I struggled with whether I should classify this as a classic movie. I decided to be technical. Since I saw this movie at its premiere in 1976 and since I was born in the late 1950s I assume that categorizes it as post-classical, more or less. The story takes up twenty years after Robin and Little John have followed King Richard the Lion Hearted to the Crusades. Disillusioned and tired of war he returns to take up his life in England.
When I saw this movie the first time I was shocked to see that James Bond was old, balding and apparently way out of shape. I liked the movie but it didn’t make a huge impression at the time. I re-watched it last week. This time it clicked. Sean Connery as the aging hero is very believable. The action contrasts intentionally against the swashbuckling portrayal of Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” In the 1938 edition when Flynn is attempting to flee the Sheriff’s castle he cuts the rope holding up the portcullis to the castle gate which allows the weight of the gate to propel him effortlessly to the top of the wall from which he then laughingly escapes the Sheriff’s men. In the Connery version when the gate is closed on Robin, he and Little John begin to slowly and painfully climb the wall. These are two middle aged men struggling to do what they used to do effortlessly. By the time they reach the top of the wall soldiers are upon them and the escape is anything but light-hearted. The comical and yet stirring scene sets the stage for the action in the rest of the movie. We see Robin and his re-assembled band of arthritic merry men painfully re-acquaint themselves with guerilla warfare against the Sheriff of Nottingham. And we find Maid Marian is now Mother Superior of the local convent. She is about to be sent to prison by the Sheriff for some policy against the church by King John. Robin rescues her, against her will, and carries her off to Sherwood Forest to try and rekindle their interrupted life together. Audrey Hepburn an actress that I’ve only liked rarely in film is almost as well cast as Connery. She brings humor and feminine grace to the part and is totally believable in the role. The screen romance is extremely well done and balances out the adventure sequences in a remarkable way.
And finally, the counterbalance to the merry band is the Sheriff of Nottingham, played by Robert Shaw. And he is allowed to be a chivalrous foe who seems to be as fond of Robin as he is disdainful of his own oaf-like associates. Of course, he knows that this collision with Robin will end in their long-delayed duel. And that duel is the climax of the adventure story. But the finale is the resolution of Robin and Marian’s star-crossed fate. Always separated by war and duty that robbed them of their youth and the happiness they hoped for, they see before them more conflict and the certainty that age and weakness will eventually win out over them.
This is an older man’s Robin Hood. You have to be at the point where running up a few flights of steps has you panting a little to really appreciate this movie. It is heroic to “rage against the dying of the light.” And it is especially admirable to do it with a little self-deprecating humor. For any of you folks out there with more than a few gray hairs, this movie comes highly recommended. And if you have a long-time sweet heart it’s a good date movie.