Nostalgia is a very dangerous thing. An item that is old, as I have said, does not necessarily mean it is good. Art is constantly evolving-to desire for it to remain static is dangerous.
Yet, after viewing Errol Flynn’s version of Robin Hood, I could kind of see the point. Far too often, filmmakers will try and impose a sort of cynicism on heroes where it is not needed. Heroism cannot just exist-it needs to be treated ironically. Sometimes, this irony works (see Kick Ass). Other times, it becomes a bore. Some classic tales just do not need it. The legend of Robin Hood and the outlaws of Sherwood Forrest is one such tale. Robin Hood needed no personal motivations to do his job. He robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. That was everything that was necessary for the story to work. And the makers of this version understood that; more so than the creators of any other version
You know the story of Robin Hood, don’t you? Alright-a Saxon knight named Robin (Errol Flynn) is angered by Prince John, the Brother of King Richard, declaring himself king in the absence of Richard. He is labeled a traitor and an outlaw, and goes into hiding in Sherwood Forrest. During this time, he frequently will rob the subjects of Prince John, and take them to his camp. You should know the rest-he falls in love with Maid Marian, enters an archery contest that he wins, is captured, is freed in a daring escape, meets with Richard, deposes King John, marries Maid Marian.
Yes, the story is simple. It doesn’t need to be complex. Robin Hood is meant to remain simple. He does not steal from the rich and give to the poor because he feels that the time has come for socialism. He does not support the monarchy due to any overt political belief. He wants to fight injustice; he feels loyalty is one of the most important traits anyone can have. What else does there need to be?
And Errol Flynn plays this very sincerely. This helps convey the simplicity of the legend. Flynn is the best cinematic Robin Hood in history. I am surprised to hear that he found the role boring to play-he never lets on that that is how he feels. First, he does his own stunts (I highly doubt Russell Crowe will give us that) and because he truly appears to believe in what he preaches. Marian claims he is unusual, not for holding his beliefs, but because he “does something about them.” How often does something like that appear in today’s world? I imagine that this scene would be given a large, unnecessary speech of Robin Hood either a) discussing personal experience or b) advocating some sort of Marxist utopia-a utopia that no one in his time period would have even dreamed of.
This film is one of the best examples of studio artificiality. It creates a medieval England that never existed-except on celluloid. Everything compliments each other. The film is very kinetic-it honestly only feels like it is five minutes long. It is only later that one ponders how it works-the sniveling Prince John, the energetic Hood, the beautiful Maid Marian (who only remains a maiden as long as she has her headpiece on-she has it off for one scene in which she is discussing her love of Robin Hood), the score that compliments everyone, the technicolor effects that bring it all to life.
You see now why nostalgia is so dangerous. People are usually wrong when they say that “they don’t make them like they used to.” But in this case, they are absolutely right. This takes viewers back to a time when the studio system was something to love rather than hate. When articles of virtue could be professed without the slightest trace of irony. When actors would perform every aspect of their character-even if they didn’t like said character. And finally, when swashbuckling blockbusters could actually be good.