Libel is a British courtroom drama. The legal case is a libel charge against a man, Jeffrey Buckenham, who claims that an imposter stole the identity of an English baronet. Buckenham claims that during WWII in a German POW camp, a fellow POW who looked remarkably similar to Sir Mark Loddon stole his identity during an escape from the camp. Buckenham claims that during their escape the imposter, Frank Welney, escaped but Lodden perished. Dirk Bogarde plays both Loddon and Welney. Olivia de Havilland plays Lodden’s wife, Lady Margaret Loddon. Paul Massie plays Buckenham. And finally, familiar character actors Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White play, respectively, the prosecuting and defense attorneys.
The story develops with us seeing that the man assumed to be Mark Lodden suffers from extreme amnesia of his pre-war life and is also haunted by recurring nightmares that include a snatch of song and an image of a face in a mirror. His wife provides patient support during all his agony but as the trial progresses the story told by Buckenham begins to eat away at her belief in her husband and his identity. Buckenham relates details about Welney’s behavior that makes it plausible that he might have pulled off the impersonation. He was a professional actor. He had pumped Lodden for details of his private life. Welney had a missing finger that the present Sir Lodden also claimed to have lost to a bullet wound during his escape. Buckenham even testified that he overheard Welney talking to himself about impersonating Lodden if he ever returned but Lodden didn’t. Before the end of the trial Lady Margaret Loddon becomes convinced that she’s married to an imposter that did away with her actual fiancé.
The testimony by Buckenham and Lodden are portrayed with flashbacks of the wartime interaction of the protagonists in the POW camp. The acting is good. The script is relatively taut for such a convoluted story and the tension is well maintained. The finale is a bit of a twist and is as plausible or implausible as the rest of this slightly unlikely story. I recommend it.
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.