Sunday, May 17, 2009

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD - Blu-Ray (WB 1938) Warner Home Video

Co-directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) perhaps represents Errol Flynn’s finest hour on the screen as a devil-may-care matinee idol. Certainly, it remains the actor’s most iconic role in a spectacularly vibrant swashbuckling adventure that grows more robust and hearty with each passing year.

The film stars Flynn as the titled mysterious crusader of Sherwood Forest. Robin steals from the rich to give to the poor – or so the legend goes. Together with Will Scarlett (Patric Knowles), Robin’s antics generate much cause for concern inside the English Court. With King Richard (Ian Hunter) off on his bonny crusades England is being mismanaged by the devilish autocrat, Prince John (Claude Rains) and his wily henchman, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) who would like nothing better than to rid the kingdom of Robin’s particular brand of philanthropy.

With Richard the Lionheart imprisoned in Austria, Prince John has plans to ascend the throne of England as undisputed monarch and thereafter tax its inhabitants to death. John’s royal ward, Maid Marian (Olivia DeHavilland) seems oblivious to the Prince’s plotting, though she is not blind to his playful advances.

After a harrowing confrontation during a feast in the throne room, Robin escapes capture and returns to the forest.On a mission to flush out Robin from Sherwood Forest Sir Guy and the High Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) are ambushed by Robin and his band of Merry Men. Humiliated, but unharmed, Sir Guy and the Sheriff are returned to court in rags and laurels of tree leaves where they incur the wrath of Prince John.

However, Marian is forced to remain in Sherwood. At first unimpressed by Robin’s gregarious charm, Marian’s heart is stirred to kindness after she witnesses the needless exiles, once poor and starving, to whom Robin has given sanctuary, food and place to live in freedom. 

From then on, Marian is Robin’s girl. She secretly revels in his mockery of Prince John, along with her dutiful lady in waiting, Bess (Una O’Connor) and even assists in Robin’s escape from certain death after he is discovered by Prince John during an archery match. Having exuded his prowess with a bow and arrow and narrowly defeating Sir Guy, Robin leaps into action and narrowly escapes capture once more. Learning of a vial plot to capture Robin and his men Marian plans to rush to Robin’s side, only to be discovered by Sir Guy. Held captive in the castle tower, Marian awaits her fate or perhaps, rescue.

The latter arrives – predictably enough - in a flurry of sword play that remains among the best of examples in film history between Robin and Sir Guy. Interestingly enough, Basil Rathbone was the more skilled swordsman, reportedly telling Flynn one day on the set between takes, “You may win the fight on screen, but I could easily kill you any day of the week.”

Directors Michael Curtiz and William Keighley deliver a sprawling adventure yarn amiably fleshed out by a witty script from Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller. Casting is inspired. Alan Hale delights as Robin’s loyal right hand, Little John; Patrick Knowles, perfectly congenial as Will Scarlett; with curmudgeonly Eugene Pallette as the fiery Friar Tuck.

Stunningly photographed in blazing Technicolor, the film abounds with brilliant art direction and costume design. Authenticity may not be the order of the day, but The Adventures of Robin Hood is full of eye-popping detail, quite sumptuous and a genuine feast for the eyes.

Given that the film is advertised as a ‘new Technicolor transfer’ Warner Home Video’s Blu-Ray is a tad disappointing. Though colors are often vibrant and breathtaking there are scenes in which the restoration efforts falter with considerable film grain and an obvious dulling of the color spectrum. It is important to note that Technicolor was a grain concealing process. Yet, several scenes are softly focused, while others have more than a hint of shimmer and heavier than usual patina of grain.

Contrast levels are excellent. A hint of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details is infrequently detected, but will surely not distract. The audio is mono and is presented at an adequate listening level. All the extras from Warner’s previously issued 2-disc DVD are included herein including two documentaries; one on the making of the film, the other on the Technicolor process; audio commentaries and isolated music scoring sessions, short subjects and blooper reels and an extensive gallery of vintage photographs and press/promo materials. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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