Saturday, 15 May 2010

Robin Hood at the Movies...

Just a quick post here. After reviewing Ridley Scott's latest version of the Robin Hood legend, I have put up a compilation of videos showing the various cinematic depictions of the English folklore hero in action.

Douglas Fairbanks in 'Robin Hood' (1922)

Fairbanks seems to have set the model for many future screen representations of Robin Hood, with a not too dissimilar costume from that Fylnn would later wear in the 30's. He is super-agile (famously doing his own stunts) and a bit of a prankster: other traits that would define the hero for the best part of the 20th Century.



Errol Fylnn in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1938)


The first Australian to play the outlaw, Flynn clearly keeps a lot of the traits of the Fairbanks hero, albeit with the additional charisma generated by his voice in this talking picture. This film, produced and directed by the same team that would later give us 'Casablanca' (Michael Curtiz and Hal B. Wallis), also boasted some of the earliest (and best) technicolor photography which is shown off in the courtly pageantry of it all. As with the earlier portrayal, Robin Hood is a swashbuckling rouge with a heart of gold. The film also features Claude Rains as Prince John, which you can't really argue with, can you?



The film also inspired a number of Loony Toons animated parodies directed by Chuck Jones, including the 1939 musical short 'Robin Hood Makes Good' and the more famous 'Rabbit Hood' (below) from 1949 which sees Buggs Bunny in the staring role and features stock footage of Errol Flynn (nine years later Daffy Duck would earn the honour, appearing in 'Robin Hood Daffy').



Richard Todd in 'The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men' (1952)

Disney made a fairly poor live-action movie in 1952, starring Richard Todd (the man originally cast as Bond in 'Dr. No') as a more masculine, often shirtless, hero. However, the movie is (as the below clips shows) fairly derivative of the Flynn version above. This version of the tale, shot in the same dull and dreary way typical of all Disney movies from the 40s to the 70s ('Song of the South' to 'Pete's Dragon' all look like this). It would be the last major big-screen 'Hood' for twenty years... until Disney told the story again with an anthropomorphised Fox...



A Cartoon Fox (voiced by Brian Bedford) in 'Walt Disney's Robin Hood' (1973)


Some have found a sort of racism in this animated version, directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. The "bad" animals are all African (elephants, rinos, lions, snakes etc), whilst all the "good" animals are woodland creatures (rabbits, bears, roosters, mice, foxes etc). However, it is far more likely that Reitherman was simply recasting the familiar characters of his 1967 film 'The Jungle Book'. Baloo the bear is clearly the model for Little John (both are voiced by Phil Harris), whilst the Prince John lion and his snake advisor are clearly that film's bad guys: Shere Kahn and Kaa. The result is a re-telling of the myth which is derivative both of older Disney films and of the Fairbanks/Flynn movies, as it retreads many of the same plot points. The clip below shows Robin Hood and Little John fall from a log into some water, in a clear visual nod to both the previous versions seen in the above clip. Here Robin Hood is agile, fast and cunning, with great wit and grace as well as skill, much like the Fairbanks/Flynn portrayals. He is also dressed similarly to those men.



John Cleese in 'Time Bandits' (1981)


Far and away my favourite depiction of Robin Hood is the parody performed by John Cleese in Terry Gilliam's fantasy film 'Time Bandits'. In terms of dress he is clearly inspired by the now established cinematic image of the hero, however Cleese plays on his noble origins as "Robin of Loxley" and turns him into a condescending royal. Brilliantly funny.



Kevin Costner in 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' (1991)

Perhaps the closest thing to Scott's latest adaptation of the tale is this early 90s blockbuster which starred Kevin Costner as the titular prince, who boasted one of the film's many 90s heart-throb haircuts (also see Christian Slater). This film, whilst still fairly light-hearted (famously boasting an OTT performance by Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham) this version clearly tried to take the story a little more "seriously", with a similar acknowledgement of the crusades and an attempt at making medieval England look gritty rather than looking like a colourful renaissance faire. It's probably most famous for the Bryan Adam's track that stayed at number one in the UK pop charts for weeks and weeks and weeks...



Cary Elwes in 'Robin Hood: Men in Tights' (1993)

Mel Brooks satirised the whole thing, borrowing elements from every version, with Cary Elwes in the title role of 'Robin Hood: Men in Tights'. This broad farce is hit-and-miss (somewhere better than 'Spaceballs' and worse than 'The History of the World: Part One'), but Elwes has the charm and charisma of the Fairbanks/Flynn-era portrayal and the film lampoons that film's most famous moments, such as the stick fight on the log and the banquet sequence. At other times it is more oviously taking the piss out of the Costner movie (such as Robin's arrival in England, the over-the-top arrow stunts or when he declares: "unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent").



Russell Crowe in 'Robin Hood' (2010)


I have nothing left to say about this origin story, other than what I said in my review. Crowe's Hood is more gruff, more macho and less inclined to laugh than previous portrayals. He wears less flashy, more practical clothes than Flynn and co too. Some of the scenes are almost stolen directly from the Costner film, as Crowe makes a similar speech to rouse people to his cause and with the grimy looking misse-en-scene (plus they both ditched the hat in favour of looking "hard").



Anyway... those are the major cinematic versions of Robin Hood (I know, I missed out the Frazer 1912 version, but I couldn't find a clip). Hope you enjoyed them.

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