Merry Olde England

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Nigel Cawthorne introduces his book Robin Hood: The True History Behind the Legend stating “some historians say that Robin Hood has no place in history, that he is a figure of myth made up by medieval balladeers. However, there are indications that such a person did exist and several real people may have contributed to the legend.”  [Still an academic at heart; I want books from his bibliography.]  I vaguely remember one of my Scottish romance series referring to Robert the Bruce as Robin Hood. The story of Robin Hood has evolved over time as has the character, starting as a simple thief and eventually becoming the “steal from the rich and give to the poor” persona we know and love today. It is set in a historical time period and brings light to the conflict between Saxon peasants and Norman nobles (who invaded the land…the whole William the Conqueror, 1066 business.) Sir Walter Scott draws attention to that conflict in his Ivanhoe [you know you’ve taken Historical Development of the English Language when you understand the bit about dialect in the beginning]. Robin Hood appears in Ivanhoe, briefly.

Alright, enough history, on with the movie!

It stars Errol Flynn, a swashbuckling star of the thirties, Olivia de Havilland (who starred alongside Errol in several of his films, and was in Gone With the Wind) as Maid Marian, and Basil Rathbone (famous as Sherlock Holmes) as Sir Guy of Gisborne. It was directed by Michael Curtiz, who would later direct Casablanca and White Christmas. The opening writing states that the film is “based upon ancient Robin Hood legends” and places the story in 1191.

It opens with word that King Richard, on his way home from the Crusades, has been taken prisoner by Duke Leopold of Austria (that did happen). Prince John seizes control of the throne and taxes the peasant Saxons to collect “ransom” money. He and his henchman, Sir Guy toast to the hope that Richard never returns to England. Meanwhile, in the forest, a peasant, Much, shoots a deer (a real criminal act in that time; sections of land and forests were set aside for the royals to hunt. If anyone shot a deer, they’d be punished severely). Robin of Locksley and his trusty companion Will Scarlett, both in ridiculously bright capes, ride up and save Much from Sir Guy. Indebted, Much willingly follows Robin.


Robin crashes the Sheriff of Nottingham’s feast for Prince John, stands up as a Saxon lord and argues that the Normans are mistreating their subjects. Lady Marion is in attendance as a royal ward and John attempts to arrange her marriage to Sir Guy. Robin charms John even when calling him a traitor, though the prince has the doors shut and silently orders his guards to attack Robin. Robin fights his way out and escapes, then calls together all the Saxon men who would follow him. Together, they’ll fight for loyalty to King Richard and take back their England. John declares Robin an outlaw. Sir Guy is free to capture and kill the pest.

In the meantime, Robin gathers more men to his cause, fighting Little John on a branch bridge with a staff. He loses, but they all have a good laugh about it. Later, they add Friar Tuck who is a great swordsman. With his band of merry men, garbed all in green and brown, Robin lays a trap for Sir Guy, the Sheriff, and the tax money. They spring it and take the loot to their hideout. Sir Guy and the Sheriff are divested of their fine garments and forced to wear rags. Robin treats Marion as a lady, though she has distain for him at first. Then he shows her the poor families that have been displaced by Sir Guy’s tax collectors. In good faith, Sir Guy and the Sheriff are led out; they must report their failure to John. Marion is also safely returned.

The trio of men: Prince John, the Sheriff, and Sir Guy, led by the Sheriff’s idea, plan an archery tournament as a way to draw out and capture Robin. Maid Marion will be the bait. Robin indeed shows, in disguise, and wins the tournament by his traditional split-the-arrow trick (which was actually performed by a professional archer). He tries to escape at the end but is overpowered. Sir Guy holds a tribunal, really more of a mockery of one. There were no witnesses to speak on Robin’s behalf, so he’s found guilty of all crimes and sentenced to hang. Marion, who has fallen in love with Robin, sends a message through her maid to the merry men. At the public hanging the next morning, they rescue him. That evening, Robin returns to the castle to climb up to Marion’s window. They exchange pleasantries and Marion admits she loves Robin; a few kisses, and Robin steals back out the window. He asked Marion to return to Sherwood with him, but she states that she will do more good watching for treachery amongst John and Sir Guy.

At a local tavern, a group of men are passing through. They briefly speak to a bishop in Prince John’s employ; the bishop overhears one of the men say “sire.” He leaves so he can report to John, which the men suspect. John, upon hearing the news that Richard is back in England, orders his brother to be killed, so he can be the new king. A disgraced knight offers to do the job. Marion is in the background and plans to get news to Robin. But Sir Guy guesses Marion’s loyalty and arrests her. John sentences her to death and Marion’s maid rushes off to get word to Robin.

The next morning, the group of men are riding and surrounded by the merry men. The leader reveals that he is a friend of Richard, so Robin lets him go, inviting him back to their hideout. On the way, the leader, disguised as an abbot, questions Robin on his actions. Robin reveals that he blames Richard for the trouble; his duty was to be home defending his people (historically, Richard barely spent any time in England. He was often on Crusade, or at his lands in France). At the hideout, Will Scarlett brings in Much, who he found injured in the woods. Much relays Marion’s danger and that a knight had orders to kill Richard. He handled the knight, but Richard must be found. The abbot casts off his cloak, revealing himself to be Richard. His other men wear the Templar cross. Robin has an idea.

They join the bishop’s retinue to get into the castle. Once there, the bishop starts the ceremony to crown John by asking him of his loyalty. Richard once more steps forward and a fight breaks out. Robin and Sir Guy duel (Basil was an expert swordsman). Sir Guy is ultimately bested and Robin rescues Marion. Prince John is deposed, Richard decrees that all Normans and Saxons will share the rights of Englishmen. He pardons the men of Sherwood and knights Robin. His first command is for Robin to marry Marion. The couple sneaks off to start their life and happily ever after.

After Disney’s animated adaptation, this would have been the next version of Robin Hood I learned. I also remember being really into swashbuckling films when I was in junior high (and being weird for knowing an actor from the thirties). This adaptation captures the carefree image of Robin; Errol laughs a lot. I feel it stems from a romantic view of history. I can handle the historical inaccuracies in this film a lot better than I handle them in BBC’s Robin Hood series from 2006. I chuckled when Will Scarlett and

1938 maid marion
I will admit, it’s pretty. But try keeping white clean! They used jewels to sparkle, not glitter.

Robin Hood first appear on screen with colorful capes. Maid Marion has a different gown on every scene she’s in (ladies had grand wardrobes, but not that much). Some of the styles are based on period gowns, but not the fabric. And oh goodness, the clashing of colors in the nobles. But, in the 30s and 40s, studios were not worried about being “historically accurate.” It’s like the Romanticism of the Victorian era; “oh, times were simpler then and people were happier.” No, medieval times were filthy and dangerous. (And in regards to BBC’s attempt: they almost did worse with the costumes…I’ll simply mention the hot pink sweater).

The sword fights were excellent, though the style was not exactly what was used in the medieval time; it was adapted more towards a fencing style. But that’s what Errol and Basil were good at. The arrows and the armor: while arrows can fit through the links in chain armor, not like that they don’t. And most men don’t fall over instantly dead from one shot. Again, it’s romanticized. Overall, it’s a fun watch, but not my favorite rendition.

Next Time: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

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