Silent action king Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is the most exuberantly athletic of Robin Hoods, for sheer physicality perhaps outdoing even Errol Flynn’s definitive performance.
Fairbanks’s third swashbuckler after The Mark of Zorro and The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood is in some ways the ideal Fairbanks vehicle: The bravura stuntwork and moral theme of resisting oppression are as strong as in The Mark of Zorro; the awesome castle sets rival the lavish production design of The Thief of Bagdad; the well-crafted plot is as engaging as Don Q Son of Zorro; and the large-scale action scenes, with scores of Merry Men besetting Prince John’s troopers, are bigger in scale than even the buccaneer action of The Black Pirate.
Missing from the story are the familiar episodes of Robin Hood’s career: the fateful shooting of the King’s deer; the quarterstaff bout with Little John atop a river-spanning log; the archery contest / trap episode. Instead, Fairbanks’s Robin Hood uses its long first act to develop a surprisingly involved back-story in which the man who will be Robin Hood — here styled the Earl of Huntingdon rather than Robin of Locksley — accompanies Richard the Lion-heart on the Crusades until he hears of Prince John’s perfidy back in England. (This message comes to Huntingdon from Lady Marian — a message that, unlike the intercepted missive Marian tries to send to Robin in the Errol Flynn version, is successfully delivered. In this version, it is Robin’s reply to Marian that is intercepted.)
Once Huntingdon takes up the mantle of Robin Hood, the familiar cast of Merry Men — Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Allan-a-Dale, as well as hundreds of extras — are introduced without much explanation. The physical exuberance of the Merry Men is a bit overdone, as Robin’s crew seem incapable of moving from one place to another without leaping and capering like overgrown wood elves.
All the same, Fairbanks was at the top of his game physically, and his Robin Hood leaps from the parapets, rides an enormous tapestry-like curtain thirty feet or more to the ground, and — in the film’s most memorable stunt — climbs up the chain of a closing drawbridge to the top of the castle wall.
Oo-de-lally! As post-Sleeping Beauty Disney animated features go, Robin Hood is a fine entry, better than The Sword in the Stone or The Fox and the Hound but not as good as The Jungle Book or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
The story is the classic Robin Hood tale, and it’s all here: the fateful shooting of the King’s deer; Robin’s ignominious duckings upon his first meetings with Little John (Alan Hale) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette); Robin’s penchant for entertaining wealthy victims in high Sherwood style before relieving them of their gold; the trap archery contest which a disguised Robin wins by splitting his opponent’s arrow; the return of Richard (Ian Hunter) from the Crusades disguised in monk’s attire.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.