Thursday, May 31, 2018

THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD (1952) - Disney Tackles the Legend

I love Robin Hood films. One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1938 Warner Brothers movie THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD starring Errol Flynn in the title role. It's a bona fide classic with great action, fantastic dialog, wonderful characters and a take on the legend that presents events in a clever way. Until several years ago I had rarely bothered with other cinematic versions of the story as they inevitably fell victim to problems that hamstringed them in some way. Sometimes the problem was bad casting (Kevin Costner, anyone?) or having nearly an hour chopped out of the full-length running time (1991's John Irving directed film). But often these films are simply guilty of not matching the high quality of the Flynn film or even the excellent (if overlong) 1922 silent version with Douglas Fairbanks. They might be good but they're not great.

Enter THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD (1952)! I recorded this film out of general curiosity a few months ago when Turner Classic Movies was screening a night of Disney features and I finally watched it last week. Wow! Where has this film been all my life?

In a lot of ways this is a typical Disney feature of the period in that plenty of money was lavished upon it giving it high production values and the look of a lush, well made film. Everything about it looks textured and detailed, colorful and alive. The film has real energy and in the high-def print used by TCM it popped off the screen for the entire running time. This isn't a half-assed attempt to do a new telling of the legend. This is a full-blooded Robin Hood adventure story with its own particular take on the events we all know from previous films. The script is tightly constructed and juggles around some of the relationships and backgrounds of characters in a way that I found absolutely fascinating. It switches the noble birth from Robin Hood to Maid Marian positioning Robin as an upstart commoner who was the subject of Marion's noble father. This puts a great spin on their relationship as younger people and their continuing and growing affection for each other as adults. It gives the relationship real depth without having to go into on-screen detail about what draws them to each other.

Some of the elements of the story that we know from previous films - especially the Flynn version - are shuffled about and placed in different spots to keep you guessing. If you're coming to this one expecting a replay of the 1938 film you will have some fun surprises. For instance, the archery contest involves not just Robin but his father and is placed very early in the story. It's used to establish not just the main character's bow skills but the methods by which Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham build their personal army of tax collectors. Great stuff! If I had one complaint about the film it's that I would have wished for a little bit more swordplay. This has nothing like the excellent sword fight between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in the '38 film but things are so well paced  that it didn't occur to me while watching - only afterward. And the very good songs that are played by the travelling bard add a lot of joy to the entire thing as well. I can see why there was a soundtrack LP released at the time although I suspect that these tunes are the direct inspiration for the Brave Sir Robin songs in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975).

After thoroughly enjoying THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD I thought it would be nice to add it to my collection. I looked around online and discovered that it was not available to buy on Blu-Ray. At all. A quick look at the Wiki page for the movie revealed that it has never been released on Blu-Ray and on DVD only on a limited Disney Movie Club DVD offering in 2006! What the hell? This is a great film ripe for a new audience to discover and Disney is just letting it sit there? Somebody needs to start a petition, now for a Blu-Ray release as I doubt the old DVD looks very good these days. Or TCM needs to show it a couple of times a year.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

I too loved this one when shown on TCM along with In Search of the Castaways which I also enjoyed. Like you, Ive not seen either on DVD or BluRay. Disney really should change that.