as “The World’s Greatest Archer”, and the individual who performed all the feats of archery in "The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Hill performs amazing trick shots that are set up by a trio of pretty girls. In an indication of how times and sensibilities have changed, there is a point where Hill shoots an apple OFF THE HEAD of a fellow dressed as William Tell. But the “fun” doesn’t stop there. Then, he does the same with a PRUNE! (He clearly does not FAKE IT! The shot is for real!) Finally, Hill is ready to triplicate the feat with a CHERRY, when “smart William” turns and runs. Honestly, jeopardizing a life like that is not something I would consider entertainment in the 21st Century – but I’m sure it went over BIG in the ‘30s. I’ll bet throwing someone to the lions would have done so as well.

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!

Glorious Technicolor: (1:00:05) A 1998 documentary, narrated by Angela Lansbury, on the history of the Technicolor process and the way it forever changed the movie-going experience. Participants are many and include Esther Williams and make-up artist supreme William Tuttle who did all of the specialty make-up for THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Oddly, Walt Disney, and his breakthrough animated short “Flowers and Trees” are featured – making this perhaps the first (and only?) time Mr. Disney and one of his productions found their way into a Warner Bros. product!

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 Adventures of Robin Hood” may not be “Citizen Kane” or “Cassablanca”, but it IS one of my favorite films of all time! You can’t beat it for pure color-saturated action spectacle!

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!

Sure, you might have to charitably overlook Olivia De Havilland’s “Maid Marian” apparently sporting lipstick, but all those nifty “stunt-deaths by flying arrows” have a way of making up for that! And, what the heck… I’ll use the word “swashbuckling” just once more for good measure!

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!


Chuck Munson said...

Wow, Joe, what an informative review. You're becoming as much of an old movie enjoyer-if-not-buff as I am. (I have other suggestions fur your viewing, if you haven't seen them already, that we can discuss by phone.) This is a gem in a decade littered with gems.
Talking of these movies of a bygone era (after all, this one is now a venerable 73!), always leads me to wonder how well these will survive in the minds of a population now accustomed to pulsating action, image overload, sound bites and instant analysis. Can they simply sit still for the more languid pacing - sword fights notwithstanding?

Joe Torcivia said...


Glad you enjoyed the review. It was my longest and most enthusiastic to date. This package is worth it in every way! This and the "PSYCHO" Blu-Ray (reviewed elsewhere on my Blog) of last fall may be two of the best movie DVD packages ever assembled.

Funny, as the supply of great sixties TV shows plays out, I’ve moved in this direction. In most cases, these are movies I’ve seen and enjoyed in years past (“Casablanca” “Maltese Falcon”, “Lifeboat”, “Robin Hood”, “Psycho”) , or have always wanted to see but never got around to it! (“Citizen Kane”, “Foreign Correspondent”, “Little Caesar”, “The Public Enemy”, “Captain Blood”) Others, like “A Slight Case of Murder”, or the soon-to-be-reviewed “The Mayor of Hell” and “Picture Snatcher” come from viewing trailers or reading Amazon recommendations.

This WAS an amazing period for film – made all the better by DVD (seen in Blu-ray or upconverted standard format on a wide-screen HD TV) and all of the special features these packages come with.

No cuts, no ads, no crowds to interfere or otherwise distract, the best picture quality many of these films have EVER had, and the joys of “historical perspective” have allowed me to enjoy the films as NEVER BEFORE! Warner Bros. (during their best period of DVD production) even gives you the authenticity of the experience with their wonderful “Warner Night at the Movies”!

So, yes… In my (Ahem!) “middle age”, I’ve decided to see as many these films as I can! And, as you can see in the reviews, I’m having a great time doing it!

Your cinematic suggestions are always welcome. That goes for ALL of you!

Finally, no… I don’t think younger audiences, by and large, will have an appreciation for such things (…extraordinary persons like our friend Ryan Wynns excepted), but at a younger age, neither did I! …And these things looked a lot less old-fashioned in the ‘70s and ‘80s (my young adulthood) then they do now! The appreciation of some things just comes with age and perspective!


Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Joe, I love James Cagney too, but agree he would definitely looked way out of place in this film. He'd rather punch out the villains rather than use a sword or bow and arrow.

Joe Torcivia said...

Reel PJ:

It’s a toss-up between Cagney and Bogart as to who is my favorite actor of all time but, yes, neither one would work in this great film. Flynn was a perfect a Robin Hood as could be! Let alone his supporting cast!

Beyond that, I wish there were more total DVD packages as wonderful as this one was! When they wanted to, Warner sure know how to do it right!

Verily, did I just notice you did your own review of this film. Agree with it all… except that “9 out of 10” rating! “The Adventure of Robin Hood” is a “10 of 10”, if ever there was one!

Anyone reading this, go read Reel PJ’s review. You’ll enjoy it!