And so it turns out my friend Clara Giuliani, over at Scribblings, does not like Robin Hood, and actually finds a certain sympathy for John Lackland, of all things.
While I nursed my broken heart1, I thought that I do like Robin Hood and therefore, today being the eight-hundredth anniversary of the death of King John Lackland, why not make a post about the best Robin Hoods out there?
Let’s recap the basics: Robin Hood is the character in a number of ballads and folk tales, and later stories, poems and romances, whose historicity is debated and does not really interest us here right now.
From th every beginning (that is, from the 14th century), Robin is described as an anti-clerical champion of the lower classes, very respectful of women (probably because he is a devout of the Virgin Mary), and an excellent archer and an enemy of the Sheriff of Nottingham. What’s not to like, I wonder!
His companions from the start include Little John, Much the Miller’s Son, and Will Scarlett, while Maid Marian and friar Tuck will come later with the reteling of the story.
The character was brought to the silver screen and on television a number of times, and the two most famous Hollywood Robin Hoods are certainly Douglas Fairbanks and Erroll Flynn.
Directed by Michael Curtiz and released in 1938, The Adventures of Robin Hood is to many the definitive Robin Hood flick.
It features, in Technicolor, Flynn at his most swasbuckingly cheeky (or cheekily swashbuckling), Olivia de Haviland as Maid Marian, and of course Basil Rathbone as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Erich Korngold provides the musical score.
And I can see my friend Clara cringe at the historical inaccuracies, and commanding the immediate execution of the costume and set designers, and all of the serfs in those departments.
But we also get a nice little bit of trivia and a pulp connection, as Marian’s horse is none else but Trigger, the horse of Roy Rogers – that’s what it means to have a star-studded cast.
And yet, as much as I like the Curtiz movie, there are some other Robin Hoods that are closer to my (as we said, broken) heart.
I already mentioned Robin of Sherwood, the ITC TV series from 1984, that mixes history and folklore with a touch of fantasy, and portrays the Merry Men as youths fighting reactionary old men, seen as the enemies of both tradition and progress.
Despite the shoestring budget, everything about the series was practically perfect, and the scriptwriters are also responsible for the subsequent appearance of a Muslim as part of Robin’s Band: a totally made-up piece of narrative that worked so well, later writers thought it was canon.
But talking about TV series, I can’t fail to mention When Things Were Rotten, the Robin Hood spoof written by Mel Brooks in 1975. Brooks of course would eighteen years later film Robin Hood: Men in tights, but the original series, despite the insufferable laugh track, was quite funny, and featured a deliciously dizzy Lady Marian portrayed by Misty Rowe. And the title song. My goodness, the title song!
The subject of parodies and Men in Tights in particular leads us to the two Robin Hood movies of 1991, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, with an absolutely excellent Alan Rickman as the Sheriff, and the superior, but underrated John Irvin movie Robin Hood, that pitches Patrick Bergin’s Robin against Jurgen Prochnow’s Norman baron Sir Miles Folcanet.
The Irvin movie happily does away with the old King Richard subplot, and maybe pushes a little too much on the romance, but it is a fun romp, and holds nicely after 25 years.
And yet, there is one movie that sums it all – the rebellion of Robin of Sherwood, the romance of Robin Hood, even some of the cheek and humor of the parodies, and remains my favorite Robin Hood movie.
Robin and Marian was filmed in 1976 and features Sean Connery as Robin, Audrey Hepburn as Marian, and the superb interpretation of Robert Shaw as the Sheriff of Nottingham.
The movie was directed by Richard Lester, and takes a look at the events after the legends are told, the books closed, the balladeers are gone home.
The movie is just perfect. The cast is fantastic, Lester’s direction and his eye for accuracy and historical detail is extraordinary, and we get the extra bonus of Richard Harris as King Richard, being the true bastard he was historically.
The finale of Robin and Marian always breaks my heart2, and yet there is that last frame, that last shot, that is after all what adventure is all about.
But, but, but… wait a minute.
What about John Cleese?
And what about Danny Kaye and Burt Lancaster?
We’ll have to get back on this topic, for a second serving.