Full disclosure: I haven’t read “My Wicked Wicked Ways,” so I’m taking Errol Flynn at face value in this movie. What he did behind those fake castle walls I don’t know and I don’t want to know.
I faced certain hurdles in reviewing the movie:
1. Erroll Flynn looks like my shrink in his younger days.
2. Sir Guy of Gisbourne is played by Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone). You can tell all through the movie that he knows stuff he isn’t saying; I mean, he’s Holmes, you know, thinking, always thinking… Any minute he’s going to take Robin aside and give him a good talking to.
3. The movie is Ivanhoe with no Ivanhoe. What does this mean? No jousting!! (Actually, the movie was to start with a jousting scene, but it got dropped for budgetary reasons.)
Nonetheless, I am prepared to describe and discuss the film. First thing: it has held up over the years. Made in the first decade of talkies, it’s still fresh (it was the top grosserof 1938). The new Technicolor process is more than fine (Dr. Natalie Calmus was on set to handle all color issues). We should only see color like this today. Second thing: that’s Claude Rains under the bright red wig and blond beard. A corrupt senator in Washington, yes; a police chief in Casablanca, yes; a Nazi, sure; but this? Third thing: Rains is eating a pomegranate in England in the 1100s; but that’s ok; pomegranates are mentioned in the Song of Solomon – I’ve heard that Prester John himself brought pomegranates to Great Britain. I didn’t notice what else was in that fruit bowl – bananas?
The movie begins when an old poacher skewers a big buck. The nobles are about to stretch the poacher’s neck when Robin rides up and saves him. With the nobles gone, Robin, up on his horse, tells the old guy, “Fetch the deer.” This is a 200-pound buck. The old guy would have to drag it by one hoof. Presumably it’s dressed out when Robin carries it in later, nimbly, and dumps it on Prince John’s table. (The exterior shots are done in the California hills near Chico. The forest doesn’t remind one of England, but it does have big oaks in it and it’s dressed up enough not to seem irredeemably Californian.)
Cut to the banquet hall. The first thing to notice is how clean everybody and everything is. Reminded me of Samuel Goldwyn, who insisted that his sets be clean. When Dead End was being made, and the single set was meant to reflect slum conditions, he kept patrolling it, picking up litter, to the discomfiture of the set dressers. Goldwyn would have loved this movie. Immaculate. But who wears chain mail on their head during dinner?
During his escape, after he finishes spouting off in front of the prince, Robin the dead shot unaccountably puts two in the door frame when he could easily have skewered Rathbone. And this paragraph is my nod to Patric Knowles, who plays Will Scarlett in his red getup. No fighting for him. He carries his lute and he and Robin laugh and jest. Ok, maybe there is a little tension with Will when Robin and Little John get it on with the long staves and knock each other about and end up fast friends, but then Robin and Will are back walking side by side again, big grins on their faces. If only Maid Marion hadn’t shown up.
Maid Marion gets the Casablanca line about how England is bigger than just Saxons and Normans. As someone points out, the Saxons were happy (and grimy), living with their pigs, before the Normans showed up. Or am I thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail? And by the way, no language problems between the two groups in this one.
Forget Korngold’s musical score, especially Robin Hoods’ March. Recycled by Korngold from 1919. But when the trumpets are lifted in a line, with banners hanging from them, and the trumpeters give a blast, do we ever hear the real thing, or is it always the trumpets in the studio orchestra?
[Spoiler] Robin wins the archery tournement. Did they really have those big, multicolored bulls-eye targets back in the 12th century?
Robin and Maid Marian kissing: After all you hear about the Hayes Code, it seems like you’d be lucky to see anybody kiss anybody in the late 30s, but Robin and Marion smootch it up more than once. I like it onscreen with the mouths closed but you could see, when they pulled back from each other dry-lipped, that they were both wondering, Is the audience going to settle for this?
One of Hollywood’s Top 5 swordfights ensues. But Rathbone will be back, with his deerstalker on his head!
Did this movie make me want to go out and nock up an arrow? No. But next time I’m in Chico, I’m going to stop and remember Merrie Olde Englande.