Robin Hood: Merry Man of Many Movies

Robin Hood: Merry Man of Many Movies

The outlaw Robin Hood has had many big moments on the big screen. As the latest "Robin Hood" movie opens Friday, a look at some of the more significant theatrical interpretations of the legend.

"Robin Hood" (1922)

A historic landmark of a film in many regards, this "Robin Hood" holds the distinction of being the first film to get the Hollywood premiere treatment. With an Avatarian budget for its time (around a million dollars!), it was produced and written by its star, Douglas Fairbanks. It’s noteworthy not only for being a silent picture, but for including most of Robin’s enemies (Guy of Gisbourne, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Prince John) and his more famous “Merry Men” (Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and Alan-a-Dale). Little John was played by Alan Hale Sr. (yes, The Skipper’s dad); remember that for a moment.

"The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938)

Frankly, it’s the movie that’s still the standard for Robin Hood films. Directed by Michael Curtiz (he of other little pictures like “Casablanca”) and William Keighley (“The Man Who Came to Dinner”), it stars Errol Flynn in perhaps his defining role. Little John was, yes, Alan Hale Sr.; remarkably, Hale would play the role a third time in 1950’s “Rogues of Sherwood Forest,” 28 years after he first donned the role. This particular film is so highly regarded due to champion action sequences, Flynn’s effortless charm in the lead, and the amazing cast assembled around him, which included Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Basil Rathbone as Guy of Gisbourne, Claude Rains as Prince John, and, well, Trigger (that is indeed Roy Rogers’ buddy playing Marian’s horse).

"Robin Hood" (1973)

Many youngsters received their first exposure to the legend of Robin Hood through the Disney animated version. Recasting the legend with anthropomorphized animals, Disney cast Robin as a fox (symbolizing his cunning), Little John as a bear, and so on. It’s a breezy take on the legend, obviously geared for the smallest audience members. Adults likely appreciate the songs by Roger “King of the Road” Miller and Peter Ustinov’s voice-work as a Mommy-obsessed Prince John.

"Robin and Marian" (1976)

Richard Lester staked a pretty big claim to period action films in the ‘70s, helming as he did this, “Royal Flash,” and the Chamberlain “Three Musketeers” series. This film’s take shows us a much older Robin returning from the Crusades to find that Marian has become a nun. Questions of honor and duty are played out amid some fine acting from Sean Connery (Robin) and Audrey Hepburn (Marian). There’s a rather interesting final twist regarding Robin and Marian’s fate as well. Nicol Williamson, this film’s Little John, got mythic again five years later as Merlin in John Boorman’s “Excalibur.”

"Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991)

A huge hit upon release, the reputation of “Thieves” has lessened over time due to criticism of elements like Kevin Costner’s perplexing attempts at a British accent. Nevertheless, certain elements (Alan Rickman as the Sherriff, Sean Connery’s cameo as King Richard) hold up. Though many viewers were confused by the presence of Azeem, Morgan Freeman’s Saracen character was actually a big-screen lift from “Robin of Sherwood” TV character Nasir. In fact, Azeem was to be called Nasir until it was pointed out by stunt coordinator Terry Walsh (who worked on both) that Nasir was original to series creator Richard Carpenter.

"Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (1993)

Though there have been other Hood parody films and TV programs, the Mel Brooks version found a wider audience than most. Notable for casting Cary Elwes, who would have been a credible regular Robin, and Dave Chapelle, long before his show, "Men in Tights" traffics in the familiar style of Brooks, including an appearance by the director himself as Tuck analogue Rabbi Tuckman.

"Robin Hood" (2010)

And now we’re to the new "Robin Hood," starring Russell Crowe. It’s Crowe’s latest work with director Ridley Scott, and looks to trade on the style of their previous ventures (like “Gladiator”). Interestingly, it was chosen to open the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Time will tell how this one holds up, but there is one certainty: if they keep making movies, they’ll keep making them with Robin Hood.

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