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Warner Home Video presents
The Adventures of Robin Hood: SE (1938)

Maid Marian: But why you, a knight, should live here like an animal in the forest—robbing, killing, outlawed?
Robin Hood: Are you really interested in why I turned outlaw, or are you afraid of the truth? Or of me, perhaps?
Maid Marian: I'm afraid of nothing, least of all of you.

- Olivia de Havilland, Errol Flynn

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: October 20, 2003

Stars: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Alan Hale, Eugene Pallette
Other Stars: Patric Knowles, Melville Cooper, Ian Hunter, Una O'Connor, Herbert Mundin, Montagu Love
Director: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: PG for for adventure violence
Run Time: 01h:41m:48s
Release Date: September 30, 2003
UPC: 012569513129
Genre: adventure


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ BA+B A+

DVD Review

The legend of Robin Hood and his merry band of benevolent thieves has always been a cinematic natural. Although Douglas Fairbanks Sr. filmed a highly successful silent version of the Old English yarn back in 1922, most of us envision Errol Flynn whenever the man with the green felt hat and clinging tights comes to mind. (We won't even mention Kevin Costner...) With his trusty bow and endless supply of penetrating arrows, Flynn battles a cast of thousands in Warner's memorable 1938 film, captivating generations of audiences with his youthful vigor and devil-may-care attitude. So what if his costume, hairstyle, and make-up are a tad effeminate; Flynn remains the quintessential Robin Hood and the epitome of Sherwood Forest chic. He also reigned for years as the king of movie swashbuckling, and no greater role came his way than Sir Robin of Locksley, a fearless Saxon nobleman whose outrage over a political coup and unjust taxation inspires him to become a freedom-fighting outlaw.

The Adventures of Robin Hood was the studio's top-grossing film of 1938, and its boundless energy, superior production values, and delightful portrayals keep it fresh and entertaining even today. Every role is so perfectly cast—Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Basil Rathbone as the sinister Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Claude Rains as the power-hungry Prince John, Alan Hale as Little John, and Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck—that watching any other version seems sacrilegious. Yet thanks to this lovingly restored two-disc DVD, no one will ever be tempted to commit such blasphemy again.

Forget the exciting story, grand spectacle, and fine performances—this Robin Hood DVD is all about the Technicolor, and its meticulous refurbishment alone makes this set worth everyone's investment. With eye-popping, gorgeously saturated reds, greens, yellows, and purples, the film is a sumptuous visual feast, and Warner technicians have made sure it will stand as a lasting testament to the beauty of early three-strip Technicolor. Just sitting back and drinking in all the stimuli of Sol Polito and Tony Gaudio's lush cinematography is entertainment in and of itself.

But, of course, The Adventures of Robin Hood provides so much more than breathtaking images. There's romance, acrobatic swordfights, thrilling feats of archery, clever banter, and stunts galore (many performed by Flynn himself)—all perfectly balanced to garner universal appeal. Tipping the scales at just over $2 million, Robin Hood was Warner's most expensive picture to date, and every penny is on glorious display. Directors William Keighley and Michael Curtiz recreate twelfth-century England with terrific gusto, from its gluttonous feasting and barbaric mores to its garish costumes and pompous pageantry. And thanks to Ralph Dawson's editing and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's rousing score (both of which won Oscars®), the film achieves an enviable symbiosis of pace and mood.

In addition to Robin Hood's heavy dose of escapist adventure, Depression-era audiences must have identified with and relished its basic story. Watching Robin's forthright felons robbing from the rich, corrupt Norman lords and giving to the poor, persecuted Saxons surely struck a chord, as contemporary American families struggled to maintain their financial grip. Equally relevant, Prince John's devious usurpation of the English throne (from his brother, Richard the Lion Heart, imprisoned while crusading in Austria) paralleled Europe's tenuous position amid the burgeoning strength of Adolf Hitler. As a result, the film's moralistic messages of hope in the face of despair and good triumphing over evil were especially comforting and personal, and still strike a chord today.

Of the eight films Flynn and de Havilland made together between 1935 and 1941, Robin Hood is by far the best remembered. The pair's warm, deep affection gently softens the movie, offering an effective respite from the boisterous action and comedy sequences. Although de Havilland would be immortalized the following year in the far meatier role of Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind, to many she will always be Maid Marian.

And even in posterity, Flynn will never escape Robin Hood. The sight of him swinging on a vine over to a promontory, jauntily raising his arm and shouting with a dazzling smile, "Welcome to Sherwood, my lady!" remains an indelible Hollywood image, and the stuff of which careers are made. Flynn makes Robin Hood unforgettable, and Warner makes this DVD an essential addition to every movie-lover's collection.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: With each new classic release, the folks at Warner Home Video raise the image standard for films from Hollywood's Golden Age. Even as Robin Hood's opening scene unfolds, one quickly realizes how much entertainment value can be derived simply from a lush, vibrant, finely detailed transfer. Rarely are films so lovely to look at. Color leaps off the screen, demanding not only attention, but also admiration for its purity and richness. The Christmas contrast of Robin Hood's green outfit and Will Scarlett's red, each beautifully saturated, lends both characters energy and humor, while the complex colors of lavender, pale blue, and deep purple that flood the flowing robes and headdresses of Maid Marian are masterfully rendered. At the time of the movie's production, Warner fought Technicolor's rigid watchdog, Natalie Kalmus (more on her below), to employ a more vivid palette, and the results ushered in a new era of bright, deep hues that add immeasurable vitality to Hollywood's product of the '40s and '50s.

But the excellence doesn't stop there. Filled with inky, solid blacks, stark but not overly severe contrast, and natural fleshtones, the transfer forces one's eyes to constantly explore all corners of the screen. Shadow detail remains top-notch throughout, and both interior and exterior scenes take full advantage of natural and artificial light to achieve balanced color levels. Often visible, grain never overpowers, and only a handful of age-related specks or grit can be detected. This is a gloriously clean, exciting transfer that will provide plenty of pleasure to discriminating fans and casual viewers alike.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track can't compete with the visuals, but provides clear sound that properly spotlights Erich Wolfgang Korngold's famous score. Unfortunately, the level boost on the music track often obscures dialogue, making conversations difficult to comprehend without raising the overall volume to a louder than comfortable degree. As a result, the score can overpower at times, which lessens one's enjoyment of the disc.

On the other hand, for a 65-year-old film, Robin Hood sounds better than expected. Distortion is almost completely absent and such common vintage defects as hiss, pops and crackles have been totally erased. For those who really want to savor Korngold's themes, a music-only track allows the viewer to better control the score's fidelity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Captain Blood, The Prince and the Pauper, Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Sea Hawk, Dive Bomber, They Died With Their Boots On, Objective, Burma!, Kim, The Master of Ballantrae, Angels With Dirty Faces
1 Alternate Endings
Isolated Music Score with remote access
2 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film historian and author Rudy Behlmer
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Warner Night at the Movies 1938, featuring trailer, newsreel, short subject and cartoon
  2. Outtakes and blooper reel
  3. 2 vintage short films
  4. The Robin Hood Radio Show, originally broadcast on 5/11/38
    Erich Wolfgang Korngold piano selections
  5. 2 Looney Tunes cartoons
    Still Image Galleries
    Awards listing
    Cast & Crew listing
Extras Review: Once again, Warner has scoured its vaults and produced a comprehensive set of extras that beautifully compliment every aspect of Robin Hood. Spread over both discs and totaling more than four hours, the richly rewarding potpourri demands careful exploration.

The fun begins on Disc One with the clever and effective Warner Night at the Movies 1938, which gives contemporary home viewers the flavor of a typical theatrical program 65 years ago. Host Leonard Maltin aptly notes that, back then, going to the movies "meant much more than just a feature film; it was an evening's entertainment," and included such standard fare as a trailer, newsreel, short subject, and cartoon—all shown before the main feature. For this release, we're treated to a 23-minute collection of opening acts that kicks off with a preview of James Cagney's iconic gangster flick. Angels With Dirty Faces, after which the blazing newsreel headline "U.S. Army Perfects Knee-High Tank for Machine Gunners" fills the screen. Talk about breaking news... Inexplicably, the far more relevant news item comes next—"Austria Absorbed by German Reich in Surprise Coup." The narrator soberly proclaims, "Austria is a nation no longer," and the powerful words, images, and implications still resonate decades later. Following the news is a one-reel swing concert with Freddy Rich and His Orchestra perched on a striking art deco set. Some nifty jazz guitar and a rare ocarina solo (yes, ocarina), all in surprisingly snappy fidelity, add zip to this fun short. Of course, what would a Warner night at the movies be without a Merrie Melodies cartoon, and while Katnip Kollege doesn't star the Looney Tunes gang, it's still an enjoyable diversion despite a rather pale color palette.

Film historian Rudy Behlmer provides another full-length, scene-specific audio commentary for a Warner classic, duplicating his excellent effort on the Casablanca special edition DVD. Presented in an engaging, professional manner complete with extensive quotes from internal studio memos, the commentary offers a cornucopia of details, trivia, and anecdotes that greatly enhances the movie. Behlmer dovetails remarks about the production with extensive historical perspective on the Robin Hood legends, and though much of the information is repeated in the documentary on the making of Robin Hood on Disc Two (see below), Behlmer reserves plenty of exclusives for his commentary. He relates how more stuntmen participated in Robin Hood than any prior Hollywood film, discusses the expansion of the role of Prince John when Claude Rains joined the cast, cites humorous examples of director Curtiz' consistent mangling of the English language, and notes that Robin Hood was one of the most popular movies shown to overseas troops during World War II. He even gives a brief history of archery. Bravo, Rudy!

The Flynn Trailer Gallery showcases 12 previews (six in color) for some of the actor's best-known films, encompassing swashbucklers, westerns, war epics, and costume dramas. The trailer for Dodge City, in immaculate Technicolor, possesses a decided newsreel slant as it chronicles the film's star-studded Kansas premiere, while the preview for the only film Flynn made with Bette Davis, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, sadly appears in black-and-white despite the fact that the production itself was shot in "thrilling Technicolor."

A music-only track, allowing one to revel in the majesty of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's spirited score, rounds out the Disc One supplements, along with a listing of awards, cast, and crew. Unfortunately, as with other Warner classic discs, bios remain conspicuously absent.

Disc Two kicks off with the fascinating Turner Classic Movies documentary, Glorious Technicolor, a marvelous companion piece that offers a history of the unique color process showcased by Robin Hood. Pioneered by Dr. Herbert Kalmus (who, according to narrator Angela Lansbury, "didn't particularly care for motion pictures") and his wife Natalie (one of Hollywood's legendary control-freaks), Technicolor achieved such influence in the 1940s that it actually made stars of actresses who went virtually unnoticed in black-and-white. (Betty Grable and Lucille Ball are shining examples.) The one-hour film traces the evolution and refinement of Technicolor from its humble beginnings in a railway car lab to its first big break (thanks to Walt Disney) to its eventual mass appeal, largely aided by two milestone movies, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. In addition, the film includes segments on such color artistes as John Huston and Vincente Minnelli, an examination of England's definitive color film, The Red Shoes, and a look at the cheaper, less stable single-strip formats that sadly unseated Technicolor in the 1950s. Hollywood legend Arlene Dahl states at the beginning of the documentary, "I don't think there was anything more beautiful on the screen than a close-up of a beautiful actress in Technicolor," and after watching this absorbing film, it's impossible to disagree with her.

While the all-new Welcome to Sherwood: The Story of The Adventures of Robin Hood explores every facet of the film's production and presents a wealth of interesting facts, anecdotes, and perspectives, I found the 55-minute documentary a little dry, lengthy, and not quite as entertaining as the usual Warner/TCM efforts. I appreciate the film's scholarly slant and methodical fashion in which it presents its information, but director Jeff Kurtti doesn't take proper advantage of the rich visual material at his fingertips, relying too heavily on static interview footage instead. The documentary remains head and shoulders above similar efforts by other studios, but its sedate, serious and, at times, overly reverential tone doesn't reflect Robin Hood's lively, reckless spirit. Such topics as the Warner studio's focus on more prestigious product; Robin Hood's literary evolution; how the producers shucked James Cagney in favor of Errol Flynn (and later dumped director William Keighley for Michael Curtiz); the advent of Technicolor; and issues of casting, location shooting, swordfight choreography, stunts, costumes, and music are examined by a host of film and literary historians, including Rudy Behlmer, Leonard Maltin, Robert Osborne, Bob Thomas, and Paula Sigman.

Two Looney Tunes cartoons, the classic Rabbit Hood (1948) and less amusing Robin Hood Daffy (1957) provide a welcome dose of goofy fun. The first animated short stars Bugs Bunny, who finds himself in a pickle when he steals a carrot from the king's garden. Predictably amusing (and violent) sparring with a dim-witted Sheriff of Nottingham follows. The cartoon, probably produced to accompany the first theatrical re-release of The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1948, climaxes with an Errol Flynn cameo. Robin Hood Daffy, with Daffy Duck as Sir Robin and Porky Pig as Friar Tuck, sports a more angular animation style and muted color palette, but does contain a very clever payoff gag. Both cartoons remain in excellent condition.

In the Short Films section, the 8-minute Cavalcade of Archery (1945) stars Howard Hill, "the modern world's most famous archer" and man responsible for the brilliant arrow stunts in Robin Hood, performing an array of trick shots and enviable feats with such props as light bulbs, playing cards, gourds and mirrors. The Cruise of the Zaca (1951), clocking in at 18 minutes, is an Errol Flynn travelogue narrated by the actor and chronicling two voyages on his personal ship—one along the Mexican coast, the other to Jamaica—and the marine research performed on each. Both films feature Technicolor photography and are introduced by Rudy Behlmer.

Robin Hood Through the Ages, a six-and-a-half minute featurette also narrated by Behlmer, discusses the Robin Hood story and its various filmed incarnations dating back to 1908. Extensive clips from Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s 1922 production of Robin Hood comprises the bulk of this featurette, in which we learn of the similarities between the 1922 and 1938 versions—right down to the casting of Alan Hale as Little John in both pictures!

A Journey to Sherwood Forest is a collection of rare 16mm home movies (in both color and black-and-white) shot on Robin Hood's various locations. This interesting look behind-the-scenes includes footage of camera setups, technicians spraying vegetable dye on vines to green up the withering October foliage, the archery tournament at Busch Gardens in Pasadena, and the tent city constructed to house studio personnel during the shooting of the Sherwood Forest exteriors in Chico, California. Additional footage from the Warner back lot and selected interiors is also included in the 13-minute featurette. Many notable Warner figures pop up in the films and are identified by narrator Behlmer.

From the Cutting Room, one of the disc's most entertaining sections, spotlights eight minutes of beautifully restored outtakes, alternate angles and unused sequences shot by directors William Keighley and Michael Curtiz, as well as other second unit "fill-ins." Of special note, the original—but discarded—riding-off-into-the-sunset ending, featuring the requisite close-up embrace between Flynn and de Havilland, caps off the collection. The hilarious Breakdowns of 1938—the studio's annual blooper reel with added sound effects—was produced by the Warner Club and shown at its annual dinner-dance at L.A.'s Biltmore Hotel. In addition to a couple of Robin Hood gaffes, Carole Lombard, Claude Rains, Paul Muni, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Kay Francis, among many other big-name stars, flub lines, dissolve into giggles, and frequently shout "Oh, nuts!" during the 14-minute short film. Even Ronald Reagan lets loose with a mild expletive when his gun locks during a shootout.

More rare material awaits in the Audio Vaults, including The Robin Hood Radio Show, originally broadcast on May 11, 1938, just prior to the film's release. Erich Wolfgang Korngold conducts a 60-piece orchestra in the official premiere of his Robin Hood score. Co-star Basil Rathbone provides narration that matches the music to its appropriate story elements. Audio quality varies, but the historical relevance of the 30-minute program outweighs any sonic deficiencies. Also in the vault are 12 piano selections from various Korngold film scores, performed by the master himself, including themes from Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, King's Row, and others.

Finally, Splitting the Arrow Galleries offers more than 125 still images in five categories—Historical Art, Costume Design, Scene Concept Drawings, Cast & Crew, and Publicity & Posters—providing an in-depth look at almost every phase of the film's production. Sketches, paintings, foreign and domestic posters, lobby cards, and behind-the-scenes photos make this section worth at least a cursory browse.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

With its inimitable sense of style, color, adventure, and energy, The Adventures of Robin Hood outshines countless films of the 1930s. Warner's glorious Technicolor restoration invigorates this classic swashbuckler and reinforces its many timeless elements. The disc's superb image quality, good sound, and avalanche of absorbing extras help this DVD package score an undisputed bull's-eye and our highest possible recommendation.

 


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