The Adventures of Robin Hood
Director: John Irvin

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Director: Mel Brooks

Director: Michael Curtiz & William Keighley

Director: Richard Lester

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Robin HoodThe telefilm Robin Hood (1991) picks up on an old theory that Robin was not a grass-roots rebel of the people, but a nobleman usurped of his lands. I've never found this as interesting as the class division Robin more commonly represents, of rich & poor, lord & serf. And the image of Robin as Norman royal class adverse to the Saxon royal class, condescending to help a maltreated poacher or priest, is just not the same level of heroic.

That rather than failings as an actor may be why Patrick Bergin makes one of the least appealling Robins ever. As a family film more for the kiddies than the adults I think it could be rated quite well enough, but I found it almost unwatchable. It's as safe & bland as a made-for-tv period drama ever gets, & the fact that it may be no worse than Kevin Costner's atrocious big-screen release that same year is scarsely high praise.

Uma Thurman plays Maid Marian in the standard "spunky damsel" mode. She even gets to carry a sword a bit, albeit unconvincingly. Most of the time she just stands or rides gazing big-eyed & looking pretty. If I hadn't seen her turn in much better performances in many other films, judging by this film you'd think she was just a weirdly pretty face without a smidgen of acting ability.

The costuming throughout is crummy, & Maid Marian in particular sometimes looks like she's dressed up as Lawrence of Arabia. Everyone else just geeks at a Renaissance Fair.

Jurgen Prochnow plays the main foe, & he too has proven a good actor in many other vehicles, but here he approaches the laughable, a villain of the Oil Can Harry school in old Mighty Mouse cartoons.

The climactic swordfight between Prochnow & Bergin was almost a good one, but rapid film-cuts replace good choreography so it won't impress anyone who's ever seen a samurai flick. And when that stand-in dressed as Maid Marian comes swinging down on the rope to help Robin, the camera angle makes it look like she's waiting for a speculum, just before landing clumsily & sitting down for god alone knows what reason.

I love a good fantasy tale, but this tale of Robin adhered to a fairly realistic pattern throughout, so the marriage at the end at which Friar Tuck turns out to be the Green Man just didn't make any sense. It was one more insult to a wonderful legend, in a film that is a string of insults.

Robin HoodThe Kevin Costner vehicle Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) adheres for the most part to the main Robin legend pitting him against the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman chewing the scenery) & introducing us to each of the Merry Men.

In terms of the support cast there are tremendous performances from Sean Connery as King Richard, Morgan Freeman as Azeem, & even Christian Slater as Will Scarlet does pretty well. The weak roles are Costner as a dandified dufus of a Robin, & Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as a pretty but vacuous Maid Marian. As these are the most important roles, the film pretty much falls on its face because of them.

The mediocre script is not enhanced by unintentional camp like the special FX permitting the audience to ride through the air on Robin's arrow, perhaps the film's most overtly retarded moment which inspired Mel Brooks to create his spoof.

The fact that Alan Rickman won a BAFTA for best supporting actor, while Kevin Costner got only a Razzie for worst actor, pretty much says it all. Costner throughout seems to be prancing around in front of his mommy exclaiming, "Look at me! I'm Robin Hood!" & only his mommy could think it was cute. Get rid of Costner, though, & there would've been an adequate film here.

Robin Hood: Men in TightsMel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) has its moments, but in the main comes off as "what if the Monty Python films weren't all that funny?"

Even at that, it's a better adventure than Costner's "serious" attempt, with Cary Elwes imitating Errol Flynn quite pleasantly, & Amy Yasbeck a charming Maid Marian.

It plays with a couple different Robin movies, but is mainly a spoof of Kevin Costner's film. Unless one finds it just terribly funny to have Morgan Freeman as Azeem the Moor turned into Isaac Hayes as Asneeze, it just won't come across as any funnier than the original. The cast is forever mugging & struggling to save material & are sometimes great fun despite the weakness of the material. Compare it to Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky (1977) to see how much better it might've been.

For all that the intent is to be humorous, the Brooks film has better swordplay & martial choreography than the Costner vehicle. If too much of the comedy misfires, the twee musical number is at least a delight, & the rest a better family film than than most, as the younger viewers would be apt to take it quite seriously (except for the punning including potty puns which might strike ten year olds as riotous).

Adventures of Robin HoodThe classiest of all takes on the Robin Hood legend is is Robin & Marian (1976), a poetic heartwrenching tale. Even so, the most famous version has got to be Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

The Flynn film has all the campiness expected of an old technicolor Hollywood extravaganza, but the casting is so appealing & the story so gung-ho & jolly, attempts to improve upon its vim & verve have generally failed. It remains a superior family film, with the humor more grin-worthy than in Mel Brooks' film & the adventurousness more gripping than in Costner's.

There's a true innocence to Flynn's performance which would be hard to duplicate in our more cynical times. Flynn truly set the highest possible standard for swashbuckling charm, & no one has yet knocked him from the post of definitive Robin.

Olivia De Havilland is one of the more credible love-interest Marians. Basil Rathbone as Guy of Gisborne is wonderfully menacing & easy to hiss, while Claude Rains is a fine Prince John. Robin's tussle with Little John (Alan Hale) has often been a central event of Robin films, but has never been outdone.

The martial choreography is Hollywood stylized & not always convincing, yet includes some truly iconic moments of physical action, as when Rathbone & Flynn duel around the staircase tower, one of the most gorgeous sets cinema ever presented.

I can imagine a kid loving the 1991 made for tv or the Costner films to distraction, then seeing them again as adults & being roundly disappointed. But the Erroll Flynn classic will be hugely loved by kids who'll grow up, see it again, & have a whole different equally wonderful experience with it.

In terms of a lighthearted heroic mood to every moment of romance & action, The Adventures of Robin Hood is immortal entertainment.

Robin & MarianYet for intelligence & beauty, my favorite Robin Hood film is the angst-driven Robin & Marian (1976) which is powerful as adventure & heartbreaking as an emotional tale.

The agonizingly slow death of Richard the Lionheart (Richard Harris looking heroic but behaving with insanity & malice) wounded in the Crusades is horrific to observe. Sean Connery as the aging Robin returning with Little John (Nicol Williamson) from war, attempting to recapture his glory days in Sherwood Forest to take down the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) once & for all, is simulataneously painful & invigorating.

Even "little" dreams are dashed in this tale of sorrow & decline. Little John just wants to see his father again, only to be informed by Friar Tuck (Ronnie Barker) that the man is long dead. World-weary & disillusioned Robin expects at least a long-merited reunion with Marian, only to discover she has taken holy vows. And the final duel is the single most realistic & convincing broadsword duel ever filmed, & thereby not pretty.

Audrey Hepburn as Maid Marian the sworn bride of God is shockingly beautiful in the role. She provides one more element of sadness. Audrey had come off a long period of depression & was able to find depths of emotions rarely plummed in period action-romances. And Robin's final arrow, that never touched the earth, reduces me to tears every time.

The unexcelled screenwriter & playwright James Goldman exceeded his best; he also wrote Lion in Winter (1968) with Peter O'Toole & Katherine Hepburn in similar "aging beauties in broken love" roles, the hauntingly beautiful Nicholas & Alexander (1971), as well as George C. Scott's finest film, the tragic yet beautiful They Might be Giants (1971).

Director Richard Lester was the right guy to shape the script on the screen. The support roles down to the smallest are all dead-on perfect, with Connery & Hepburn turning in the best performances of their lives.

For anyone looking for the jolly Robin robbing from the rich to give to the poor, Erroll Flynn cannot be beat, & Robin & Marian's oppressive gloom may not be any fun. But for powerful mature bittersweet realism, Robin & Marian is the best Robin Hood film ever made.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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