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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Adventure > Swords > The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938/HD-DVD)

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938/HD-DVD)


Picture: B+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Film: B



After Warner Bros. survived as a studio thanks to Rin Tin Tin and thrived when they were the studio that brought sound to movies, they were determined to take on any new idea or innovation (like 3-D and widescreen filmmaking) and be a (if not the) leader in the next big thing.  Though they had made films in color before, including two-strip Technicolor, the arrival of three-strip Technicolor was one of the most key events since sound itself in Hollywood.  It led to almost all films becoming color and was a huge hit.  The studio agreed and went all out for their first three-strip Technicolor feature: Michael Curtiz’s The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938).  It is no surprise then that Warner has made this one of their earliest HD-DVDs.


Errol Flynn was perfectly cast as the title character famous for stealing form the rich and giving to the poor, but the real key to his performance is a great combination of energy, friendliness, joy, kinetic physicality and charm like he never had the chance to play before and if you think about it, never again.  Despite many challengers from Sean Connery (Richard Lester’s mature revisionism of the mythos in Robin & Marion with Audrey Hepburn) and Kevin Costner (in the Kevin Reynolds blockbuster hit Robin Hood – Prince Of Thieves) to endless failed challengers trying to “go back to the original material” pretentiously, Flynn endures because of Curtiz, the Norman Reilly Raine/Seton O. Miller screenplay and ambition on his part in part to equal what Douglas Fairbanks Sr. had established in the Action and Fantasy genre back in the silent era.  It is a shining performance that remains undimmed nearly 80 years later.


Robin’s nemesis here is Basil Rathbone, soon to be the iconic hero Sherlock Holmes, playing all-time boo-hiss villain Sir Guy Of Gisbourne, who will not tolerate Robin’s activities, the hope he gives the lower classes or any challenge to his authority.  With that attitude, you know he’s a real so and so.  The film immediately jumps into the action with its extensive production design, costume design and army of real actors, stunt actors & some of the most amazing manicured horses in cinema history.


Besides his athletic abilities and cleverness, Robin’s other great asset is his flawless archery (which parallels the use of the gun in the Hollywood Western by the hero as the best shot in town) and other fighting skills that all add up to creating a legendary status that makes sense.  How many times in recent bad action films do we hear that the hero (or even villain) has this amazing legend or skill only to be an oaf?


Then there is the strong cast of characters played by some of the best actors of the day, including Little John (played by actor Alan Hale), Maid Marion (Olivia de Havilland), Will Scarlett (Patric Knowles), Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), Prince John (Claude Rains) The High Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) and King Richard -The Lion Heart (Ian Hunter).  Looking at the film again, this might be one of the greatest casts of any commercial film from the Classical Hollywood period, showing the Studio System at its peak (the next year would be the system’s overall peak) and the kind of talent that was all over Warner Bros. itself.  Curtiz had already been a premiere director, including in early key genre films (Doctor X, the two-strip Technicolor original Mystery Of The Wax Museum, Philo Vance film Kennel Murder Case), so it is no surprise they considered him the best choice for this rich production and the result was a huge hit for the studio.


Though the sets are obvious, some acting moments corny and narrative maybe too obviously book-like at times (even outside of the opening with text explanation of the film’s world that looks like an expensive book so rare, that it is about to go up for auction at Christie’s versus “that eBay place”) that show some of its age, the film has aged very well giving it authentically that rare timeless quality so many films wish they had now.  This film is as smart as it is very entertaining, which is why it remains a classic.  The more you watch, the more you realize its influence.  This is the best way yet to see it outside of a film print.


The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image is centered in the 1.78 X 1 frame with black bookends to retain the original aspect ratio as shot by ace cinematographers Sol Polito (who formed the visual look of Warner’s films at the time) and Tony Gaudio, who had worked with Curtiz before.  Warner and Turner Entertainment have done extensive work on preserving and restoring the film.  Though this HD-DVD cannot beat a pristine 35mm dye-transfer three-strip Technicolor print, this is still a rich and strong digital equivalent that now stands as one of the best color films in either HD format.  The print has some minor flaws, but color is consistent, along with depth of field and surprising detail.


This was shot at a time when three black and white strips through three different filters had to be shot to get the color here.  Fortunately, there was no major negative shrinkage trouble and the reconfiguration of the strips here is often seamless.  This is the first 1.33/block style/Academy Aperture film to arrive in either HD disc and the second ever in any HD format, with Francis Ford Coppola’s One From The Heart (reviewed elsewhere on this site) the solitary 1.33 film issued in the now-defunct D-Theater/D-VHS format and was presented the same way.  The two Looney Tunes cartoons included here in HD are also presented that way, but more on that in a minute.


The Dolby Digital Plus 1.0 Mono is the second-ever title in either HD format to be monophonic and also the second to be 1.0 Mono.  The previous also happens to be a Warner title, The Searchers (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and though home theater systems can split it into two speakers with the touch of the right button, one wonders if 2.0 would be a better option.  Unfortunately, even the music was not stereo, but this is better than the standard Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono form the standard DVD.


Of course, the music is by the legendary Erich Wolfgang Korngold, whose distinctive music informs ever Lucas/Spielberg film with a John Williams score and all their imitators.  However, even after their dozens of commercial successes, the Korngold scores are the original at this game and hold up extremely well.  This particular score is as great as any such work at the time of any composer at a time when so many extremely talented composers changed music forever though their Hollywood film work.  It brings the level of energy up a few more levels as a result, making the film even richer overall.


Extras include a studio bloopers reel dubbed Breakdowns Of 1938, other outtakes, an Errol Flynn trailer gallery, several rich stills galleries related to the film’s production & promotion, Korngold’s piano sessions for the film, isolated music track you can watch with the film, audio-only Robin Hood Radio Show, vintage live action short subjects Cavalcade Of Archery & The Cruise of The Zaca, home movies of Korngold and Rathbone shot during the production dubbed A Journey To Sherwood Forest, full length audio commentary with film historian Rudy Behlmer, a Robin Hood Through The Ages piece that shows versions prior to this film with some of this film in German, Leonard Maltin hosting a “Warner Night At The Movies” section recreating what you would see before a feature like this started (including a vintage newsreel, live action musical short, Katnip Kollege animated short and Angels With Dirty Faces trailer), two documentaries (Welcome To Sherwood about the film and Glorious Technicolor about the famous process and why it was so celebrated) and two Looney Tunes cartoons in 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition!


The cartoons are two classics that will drive fans to buy this disc even over the actual film.  The first is Rabbit Hood (1949) where Bugs Bunny goes to Sherwood and guess who shows up?  Purists were not happy when the clip spliced in of Flynn was substituted for a Costner clip when his Robin Hood was released, but rest assured Flynn is here in this original cut of the cartoon.  Robin Hood Daffy (1958) is even loonier as Daffy Duck goes around claiming to be Robin Hood, much to the bemusement of Porky Pig as Friar Tuck.  Daffy keeps trying to impress Porky’s monk as an expert thief, but keeps falling on his beak.  Then there are the brilliant quarter-staff sequences and the hilarious conclusion.  Both are excellent and show Warner Animation at its Golden Age peak.  Including them in HD was a brilliant move on Warner’s part, both also in dye-transfer three-strip Technicolor that make them demo-quality for color as well as the film itself.


Besides the many general imitators because of this film in particular and the legend in general, other heroes that echoed him followed, including The Green Archer (in a movie serial reviewed elsewhere on this site), Marvel Comics’ Hawkeye and especially DC Comics’ Green Arrow, who is the most successful of them all the rest.  However, The Adventures Of Robin Hood is in a class by itself and this new HD-DVD will only serve as to remind us all of just what a remarkable, great film it is from one of the major studios then and now.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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