Everyone knows the outline of the Robin Hood story. Robin is a Saxon nobleman who fights to avenge the oppression that the Saxons suffer at the hands of their Norman overlords. He steals from the rich and gives to the poor. He is a superb archer. The story goes that while King Richard is absent on the Crusade his brother John uses the circumstance to overtax and terrorize the Saxon population. The local tyrant for this story is the Sheriff of Nottingham who hunts relentlessly for Robin. The happy ending is Richard’s return to England.
In this Warner Brothers’ version Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played by Basil Rathbone inherits the activities usually given to the Sheriff of Nottingham and is Robin Hood’s primary enemy. Robin is iconically portrayed by Errol Flynn in his most famous and most successful part. And his love interest, the Maid Marian Fitzwalter is played by Olivia de Havilland. Rounding out the major parts are Claude Rains as Prince John, Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck and Alan Hale as Little John. But many of the smaller parts are also ably performed by a crew of excellent character actors.
Robin Hood’s heroics and acrobatics are generously sprinkled throughout the film and swashbuckling is a word that might as well have been invented for this movie. Robin and his merry men swing on vines through Sherwood Forest, scale castle walls, and sword fight their way up and down stone staircases with the greatest of ease. Robin can shoot backward from a galloping horse and hit his foes with arrows as they gallop along in the dark. And of course, the feat of splitting an arrow with an arrow in the bulls’ eye is called a “Robin Hood.” And so, it becomes the climax of yet another chapter in the film. Robin fearlessly confronts his enemies right in their strongholds and only once is captured. But on the brink of being hanged he is rescued by his men and returns to Sherwood in triumph. And finally, when King Richard returns to England in disguise, Robin saves both him and Marian from the murderous plots of Prince John.
And in the spirit of the happy ending Robin kills Sir Guy in a sword fight, restores Richard to the throne and is betrothed to Marian with the king’s blessings. Because this is 1938 a certain part of the reason for this movie is the pro-British sentiment that was being sponsored by the US government to counter the rise of Nazi Germany. But it really isn’t necessary to justify the regard that this movie received at its release. It actually is a remarkably stirring film. Errol Flynn embodies the swashbuckling hero and Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains positively exude villainy and malice. As I mentioned earlier, all of the bit players are excellent and the script is crisp and the stunts wonderfully choreographed. It is an altogether lively and spirited romp.
If you’ve never seen this movie, I suggest that you remedy that deficiency as soon as you get the chance. Very highly recommended for old and young alike.