From the murmurs of the outlaw in English folklore to his debut in Ivanhoe as the “King of Outlaws and prince of good fellows!” to his appearance on the big screen in the 20th Century, Robin of the Hood has captured the hearts of countless numbers of people that identify with his message of the common good and justice for all. He has been written off as a mere fable, argued as a significant piece of English history by theorists, immortalized in art and entertainment, and has become a staple in the conversation over the rights of the poor. It is easy to see the appeal of the story, and as we do with all of our great stories, we continue to find new ways to tell them in the context of our current social climate, e.g., Smallville and Wicked, to name a few. There has been a recent interest in the story of Robin and his merry men lately, and it is a telling piece of our modern culture to look at the ways that the story is approached through film as it developed and from the different sides of the Atlantic.
Here is a short clip of Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood, Chase and Escape from the Castle (1922). Fairbanks, who also played Wild Bill and Zorro, was a silent movie star in the 1920’s.
This original Robin Hood film was more true to the nature of the story of the friction between the Saxon lords and the Norman Nobility of the day. Some of that remains in the 1938 rendition, though we begin to see more dramatic flare for Robin as the noble outlaw who has a heart for the poor and a disgust for the Nobility in general, which is more in line with the character of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe.
Here is Errol Flynn in the 1938 movie trailer for The Adventures of Robin Hood:
This movie was so popular that for decades there were spin off movies, but mostly they were “The Son of Robin Hood” or something similar so as not to try and compete with Errol Flynn. There was a movie with John Hall as Robin in the late 1940’s, but it wasn’t memorable enough to have been circulated in cyberspace. In 1952, however, Disney made a run at the legend, and you might say that is definitely had a Disney…flare.
Here is Friar Tuck (James Hayter) singing a gay song and Richard Todd as Robin Hood:
Suffice it to say, there was need for a rendition after that calamity, so they remade Robin Hood in 1973 as a cartoon. I must admit that Disney is better at cartoons than family friendly film renditions of English legends. This one I have always liked:
One of the most compelling re-imagination projects ever done with this legend was in 1976 with Robin and Marian. Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn pair up as a very viable elderly version of the couple. It is both funny and passionate, and it serves the legends and stories of Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, and Romeo and Juliet all at once. Here is the theatrical trailer, but you must check this one out for yourself:
There were some brushes with Robin in the 1980’s, and then there was that one guy in the early 1990’s, but mostly we didn’t hear from Robin of Locksley in popular culture again until recently. In 2007, the BBC commissioned a television series about Robin of Locksley that was intended to bring some contemporary political commentary and some more modern style and fashion the the tale of Robin Hood, while staying true to the original look and feel of Medieval England. No small feat, but it was largely successful and ran for three seasons before being cancelled by the BBC. You can find all three season playable on Netflix online, and if you have the means, I highly recommend it. Here is a little taste:
This was a refreshing new look at the legend and the story, as Kevin Costner made an attempt at living up to the task and botched it like brain surgery with a Machete (I won’t hassle with the clip of that one, though it might be fun to see him lose his accent half way through the movie). Jonas Armstrong is Robin Hood in this new series, and his brooding tendencies mixed with his natural charm and boyish looks make for an intriguing new look at the character of Robin.
I imagine the success of this series was inspiring to many in the Hollywood circles, as the team from Gladiator has geared up to rise to the cause. I must admit that I am leery of a Russel Crowe version of Robin Hood, since the attempt at getting the latest name in Showbiz to play the lowly bandit in the woods has failed so miserably in the past (see the afore mentioned Kevin Costner malady). I am cautiously optimistic about the movie, though, partly because I believe that William Hurt is one of the most under appreciated actors in our day (he plays William Marshal). I will watch it with an open mind and hope that it lives up to the long tradition of reinventing the legend in film.
Check out Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood: