Skip to main content

83: Celebrating 'The Adventures of Robin Hood'

July 7, 2016 12:14 a.m.

Episode 83: Celebrating 'The Adventures of Robin Hood'

Olivia DeHavilland turns 100 this month and that's reason enough to celebrate her, Errol Flynn and the glorious Technicolor splendor of the 1938 "The Adventures of Robin Hood." Film screens in San Diego July 8 at MOPA.

Subscribe to the Cinema Junkie podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcatcher.

Related Story: Podcast Episode 83: Celebrating 'The Adventures Of Robin Hood'

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

[music playing] [00:00:00:0]
Bertha: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast, I'm Bertha Accomando. That is the opening music from The Adventures of Robin Hood, and I'm here sitting under the twinkling stars of the Museum of Photographic Arts Cinema speaking with Miguel Rodriguez of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival about a film we both love - The Adventures of Robin Hood. And we are part of the film geeks at the Digital Gym Cinema and we're expanding to a second venue which is the Museum of Photographic Arts also known as MOPA, and this is a gorgeous cinema and we thought it would be a fun place to record our podcasts all about a film that we're showing on Friday, July 8 which is The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn. So we're here in this gorgeous cinema about to celebrate this movie and Miguel what is your first memory of seeing The Adventures of Robin Hood?
Miguel: Very sadly, my first memory of this film was on a black and white television. [laughter]
Bertha: Oh my God.
Miguel: So my first memory I was very young I had already been familiar with the Disney cartoon Robin Hood.
“You know something Robin I was just wondering, are we good guys or bad guys? You know, I mean our robbing the rich to feed the poor. Rob? That's a naughty word. We never rob. Yes, sort of borrow a bit from those who can afford it. Borrow? Boy, are we in debt.”
Miguel: I was completely shocked to discover that Robin Hood was not a fox but the scene that really sticks in my mind is right at the beginning where Robin Hood burst into the Royal Hall where Prince John is having a banquet with a buck around his shoulders that he killed illegally.
“Greetings your highness, you know I used to clearly teach Gisbourne hospitality, I know sooner enter his castle goes there with a piece of meat and his starving servants trying to snatch at Robin. You should feed them Gisbourne, they’ll work better. The compliments of your royal brother King Richard God Bless Him. By my faith Richard of gold Robin I like you, I don't think Gisbourne shares that sentiment, however, may dance look sad.” [laughter]
Miguel: And just the moxie of that character at that moment I've never forgotten it.
Bertha: That is one of my favorite lines of all times, so I'm going to play this clip from that scene.
“Bring Sir Robin food. I would want to hear such impudent must support a mighty appetite. True or not your highness we search and tie little effect man by the time your tax gatherers are through? Be seated gentlemen, no need to stand on ceremony on my car. So you think you're over taxed, hey? Over taxed, overworked and paid off for the night of trouble roam? Why you speak treason? I advise you to curb that wagging tongue of yours. It’s a habit I’ve never formed, your Grace.”
Bertha: I think there's a little of Errol Flynn and Han Solo, I think that that attitude is totally what we see in years and fourth performance of Han Solo.
Miguel: Yeah, I think that's an archetype, you know, that goes back to like Achilles. Yeah, you've got this kind of brash, you know, Achilles was a little bit more of a jerk. [laughter] But just someone who doesn't there's no fear, they just flaunt themselves in the face of danger and that's scene. I mean Robin Hood is one person surrounded by enemies and he does eat his bursa has got this huge smile on his face and is happy-go-lucky and has a larger-than-life and it’s kind of idiotic but he doesn't care it's great.
Bertha: He's so damn cocky.
Miguel: Yeah, he's so cocky. [laughter]
Bertha: The first time I thought I have my father to think for my love of classics cinema, and he took me and my sister to go see The Adventures of Robin Hood on a kind of big screen. I saw it for the first time at a place called The Cinema Leo on Garnet in Pacific Beach. It was a place we used to lie down to watch movies and there was like these head rests when you lie down to watch films. I think it'll was on a double bill with either Arsenic and Old Lace or the Marx Brothers, but I got to see The Adventures of Robin Hood on a big screen in full Technicolor and I totally fell in love with Errol Flynn. I think I was about, I was in elementary school and I know that I was consumed by him, I bought a book about him, I put up posters of him, I bought the soundtracks to the movies.
Miguel: You're on a pretty big club. [laughter]
Bertha: Yes, and he really had this spark, I mean he kind of fell into acting, he was extremely good-looking, he was athletic, he was able to fall into these swashbuckling roles very easily, but he really had, if you want to call it that, it quality, he really had that spark that made him connect with audiences.
Miguel: I think bringing up Han Solo is appropriate because there's something about Errol Flynn in this and Captain Blood and some of his little films, it's a very contemporary male hero, he doesn't come off as somewhat passé like contemporary audiences might find say Clark Gable. Errol Flynn doesn't have that he has something that is timeless and I think that's what still draws people to him.
Bertha: Well, I think a quality that always makes people a little more timeless is this sense of rebelliousness, that notion that you're not fitting in, you don't care what anybody else thinks. I might think that’s one of the reasons why the Marx Brothers hold up so well, it's a pure sense of anarchy and that there are always against the establishment, and always being against the establishment somehow I think gives you this timeless quality.
Miguel: Yeah, that's a really great point I'd love to see Errol Flynn and Groucho Marx go together against Prince John and someone else there Rufus T firefly and Robin Hood, that would be a great pairing buddy movie. [laughter]
Bertha: One of the things about Robin Hood that I think sticks in most people's minds if you've seen it on a big screen or in color it was this absolutely gorgeous color, this was the three strip Technicolor process and the color just leaps off the screen. Warner Brothers at this time was known for a lot of these gangsters’ films which were black and white and gritty so this was kind of a change of pace for the them.
Miguel: Yeah, so Warner Brothers completely changed course and Errol Flynn was a big part of that they're all willing to bank on him because he had made them some money from his swashbuckling films before this one, and so they decided, you know, we're going to really cash in, and you're right, you know, they're known for their low-budget films making money but spending little but this one I think was over $2 million which at the time, you know, that's like a marvel universe movie now, and they pulled out all the stops they've got this marvelous score which we'll talk about and yet this fairly new three strip Technicolor process though the bold colors it's out of this world, it really is fantastical when you're watching it on the screen, I mean seeing Patrick Knowles as Will Scarlett in just like blazingly red, there's nothing like it. I think it lends the fantasy quality to it
There's a great meme going around the Internet now because movies right now try so hard to be so realistic, and the meme is, I don't want reality I want magic and The Adventures of Robin Hood provides magic and that's what it is, this is something that you will only get within the four walls of the frame of the movie and that's something that is so exciting, and Technicolor at the time, you know, it was new but it was, so it was very difficult to do, it was very difficult to master with, you know, literally three strips of film that are basically compiled on top of one another and so in order for that to really work with cameras the lighting had to be blinking, you know, just like the surface of the sun on these actors faces and just hundreds of basically you could power a whole city on what it took to light these movies in the 30s and The Adventures of Robin Hood really paved the way for something like the Wizard of Oz in 1939, you know, that just this was the standard. Suddenly a standard was set and you have really this film to thank for that when we do have the Technicolor films that would come later this was the herald of that I think.
Bertha: And one of the reasons why the film remains so vivid in terms of its color is the three strip Technicolor process literally had a different color in each strip so it meant that for preserving the films it was easy to maintain those colors whereas later films, I remember seeing a comparison between like Adventures of Robin Hood and Lawrence of Arabia that was made almost 30 years later, and Lawrence of Arabia prints were fading and getting this magenta tone that was hard to restore.
Miguel: Yeah, because it was one strip with all the colors in it whereas you could archive each color individually with the older three strips Technicolor. So yeah, that is kind of ironic little twist is that the more archaic form lent itself to archiving better than what would come later.
Bertha: And I do remember seeing that film in color and what possibly adds to the color is the fact that it was supposed to be in England but it was shot here in California in Chico Park and I believe it was towards the fall or later part of the year and they actually ended up painting the grass to make it look more English, a little brighter green.
Miguel: Yeah, I always thought in Alice in Wonderland that the card soldiers painting the roses red, see that kind of stuff no one would do that anymore, it's such a wild thing to paint the grass and they made fake trees and appropriately it was shot also in the areas that they now call Sherwood Forest because that's where they shot the first Douglas Fairbanks version. On that note I did say that I saw this for the first time in black and white and seeing it in color for the first time must've been, I must have been a teenager, it was literally years later because this is before it was as easy to see movies, it was like seeing it again for the first time but it was one of those knock your socks off moments, so it was not seeing a movie it was experiencing and being transported to this fantasy Sherwood Forest and fantasy England, it's like opening a storybook and I think that's why it endures, I think that's why people go to see it, it's an event. This is the event film, you know, I mean ultimately people talk about, you know, superhero movies are taking over Hollywood now which isn't far from the truth but I mean it's not like it's new, this is a superhero movie.
Bertha: Honestly, cinema has always been in America especially a place for escape, I mean, people wanted to go to the movies to get away from their dull jobs or their problems that they had, I mean, that's one of the reasons why the cinema did so well during the depression as people wanted to find someplace to get away and what better place to escape to than the Forest of Sherwood?
“Welcome to Sherwood my lady.”
Miguel: With those arrows flying past with the great sound and the amazing chemistry and romance between Maid Marian and Robin Hood, and then, of course, you know for us universal horror fans you get to see both, you know, O'Connor and Claude Rains and I mean the cast and this is ridiculous, it's a true ensemble cast and everyone carries the film, I mean as much as Errol Flynn is such a dynamic actor and someone to watch that doesn't mean that the side characters are just backgrounds, they're not. Everybody has got something in there, I mean Eugene Pallette is, Friar Tuck is absolutely hilarious.
“If you're a robber you'll get nothing from me, I'm a cur and vowed to poverty. If this is poverty, I'll gladly share it with you. Not what you're doing, give me back my mutton chop. Not so close my ponderous one, I would have a word with you. Well, I live in the past with the few good fellows if everything in life serves spiritual guidance and no merit but one. What’s that? We’re outlaws and since we are all newborn to the Green Hood we need someone to do our christenings for us. So we've chosen you. Not I, they probably all got your taking ways. Of course, but you'll love them, want to know.”
Miguel: Alan Hale Senior is Little John.
“What's your name friend? John Little. What's yours? Robin. Not Robin of Loxley? Why? Then I’m right glad I fell in with you. Tis he who did the falling in. [laughter] I wanted to see what you’re made of and I did. I hope you’ll not hold it against me. On the contrary, I love a man that confesses.”
Bertha: Well, this is an appropriate time to mention that the original actor they had selected for Robin Hood was believe it or not James Cagney.
Miguel: Little James Cagney.
Bertha: Can you imagine what that film would've been like?
Miguel: I hope that they would have him dance but it would be a completely different movie, I don't, man, yeah, this is one of those moments where you know if we lived in a parallel universe I'd be very interested in actually seeing that movie because.
Bertha: Because Cagney had his own charm but...
Miguel: He was different.
Bertha: But after seeing Errol Flynn do this you cannot imagine anyone else taking on that role.
Miguel: Well, I mean that's true and in fact there are always these maybe it's because it's just one of the first but it's not one of the first, but when people think Robin Hood they tend to think Errol Flynn. It's like when people think Dracula they tend to think Bela Lugosi or, it's iconic I mean that's an overused term now but I think Errol Flynn as Robin Hood is definitely iconic, and when Disney made their cartoon version with that fox it was definitely Errol Flynn, and then, you know, I'll never even talk about this later but one thing I find fascinating is in the 90s they made Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves of Kevin Costner and then Mel Brooks parody of that film with Robin Hood, Men in Tights and all the jokes were definitely based on Prince of Thieves, but the art direction production design character it was clearly Carrie always was supposed to be Errol Flynn. The costumes were supposed to be like the Errol Flynn version so even though, you know, Mel Brooks is going to make this movie making fun of Prince of Thieves the look of it is going back to 1938, I find that fascinating.
Bertha: Mentioning that James Cagney was originally going to be Robin Hood, Errol Flynn stepped into the role with Captain Blood the film in 1935 that kind of catapulted him to fame and he stepped into the shoes of Robert Donat who was Mr. Chips and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and again you think about this and you go, whoa, if they had made that movie with him.
Miguel: With Mr. Chips.
Bertha: It wouldn't, because the other thing that Errol Flynn brings to the role that Cagney and Robert do not have in quite the same way is it the sex appeal and charisma?
Miguel: That's true, I mean and Cagney's got this kind of, he's got a different charisma but you're right, he's not the sex tiger kind of, he's a little bit, I don't know how to say this without insulting Cagney but it's not the same as Errol Flynn, Errol Flynn has that real debonair quality that Cagney doesn't necessarily have. Some of the ladies out there might disagree with me but, you know, he was kind of this small guy, kind of this, he's got that mean look on his face half the time even when he's dancing, and every time I picture Cagney as Robin Hood he's talking like a gangster. [laughter]
Bertha: Get the Tommy gun out.
Miguel: Yes, put the arrow with the Tommy gun. [laughter]
Bertha: And just a briefly give back to the Technicolor, I think that the Technicolor in this was so vivid and made such an impression on me that I seem to remember Captain Blood and the Seahawk in color despite the fact that they were both black and white but Errol Flynn is so fixed in my memory in this bold vivid color that I seem to be able to like force that memory on these black-and-white movies.
Miguel: Yeah, you know it, that's right. Did we see the Sea Hawk at the TCM film Festival and I remember sitting there I was like, "Oh my gosh this is in black and white?" I completely forgot for the same reason it's kind of like when you watch a foreign film that subtitled but later on you remember it and people are speaking English in your memory it's one of those weird kind of brain tricks it plays on you, and I think in this case you know the language of Errol Flynn is the language of Technicolor. You have no choice but to see any of his films with, you know, with those rosy cheeks. [laughter]
Bertha: Brought up cast and one cast member is celebrating birthday this month Olivia DeHavilland turns hundred she has to be one of the most lovely Maid Marian's ever committed to film.
Miguel: Yeah, she has that quality where she doesn't have to say anything, the camera just closes up on her, you get a close up on her face and it's like looking at, you know, The Venus de Milo or The Mona Lisa or something her face is a painting and these shots in the film it's just magical. She's got a magical face, she's always got that headdress on and so her face is framed with these colorful headdresses and the makeup that they have her in with the Technicolor is also kind of magical as well so it's a mix of costuming the mix of those huge eyes that she has and, you know, she plays kind of a very dignified at times silent character observing some of these things around her and I think one of her shining moments in this film is you know she starts off repulsed by Robin Hood and his band of merry men.
You speak with loyalty.
Yes, why not?
“I suppose you and your band of cutthroats are going to send this treasure to Richard, you would dream of keeping it to yourselves. Hey, what you'll do with this treasure? Divide it amongst ourselves? Give it to the poor and take it from the rich. Convinced? I may have been hasty, but why you a knight, should live here like an animal in the forest, robbing, killing. You're really interested in learning why I turned outlaw or you're afraid of the truth or of me perhaps? I'm afraid of nothing, least all of you. Good, then come with me.”
Miguel: And over the course of the film starts to see what he's really doing and you can literally see moments where without her saying anything is just her face for her opinion is shifting and that is brilliant such good acting on her part she really shines.
Bertha: Well, it's interesting that as they remade Robin Hoods in later decades and were trying to turn Maid Marian into more of this kind of feminist icon or a character that was more active in a contemporary sense, like oh we can't have Maid Marian in a contemporary film just be sitting there passive waiting to be rescued we’ll make her into a woman of action and, you know, have or maybe engage in swordplay or whatever, but going back to Olivia DeHavilland, without having to do any of that she is such a strong character and she has her moments where, you know, Prince John brings her up on treason and she has this lovely speech.
“Are you not ashamed my lady Marion? Yes, I am, bitterly, but it's a shame that I'm a Norman after seeing the things my fellow countrymen have done to England. At first I wouldn't believe because I was a Norman I wouldn't let myself to live the down a section we're just right. I know now why you're trying so hard to kill this uncle it's because he was the one man in England who protected the helpless against the lot of beasts you and blood, and now you intend to murder your own brother.”
Bertha: It's such a powerful scene even though this is a pop-culture popcorn movie, she still has this moment that's very real and makes her character quite strong without having to, you know, engage what nowadays we would consider like, you know, she's just a damsel in distress getting rescued but she had bit of really strong character.
Miguel: Yeah, people who write her off as a damsel in distress character even though she is a she get rescued in terms of plot line are just not paying attention because, you know, I brought up her dignity and in that speech they are talking about that's a key moment of dignity, you know, I think often these days we confuse strength with someone who can grab a knife and you know round kick someone in the face, you know, that has its place and it's cool and all we all love like our Buffy the Vampire Slayer and stuff but, you know, strength has different faces and Maid Marian played by Olivia DeHavilland in the 1938 film Adventures of Robin Hood is not a cardboard cutout. You know, she's not crying and bereft of any kind of depth she's definitely got a character.
Bertha: One of my favorite scenes in this is between Olivia de Havilland and Her Lady in Waiting played by Una O'Connor, I want to play a clip from their scene where Una O'Connor is trying to find out if Maid Marian might be in love with Robin Hood.
“He's different from any man I’ve ever known, he's brave and he's reckless, it is gentle and kind, he's not brutal like, tell me when you're in love is it really just have to think of anybody but one person. Yes, indeed, my lady and sometimes it's a bit to trap and sleep in. I know, but it's the nice kind of sleeping. Yes, and it affects your appetite too. Not that I’ve noticed it’s done that to you except when he was in the dungeon waiting to be hanged. And it makes you want to be with him all the time. Yes, and when he’s with you your legs are as weak as water. When he looks at you, you feel a kind of prickly feeling like goosy pimples running all up and down your spine. Then there’s not a doubt of it. You’re in love?”
Bertha: Okay goose pimple feeling is line that I've remembered for my entire life and you love Una O'Connor as well.
Miguel: Yeah.
Bertha: What is it about her that you find so appealing?
Miguel: You know Una O'Connor was kind of a ham but she's very polarizing, there are people who just can't stand her but I just love her and I think it's because she is larger than life she does not shy away from making her voice louder than anyone else's on camera she's this tiny older, you know, she's one of these older women and you know, you see few of those in classic Golden age Hollywood but she was able to do that and play off of that partly because she was just fun she was just hilarious, you know, a lot of people will remember her from a Bride of Frankenstein or The Invisible Man both directed by James Well and he thought she was hysterical so he stuck her all over the place and I think, you know, the people who share his sense of humor also known as smart people love Una O'Connor and this, you know, a lady in waiting character can just be me now set dressing and Una made herself not set dressing she's one of his. It’s like I said before, all these side characters even Maid Marian's, you know, she didn't have to take over the screen as much as she did but she did and she had, you know, she ends up having I don't want to give too much away for any of you who haven’t seen it but she becomes she has her own little side role to play later on so and she's not that great face and she has her own big old’ eyes and her voice, I don't know, I just love her.
Bertha: We've talked about the kind of the good guy characters in this, one of the things that makes this film so enjoyable is the rivalry or the nemesis that he's to face in Basil Rathbone.
Miguel: Yeah, from homes.
Bertha: In those other stories of Robin Hood the Sheriff of Nottingham was always kind of his nemesis this film kind of tweaked that a little bit, Basil Rathbone plays the Sir Guy of Gisbourne he's kind of the main nemesis Sheriff of Nottingham kind of becomes a slightly ridiculous figure in the hands of Melville Cooper but this rivalry between the two of them was fabulous.
“Could I have such a plan? You come to Nottingham once too often when necessary we might plan that we don't need to come again.”
Miguel: Yeah, I think that I keep bringing up the Disney cartoon version because I think the Sheriff of Nottingham definitely based on Noble Cooper kind of this buffoonish character but Basil Rathbone I think part of the reason of Basil Rathbone just has a lot of screen presence as a villain in a line or as Sherlock Holmes somewhat interesting seeing him on the other side of the evil row that way but I think that the rivalry was also in real life too because Basil Rathbone was a fencer and he had to have these amazing swashbuckling sword fighting scenes with Errol Flynn and Rathbone was just a better fencer and so I think there was a little bit of a friendly competition there especially since Rathbone had to lose. I just feel like that you can feel that come off the screen in a really awesome way to make it more exciting, he's so slimy looking, you know, he's got the face of a villain, he's got the long nose and squinty eyes, and he's just, you know, mean, he's just a mean guy. [laughter]
Miguel: He's one of those swashbuckling movies where when the hero is sword fighting the villain you actually want the hero to win. I feel like it didn't happen very much sometimes you end up rooting for the villain but in this when, I'll kill Robin, you know, I'm just getting excited now just thinking about it not even watching the movie, the hats off to Basil Rathbone for that for giving you someone you love to hate.
Bertha: Well, and I think the rivalry also came from their different approaches to work. Basil Rathbone was very professional and very polished. Yes, and Errol Flynn kind of he relied on being a little bit charming, and so I think he was known for not memorizing his lines quite as much and not coming quite as prepared to.
Miguel: That's an American.
Bertha: But he's not American.
Miguel: Oh, that's right.
Bertha: He was born in Tasmania.
Miguel: Well, it's still not British.
Bertha: Not.
Miguel: British, British.
Bertha: No, but he…
Miguel: Not like a stiff upper lip like Rathbone.
Bertha: No, no, no. Yeah, so I think that also added to the chemistry they had on screen as being these antagonists and also on the side of the villains is Claude Rains who we've screened a number of his universal horror films with the Invisible Man and he makes a deliciously slimy Prince John.
“Let me my friends, miscollecting taxes not two gold bobs in the pound but three and they managed to be turned over to me. Why do you your highness? King Richard appointed Longshire as regent. I kicked Longshire out, from now on I am Richard of England. This is what you'll go bring it, this is so strange that I decide to remove my brother who’s a prisoner? Who's to say I shouldn't?”
Miguel: He is great I love him because, I mean Claude Rains is one of the greatest actors who ever lived and in Prince John he doesn't he's not this kind of villain who, you know, he's not like Sauron and Lord of the Rings who's this all-powerful really intimidating villain he's this mousy little like pest, you know, he's got tough guys around him but he's just a smarmy mousy pest to who, you know, whose brother is off at the Crusades so he is going to take over and he's going to try to take over to the best of his ability but honestly, I mean he just kind of wants to like sit and eat lots of food and drink lots of wine and have fun and rule people and.
Bertha: Well, you know, where is like this contemporary character because to me is kind of like this opportunistic politician.
Miguel: Yeah, that's exactly what he is, he's an opportunistic politician and then anybody else be damned. All he cares about is himself and having a good time and he also doesn't like when anyone challenges him either so there's that too. This is an action adventure film and it's just swashbuckling film but he's not the one you're going to see really sword fighting Robin Hood, yeah, he's the man behind the curtain and he's got that little smile, oh his hair the wig they haven't met too it’s perfect, again I have to bring up the Disney cartoon version only because I feel like they were just animating this Errol Flynn villain because they have Prince John and that too and he's left thumb sucker and he's completely just as ridiculous, he's like a child who wants all the toys yeah.
Bertha: Okay, you mentioned of how this is swashbuckler and an action film this film behind the scenes has a little bit of an interesting story in the sense that it was started with director William Keighley who got along very well with Errol Flynn who had directed Technicolor before which was kind of a big deal for them because this was doing a Technicolor film was very expensive and they wanted to make sure that things ran smoothly, but he did not remain the director of this film. Michael Curtiz eventually came on in.
Miguel: Curtiz was kind of a golden boys but why do they need to bring him on in the first place is if there are two reasons Keighley was not so hot at the action scenes that, you know, the brass at Warner Brothers didn't feel like it was heart pounding enough in those scenes but probably the biggest reason is pure money, they were behind schedule, they're losing money every day, they're going over budget and that I mean if there's anything like it's a director fired, that's it. And so they replaced him with Curtiz who can basically do anything, but they do share thankfully, they do share codirecting credits because they both actually both of them offer their own aspect to make this movie great. I mean there are things that Keighley was able to offer first of all his experience shooting Technicolor and some of the technical qualities, some of the romance qualities, and then Curtiz was able to really marry that with all the action, all the fun, and all the bombast that we have in the film. So I think that's a true co-direction film even though they didn't really work together per se.
Bertha: Well, and their styles were very different and Curtiz was known to be very dictatorial on the set.
Miguel: Which is what helps them stay on their budget that's what they wanted I mean, you know, he's one of those people who could, the man was a workhorse he was a basically a working stiff, he's like okay I'm an artist but really I'm doing the job and he knew how to do it.
Bertha: And he had directed Errol Flynn before he's the one who helped him become so popular with Captain Blood, so he knew what he was doing although he and Flynn did not really get along well and I think part of that was their approach as he was very much this professional dictatorial director on the set and Flynn was a little more easy going maybe.
Miguel: I think Flynn attacked them on say at one point.
Bertha: I've heard that because the story I had heard involve the fact that in order to add a little more energy or excitement to the fight scenes he had instructed one of the stunt people to remove the guard that was on the sword.
Miguel: Oh my God that would get him in so much trouble.
Bertha: And yeah, I think Errol Flynn had gotten Curtiz something and so he, I think he had gone up to him and like either pointed this order shook him or something to say like, oh what's this for? How’s this is for excitement.
Miguel: Oh my gosh, Errol Flynn would've been able to cream him, yeah. [laughter]
Miguel: Yeah, I think I heard something similar to that and that's just amazing, some of these stories you hear these days about the lack of safety on set.
Bertha: Yeah, and this film reportedly used I think more stuntmen than anyone had up until that time and there was a lot of, there were a lot of stunts in this film and speaking of stunts let's talk about Howard Hill.
Miguel: Oh yeah.
Bertha: Who was the expert archer who actually split the arrow then we had CGI now to do all this stuff and the fact that he does it for real is so amazing.
Miguel: Yeah, you know they had to do that a couple of times to get it right apparently, you know, one arrow was made of a different material than the other but all of these little aspects aside, he was a genius I mean not only was he an expert archer and he was their consultant and all the archery stuff he was also the one who helped the sound designers make the sound of the arrows going through the air which is an incredible sound.
“He split the arrow. We shall win, we win.”
Miguel: Which he can really only appreciate in the theater if you’re wearing headphones, but he was also the one speaking of stunt people who literally shot people with arrows they would have, this is part of the reason they had so many stunt people I mean aside from the fact that it's a huge cast, you've got Armies and castles and all that stuff, a merry band and everything but you know, you've have people getting shot with the arrows and it's, you know, these poor schmoes with balsa wood strapped to their chests literally getting Charlotte arrows, they're paid $150 per arrow. [laughter]
Miguel: Some of them were shot at three arrows, but it was Hill who's doing all the shooting so they trusted him. [laughter]
Bertha: Was this money coming after that we just screen Throne of Blood here in San Diego and at the end scene Toshiro Mifune is shot with real arrows from a team of archers not merely one arrow at a time but these stunt people were subjected to some amazing things.
Miguel: I have to think that Kurosawa was watching The Adventures of Robin Hood and was like I can top that. [laughter] I'll use 300 arrows instead of three. [laughter]
Bertha: And talking about the sound design for that we were fortunate enough to be at the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival when sound designer Ben Bird was talking about the creation of the sound and how he actually went in and tried to re-create it and find out what was done and I think he's used that sound in the Star Wars movies because he loves it so much.
Miguel: What was amazing about that presentation is it really keys you in on to what a challenge they had in 1937 I guess it would've been when they're making the film to get that sound because Ben Bert was having trouble he was really having the hard time finding that exact sound and I mean it sounds like a missile going right through your ear, it's, that's why it's supposed to be but it's such a unique and exhilarating sound. It's like oh, here comes death, you know, and hearing Mr. Bert talk about that moment of triumph, you know, was really good but I forgot exactly all the rigmarole they had to go through in different rooms, different arrows, getting the feathers right, everything contributed to the perfect sound.
Bertha: And as well on the topic of sound let's talk about Erich Wolfgang Korngold who created the amazing soundtrack to this.
“Guards, quick.” [music] [00:37:57:4]
Miguel: I mean this is a swashbuckling film, you need the music to carry you through, I mean as much as the Technicolor and the acting uplifts you into this world of clashing swords and good versus evil it's Korngold's music that right from the opening in a credit card, it's like, oh, I know exactly what I'm getting because it’s, you know, it's like the Hans Zimmer of today only, you know, much better.
Bertha: Well, and the thing that's so enjoyable is during some of the fight sequences you feel like that music is just punctuating every hit and every stroke of the blade and that's part of what kind of turned them off to doing this initially because he felt, you know, I'm this kind of musician and he had I believe composed some Operas and so he felt a little I think like I'm not sure I want to do this but thank God they convinced him, or twisted his arm to do it because this score is so much fun to listen to.
Miguel: Well, you know, you bring up the music punctuates the action which it really does Korngold won the Academy Award for this but the other Academy Award get this one three I believe was for editing and we have to credit the editing for marrying the music, to the image so perfectly in those action scenes, art direction as well I believe so obviously the three hugest parts of this film are its resounding score, the pace I mean this is not a film where you get bored. The editing is fantastic and their art direction, the color we already talked about but of course, you know, they built trees for merry men to sit in and swing from and there's a scene where Robin Hood, you know, swings like Tarzan onto a bow of a tree and, you know, they built that it's not a real tree.
Bertha: And a fake rock too that huge boulder. [laughter]
Miguel: All these the Castle and the matte paintings, you know.
Bertha: Oh yeah.
Miguel: The matte paintings are magnificent, it turns a soundstage into like a huge cliff overlooking all of England and it looks just beautiful.
Bertha: And this really is the film that celebrates kind of these old school techniques that again it may not be the most realistic looking thing but it transports you to this other world in a way that CGI today just can't quite approach because it's asking you to make that leap with them, it like inspires your imagination to say like, okay, we know we're not really in England but we're going to ask you to look at the painted grass, and look at the matte paintings and totally buy into this world.
Miguel: That's the difference I think, you know, and when someone, you know, we might sometimes sound like old curmudgeons or fogies like, you know, old man yells at a cloud by talking about you know CGI is not as good as the old days but I truly believe that's true and I think it is nailed why, you know, with these techniques first of all they're artistically gorgeous even those matte paintings were hand-painted with paint on glass, but they allow the audience to participate in the production with their imaginations. It's a two-way communication whereas with CGI these days it feels a lot more like we're going to do all the work for you, you can just sit back and let all these images go in front of you, and that two-way communication is lost pretty significantly because we don't have to buy into it as much.
Bertha: But I think with the emphasis being kind of solely on getting it to be realistic then you lose kind of a part of the artistry of what film is all about, it's not strictly being about how realistic can we be, you know, and you're making a leap of faith when you're watching a movie you know that's not the real world, and especially with films like this to have that slightly surreal quality of not being the real world is what you need to kind of enter this different kind of realm.
Miguel: It's art and its charm and we have reality around us 24/7 why do we want to see it on the movies screen too? It doesn't make any sense to me. I love the beauty of artifices is something I talk about a lot on my podcasts and it's not to say that vérité, although vérité, you know, it has its own kind of surrealist to it, it's not like they were trying to emulate the real world exactly in traditional, you know, or even you know French Nueva, Japanese Nueva that are these really slice of life kind of stories. There was still a magical quality to those films, you go to enter a film I don't understand this need to want to make everything have to be as real as possible, you know, even these things although they can be fun but a lot of these things talk about like, well, can we talk about how scientifically feasible this would be? It's like oh, come on you're going to the movies, you know, I don't give a shit. [laughter]
Bertha: And who needs science when you have an archer who can really split an arrow?
Miguel: That's true. [laughter]
Miguel: It doesn't hurt to have people who can actually, you know, Errol Flynn did a majority of his own stunts climbing walls, and jumping off of banisters, and swinging from ropes, and all this crazy stuff that I mean Hollywood would not be allowed to do now it doesn’t hurt to have performers who can really go to mile.
Bertha: Errol Flynn has been mentioned he's not the only actor to have ever portrayed Robin Hood. Another great one in the silent era was Douglas Fairbanks but it's been pretty hard to find a contemporary actor who's been able to capture the essence of Robin Hood and I don't know if it's me.
Miguel: Kevin Costner?
Bertha: And I don't know if it's because we could become too serious or something or, you know, but yes we've had Kevin Costner we've had Russell Crowley and this dredging realistic Robin Hood that Ridley Scott did.
“To try to build for the future, you must set your foundation strong. The laws of this land enslave people to its king, a king who demands loyalty but offers nothing in return. I've marched to France, to Palestine and back, and I know in tyranny lies only failure.”
Bertha: It's just as the same like they're finding the way to approach this.
Miguel: It's like Ridley Scott's trying to prove my point about who went to see Ridley Scott's Robin Hood not very many, it didn't do too well, I don't think I mean you don't go to Robin Hood for a history lesson you just don't, and I think you also bring up, you know, it feels like we can't have these characters without pathos these days whereas, you know, you look at Errol Flynn forget pathos, we're just having fun and that's you could see that in the Kevin Costner thing he's not having fun.
“He was to go home? Yeah. Then we must have fighting amongst ourselves and face the price for what maybe dear, die for one who would rather die and then spend my life in hiding. Sherriff calls us outlaws. But I say we're free, and one free man defending his home is more powerful than 10 hired soldiers.”
Miguel: One thing that's great about the 1938 film is the Hardy belly laugh that anyone has. [laughter] There's a great YouTube compilation of just all the like deep party belly. [laughter] Belly laughs. [laughter] Throughout the film not as Errol Flynn but all the characters.
Bertha: Oh yeah, the Allan Hale, Eugene Pallette with a real big belly laugh. [laughter]
Miguel: A literal belly laugh yeah, Claude Rains with his gun of the effeminate. [laughter] You know, then you don't have that in the Kevin Costner version. I don't think the guys smiles even once. [laughter]
Bertha: The only fun in the Kevin Costner film and we agree on this.
Miguel: Yes, that's true.
Bertha: The reason to see it and the only reason to see it is Alan Rickman shooting up the scenery as the Sheriff of Nottingham.
“Would you prefer pain or death? Death. Torture?”
Miguel: He's the one having fun.
Bertha: Yes.
Miguel: He's the one who's like, I'm not going to take this very seriously. You know, there's the brilliant spoon line.
“I'm going to cut your hand off with a spoon. Then it begins. My spoon cuts him, why not a. Put this down you twit, it’ll hurt more.”
[laughter]
Miguel: You should probably just make a clip of that one, but he's so, you know, whose idea was to have this crazy witch in the basement thing too? Like I'll have to feel like Alan Rickman threw that in the script because it's so doesn't not fit into what the rest of that movie is running around he's flapping his cape around, twisting his mustache, yeah, he's the one thing, you know, the one part of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves that's really enjoyable, I mean that's for those movies that's kind of forgotten like who still watches that movie?
Bertha: We just watched the YouTube clips of Alan Rickman.
Miguel: Yeah, that's not the same as, you know, someone saying I want to watch a movie. Oh watch Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. [laughter]
Miguel: You'll know what he wants him just like.
Bertha: I will say there is one Robin Hood film that I adore besides the one with Errol Flynn and that's Richard Lester's wholly unappreciated Robin and Marion which looks to Robin Hood in his later years, his twilight years and it's such an amazing beautiful funny poignant sad film and I just wish that was shown more.
“All right, come home pick your money. But we're also over, I'm here. Well, it's mother Judas now and you can travel right back to Jerusalem You’re angry? Not with you, I haven't thought of you in 20 years. Well, give me a smile and invite me in. Come back tomorrow I'll be gone. Sheriffs coming for me and I'm off to prison. What happened explain? I have no time. Why is the sheriff coming? What have you done? God’s work is what I do these days. If you're in trouble I can save you. Nothing to be saved from, I don't want you Robin. But you've got me, I like the way you look. It's more that I can say for you.”
Miguel: You know Robin that is why that was at 1976 it was still that was, well you've got Richard Lester he was great at action heroics as well, it was in that that beautiful 70's era of Hollywood the new Hollywood very European film influenced, art film was bigger in Hollywood at that time and so you had more fun it was still not as, you know, it's not Errol Flynn fun, but it gives you something to chew on more than Robin Hood Prince of Thieves does but what is the connection between Robin and Marion and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves?
Bertha: Is this a trick question.
Miguel: No, it's Sean Connery who plays Robin in Robin and Marion and plays King Richard, The Lion Heart in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
Bertha: I've completely blocked that from my memory. [laughter] But yes, the cast of Robin and Marion is not only as Sean Connery as Robin Hood we have the lovely Audrey Hepburn as Maid Marian and Robert Shaw as Sheriff of Nottingham and one thing that Richard Lester always did which I don't think he was appreciated for but he was like this history buff and so in the Errol Flynn Robin Hood we have them fighting mostly with Ray Pierce which was something that would not come for that how long after that they were fighting with these huge broad swords which I had an opportunity to see when I was at the Tower of London and those things are massive, and basically in Robin and Marion you get a real sword fight where just you lift it barely take one swing and it falls to the ground and then.
Miguel: Let its weight carry it.
Bertha: And then you have to like hope that you can pick your sword out before the next guy slams you with his and so it was a very kind of really this is the same thing in his Three Musketeers and Four Musketeers film as he was this kind of history buff he wanted to make it realistic so you get these castles that are drafty looking and cold and gross.
Miguel: And the costume too.
Bertha: And the costumes and you feel like kind of the grunge of living in these times was like which of course, The Adventures of Robin Hood does not have.
Miguel: Yeah, again I think that comes from not only Lester's direction but just the times another example of Richard Lester's Polanski's Macbeth the awesome sword fight scene between McBeth and McDuff at the end with those broad swords and it's just exhausting to watch them try to lift those damn things. [laughter]
Bertha: And you feel the weight of the armor and that one too.
Miguel: Yeah, they're just exhausted they need to fight in for 30 seconds and they're just exhausted.
Bertha: My favorite Robin Hood would have to be Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, and Sean Connery those are the ones that for me kind of capture the essence of what that character is like, and Robin and Marion is really amazing because it is kind of looking to the end of, it's this nice makes of upholding the legend at the same time it's kind of counteracting it with a bit of reality.
Miguel: Yeah, you know, that's one thing that we can say like why in the world did Ridley Scott make a Robin Hood movie in the early 2000’s? The answer is that characters one of these legends that just will always remain and it's just a matter of time for the next Robin Hood movie and partly it's because we had such a strong representation with starting with Douglas Fairbanks and then Errol Flynn at the 1938 Errol Flynn version but also because it's just been in our lexicon, it's been in our language for so long it's like Superman or Achilles or King Arthur probably more appropriate analogy but it's part of what makes our identity ours. I just wanted to be more fun.
Bertha: Would you have a literature background so how close, do you any of these films come to kind of the literary roots or the folklore roots of Robin Hood?
Miguel: Well, you know they all can kind of come close because there are so many versions Robin Hood is one of those characters who is largely told over campfires and little vignettes and in songs and in poetry, you know, there's not a real definitive Robin Hood, I mean there are some books but everything's conflicting, everything's different, you know, the basics are the same which are he was a kind of a freedom fighter against a corrupt government that's always the same the whole rob from the rich and give to the poor, the people's hero that was all, you know, it's because he was a peasant hero he was the person who was told to the children of poor people. He was, you know, don't feel bad about going hungry tonight little kids because we have this hero who's watching over us here, that's part of why he endures as he has that peasant hero quality about him, but in terms of how close it is, I mean that's all you need, right. I mean you need the spirit of it I think for me it's always could be Errol Flynn. I mean when you talk about the literature roots and the epic songs, the poetry and that kind of stuff is always kind of this larger-than-life jovial wisecrack and joy.
Bertha: Oh we have the merry men.
Miguel: The merry men who were, you know, they were walking around thieving and singing songs and jumping from trees and yeah, I think you have to go to call it the 1938 in terms of getting that feeling of just 18th-century, 17th-century storytelling down.
Bertha: You did mention the Mel Brooks, Men in Tights and that just reminded me of another comic Robin Hood which was the very briefly seen John Cleese as Robin Hood and the.
Miguel: In Time Bandits
Bertha: In Time Bandits. [laughter]
“and you had carried all his? Well, it's a good day Mr. Wood. Surely good day. It's nice. What I mean what can I say, thank you, thank you all very, very much indeed. What? What I mean is fight for the, the poor is going to be absolutely thrilled. Have you met the poor? Oh you must be; I just know you’d like them. Because they haven't got two pennies to rub together, that's because they're poor.”
Bertha: he really did a lot to undercut the Robin Hood legend.
Miguel: Yes. [laughter] Well, you know, you've got basically, you know, what's great about that is it’s basically Monty Python, right.
Bertha: Yeah.
Miguel: You've got Terry Gilliam directing John Cleese as Robin Hood and you could take that other movie and put it in Monty Python to be sure and it would not be out of place at all, but yeah the whole idea of like to get Robin to robbing the rich and give to the poor, yeah they changed that a little bit, Robin Hood is a very nice. [laughter]
Bertha: No, Sean Connery is in that film as well so we have another link between the whole Robin Hood.
Miguel: Agamemnon.
Bertha: And that he was brilliant as Agamemnon that character was so wonderful and the Time Bandits is another film that I think is really underrated. Fantastic film that gives you this journey through history and through storytelling and through like all these literary characters and historical characters and.
Miguel: In-home as Napoleon, of course, David Warner as evil. [laughter]
Bertha: Evil, he's so good he looks constipated the whole time and angry. [laughter] All right, so now that we've been celebrating Robin Hood and talking about how wonderful it is and how great it is on the big screen, I know this is a tease to people who are not in San Diego but if you are in San Diego.
Miguel: Or within 100 miles.
Bertha: If you really are good, within a thousand miles you can come out here, we're going to be screening this as part of our expanded Film Geeks Universe and we're going to be at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park showing the film 7 PM Friday night July 8 here at MOPA and it's an opportunity to see this film as it was meant to be seen on a big screen with an audience who is oohing and ahhing and gasping along with the movie and we're planning to show some additional classic films and other films that we just love, I mean most immediately we are going to be paying tribute to Preston Sturges with the Lady Eve.
Miguel: August 13 for the Lady Eve.
Bertha: And this kind of represents a bit of our mission statement.
Miguel: Of what we've been known for so far, when we started the Film Geeks three years ago now, holy cow, Digital Jim Cinema which is the small micro cinema we have here a 46 seater, was looking for more diverse programming or we were trying to force diverse programming on them and it was more because of the horrible matching thing to the ties very horror based at first and then we know we kind of got diversified a little bit but ultimately our hearts are in repertory screenings and keeping the magic of the history of cinema alive and why these films are so important and, you know, I'll see something like, you know, the big gun down or the searchers or something and wonder, you know, how many people have never seen these and we do a lot to screening so we'll say, okay raise your hand if you've never seen this before and here in San Diego we had lots of hands in the air and I think that's just criminal like if I gosh, it feels like if we didn't do this then these films would not be seen anymore. This is like a preservation effort and it's not only a preservation effort of the films themselves we want to introduce the films, we want to get background, we want to get contacts and it's a preservation of the community of appreciation, the community of people getting together to talk to relate, to experience these works of art in a community setting where you know we aren't isolated at home, in front of a computer, looking at our cell phone, you know, it's much more of a holistic experience I think that's what we're trying to achieve.
Bertha: Film is meant to be seen with a group of people in a darkened room where all your focus and attention is on the screen and seeing it on a big enough screen you can appreciate the detail and all the work that goes into it and for some reason one of the things that I remember a story that I had heard is in terms of why watching it in a group is interesting as there was a documentary talking about Rosemary's baby and there was a scene where Roman Polanski placed Ruth Gordon just outside the door frame as you're looking down a hallway and she's making a phone call and just sitting on a bed and you don't see her completely you just see like her arm or something and his cinematographer says, "Wait, wait, wait you need to put her in the center of the frame, we need to see her," and he says, "No, trust me." And when they showed the film in a theater with a group of people the moment that shot comes up the entire audience leans to one side to kind of peer around the doorframe to see where she is and.
Miguel: Think he got it too dim.
Bertha: And to me like that feeling of being in a theater where you're all kind of suddenly doing this and then catch yourself and realize, oh my God, you know, it's just a movie I can't see around that corner, but to me that kind of just encapsulates one of the reasons why film is so magical in a group experience like that.
Miguel: Yeah, I mean a lot of people tend to complain when someone else laughs during a movie or someone else gasps during the movie but, you know, if it's along with the film and I love that, I love when we share those moments, you know, for watching something scary and the person next to me jumps in their seat I think that's exciting or we all laugh at the same joke and I think that's exciting too, you know, film is, it can be an intellectual exercise but ultimately it's an emotional exercise and you know this is a way a lot of us are not very comfortable with sharing emotions but this is a way we can do that, you know, in this darkened room setting where we're all going on a trip together.
Bertha: Well, I will call out our friend Michael Misserainey [phonetic] [01:01:36:7] who comes to horror films, loves horror films and sitting next to him at a horror movie is the greatest experience because he gasps and jumps out of his seat and makes it twice as entertaining to watch a horror film. [laughter]
Miguel: Oh yeah, because you're looking through his eyes it's great, yeah I love it. Thank you Michael. [laughter]
Bertha: All right, and to go out on this podcast let's go out with some more of Eric Wolfgang Korngold's music from The Adventures of Robin Hood and I hope you will come out and join us get off your butts from your couches, forget if there's sunshine outside coming to a darkened theater here at MOPA with the twinkling stars above us and watch the magic of Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland taking us back in time to England to Robin and Marian on the big screen.
Miguel: Yes, join us.
[music] [01:02:32:2]
Bertha: Thanks for listening to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast. You can subscribe to the KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast on iTunes or check out the archives KPBS.org/junkiepodcast. So till our next film fix I'm Bertha Accomando your resident in Cinema Junkie.
[music] [01:02:59:0]