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Rockin' Robin (Hood)

May 10, 2010 - Keith Frederick

Since I was a child, I've been fascinated by Robin Hood.

Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Sweeping Maid Marian out from under Prince John's nose. Splitting the arrow in two during the archery competition. Little John, Friar Tuck and the Merry Men. Defeating the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisbourne, just in time for King Richard to come back from the Crusades and throw Prince John from the throne.

Of course, I read these stories as fairy tales when I was very young. Today, I know these stories really are fairy tales; that the earliest stories of Robin Hood named him as a thief who stole from the rich and gave to himself — if he was even real. Still, the stories remain, both in print and on the big screen.

This Friday, director Ridley Scott unveils the latest interpretation of Robin Hood — creatively titled "Robin Hood" — starring Russell Crowe as the crusading archer. With Crowe and Scott (frequent collaborators) teaming up again, the film is sure to be a testosterone-soaked action film. From the trailers, it appears that what the pair have made is an English version of "Braveheart."

Honestly, it looks just absolutely horrid. With that in mind, I thought I'd look back on Robin Hood's previous big screen retellings.

The Good: 

 

  • "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) - Technically, 1922's "Robin Hood" starring Douglas Fairbanks was the first successful film about the character, but "The Adventures of Robin Hood," starring Errol Flynn, is the seminal version of the English archer. This is the depiction that really grabbed me when I was a kid. Every time this film came on TV, I watched. And each time, I loved it more.

    Flynn is daring, charismatic and charming - everything we've been trained to believe Robin Hood represents. And the rest of the cast? Olivia de Havilland as Marian, Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Robin's more traditional enemy; NOT the Sherif of Nottingham) and Claude Rains as Prince John. All told, this is still the ultimate "Robin Hood" film.

  • "Walt Disney's Robin Hood" (1973) - The most famous animated version of the Robin Hood tale featured a cast entirely filled with anthropomorphized animals, led by foxes as Robin and Marian. It's a fun story, but it was done on the cheap. Throughout the film, the Robin Hood characters go through sequences that were blatantly copied from previous Disney films. Scenes are cribbed repeatedly from "The Jungle Book," "The Aristocats" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," among others. (Seriously, it's bad. Look it up on YouTube some time.)

    Still, it's a fun story that's also a good way to introduce kids to the legend.

  • "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (1993) - I wavered back and forth about putting this in the "good" or "bad" category, but it ends up here because it is a guilty pleasure. "Men in Tights" is Mel Brooks' parody of "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (see below). 

    Many of the jokes are cribbed from other Brooks films. And a lot of the humor doesn't hold up over the passage of time. But the lead performances of Cary Elwes and Dave Chappelle (in his first starring role) are well done, with Elwes pulling off a nice feat - looking like the classic Robin Hood, while acting completely insane.

    Plus, Elwes gets off a wonderful jab at Costner. When asked why the people of Sherwood would follow him, he responds, "Because, unlike other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent."

 

The Bad: 

 

  • Robin and Marian (1976) - Projecting Robin and Marian into middle age, this drama cast Sean Connery as aging soldier Robin Hood and Audrey Hepburn as Maid Marian turned nun after Robin leaves her behind. The only thing this ridiculous film had going for it was the cast, which also included Robert Shaw, Richard Harris and Ian Holm.

    But it does get bonus points - despite its bad script - for being the only depiction I can recall of the legend of Robin Hood's death. I appreciated that.

 

The Ugly: 

 

  • "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991) - Ah yes. The last big budget Robin Hood. The film that pretty much killed the Robin Hood myth for an entire generation. 

    This film is so bad it's almost as if star Kevin Costner had directed it himself. In short, this film tells us that, after years of fighting in the Crusades, Robin Hood escapes from a Jerusalem prison, taking along a Moor (Morgan Freeman, filling the token diversity role that all 90s movies had to have) for no reason other than it being the right thing to do. He returns to England and is struck by the revelation that his father was dead. Not just dead, but murdered by a pack of satan worshippers led by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). 

    Upon killing a bunch of the Sheriff's men, Robin pretty much immediately joins a bunch of outlaws who turn into a skilled guerilla force in about three seconds and pledge their lives under Robin's leadership in about the same amount of time. Then they battle tirelessly against the forces of the Sheriff - who, by the way, is counseled by a crippled old witch kept in the castle basement. Got that?

    "Prince of Thieves" was a huge hit, but also a huge disaster as a film. BUT, if you can, ignore: the fact that Costner's Robin Hood has a Midwest American accent and hair with blond highlights; Christian Slater as Will Scarlet, who turns out to be the long-lost half-brother of Robin (What is this? "As the World Turns"?); the complete absence of Prince John, and indeed any ruler at all in the kingdom; and the nonsensical Sean Connery cameo that finishes the film.

    If you can ignore all that, watch the film for Rickman's Sheriff, one of the funniest, most incredibly evil villains in film history.

 

 
 
 

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Errol Flynn will always be MY Robin Hood.

 
 
 
 

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