Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938)

Rated: Unrated (Exclusive unrated DVD version available)
Length: 102 minutes
Grade: AAAA=A
Budget: $1.9 million
Box Office: $1.5 million

Written by: Norman Reilly Raine (Captain Kidd, Tugboat Annie) and Seton I. Miller (Sea Hawk, Dawn Patrol, G Men, Charlie Chan’s Courage)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz (We’re No Angels, White Christmas, The Egyptian, The Jazz Singer, Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Sea Wolf, The Sea Hawk, Angels with Dirty Faces, Charge of the Light Brigade, Captain Blood) and William Keighley (Master of Ballantrae, Fighting 69th, Pince and the Pauper, G Men)
Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia deHavilland
With: Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Alan Hale, and Ian Hunter

In this classic adaptation of the legends, Robin of Locksley stands up for the weak and oppressed Saxons under the tyrannical rule of Prince John, the simpering brother of King Richard the Lionheart, who is away fighting the Crusades.

Entertainment Value: A
As one of the more well known early Technicolor films, this all-time classic actually failed to make a profit at the box office but has long since recouped its investment in syndication and cultural significance. The script, the costumes, the action, and the acting are all brilliant. Something you’ll see only with classic films like this, Rotten Tomatoes has it at 100% fresh. (Even Casablanca is only 97%.) It’s funny, engaging, action-packed, substantial, beautiful, and just plain fun. Generations of kids have grown up returning dropped fake swords to their enemies in the middle of a fight because of this movie.

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A-, Sex/Nudity A+, Violence B+, Language A+
There’s occasional mead consumption, no sexuality at all, and not even a rough term, let alone any actual profanity. The only possible concern might be violence, with hangings, swordplay, men being killed (without blood), and action peril. Common Sense Media says PG-9, but I can’t think of a young boy who shouldn’t watch this. I’d say G.
Significant Content: A Men are supposed to be heroic protectors of women. Loyalty to the principles of charity comes before loyalty to a despotic usurper to the throne. Christian leaders should be helping people, not profiteering from them in complicity with corrupt governments. A true noble puts his own livelihood at risk by siding with the oppressed and being willing to speak truth to the powerful. Cunning will get you out of trouble, and a sense of irony and wit make you charming to everyone.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
Seriously? Of course it’s an A. Aside from all the fantastic lessons and the costumes, the movie, like Robin Hood himself, knows how to make a dramatic entrance and a graceful exit from the screen. Although the lessons are mostly obvious, my personal favorite is the shown-but-not-told contrast drawn between the corrupt Bishop of Black Canons and the more modest Friar Tuck.

Discussion Questions:
~Abuse of power is clearly one of the main themes of this movie. How many examples of power used badly and of the attitudes of those who do so can you identify in this film?
~Since this movie was made in 1938, do you perceive any broader cultural or political messages being sent through it? Consider things like the Great Depression, the beginning of World War II, the rise of the labor movement, and class conflict in America.
~What message (and warning) is this movie sending to religious leaders who find themselves tied in too closely with political leaders or wealth?
~In what ways is Robin Hood a Christ figure? If you didn’t know that he was a Christian (from seeking Friar Tuck to give his men spiritual guidance), what markers of Biblical faith could you find?
~One of the more highly emphasized themes in modern Evangelicalism is submission to authority, but both the American Revolution and this film show a decisive refusal to submit to injustice. Do you think conservatives have overemphasized authority and underemphasized fighting it for the right reasons?
~Did Robin properly try to confront injustice by appealing directly to those responsible for it before resorting to violence against them? How does this bolster his claims to virtue?
~When Robin calls the men together, airs the grievances, and administers them their oath, does it remind you of the Declaration of Independence?
~Is Robin Hood a virtuous man or a thief? Does the fact that the poor so love him argue in his favor? He takes from the rich to give to the poor. Would he be called a liberal today? The system of politics which forces him into this response is unjustly high taxation. Would he be called a conservative today? He works for a country where men can fend for themselves and be free to live their lives. Would he be called a libertarian today? What do these tensions indicate about him?
~Is Robin’s willingness to jeopardize his own life a result of a reckless attitude, too little regard for safety, or the confidence of someone whose cause is just?
~What does Robin’s carefree attitude and jovial demeanor say about him? Is he capable of being serious? What gives him the ability to literally laugh in the face of death?
~What message is this film offering about the responsibility of real kings (or leaders) at home versus abroad? Is it advocating isolationism?
~When Much thanks Robin for saving his life, he asks only to follow Robin even if there’s no pay in it. How is this like a Christian’s devotion to Christ?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Rescuing the poacher.
~Confronting Prince John at the feast.
~Robin’s encounters with Little John and Friar Tuck.
~The archery tournament.
~Robin talking about King Richard being to blame.
~The final fight sequence with Guy of Gisbourne.
Overall Grade: A
Since I recently watched this again in preparation to watch the new Robin Hood, I thought I’d share my thoughts with you and remind you what a fantastic movie this is to share with your own children as I did. My boys loved it every bit as much as I did when I was their age.

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