MICHAEL CURTIZ, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
(1938) 1HR 42 (LD)
THE DIRECTOR: MICHAEL CURTIZ (1888-1962)
Hungarian born Michael Kertesz (Mihaly Kertesz). Studied at Markoszy
University, Budapest; Royal Academy of Theater and Art, Budapest. Stage
debut in 1906 and his screen acting and directing debuts in 1912. 1914-15
served in Hungarian infantry in WW1. 1915 returned to civilian life to be
newsreel cameraman. Fled Hungary in 1918 when communist regime nationalised
film industry. Directed over 30 films in Hungary between 1914 and 1919,
then worked in Germany, France, Austria and Italy. Recruited by Jack Warner
to work in America. With the combined number of films he made in Europe
(over 60) and America (100) MC is one of the world's most prolific feature
directors. Made a name for himself as studio director using Hollywood backlots
to recreate medieval English forests and castles. Became symbol of Warner
Brothers style of filmmaking in 1930s and 1940s - contract directors who
turned nearly everything they touched into superior films. Pioneer in developing
first sound and then colour in movies. Many of the actors who worked with
him went on to distinguished careers and win Oscars - Erroll Flynn, Bette
Davis, James Cagney, Joan Crawford). Made famous cyle of romantic swashbuckler
films with Erroll Flynn: Captain Blood (1935); They Died with
their Boots On (1936) - about Custer; and The Adventures of Robin
Hood (1938). Academy Award for Best Direction for Casablanca
(1943). War movies: Dive Bomber (1941); Captains of the Clouds
(1942); the pro-Soviet Mission to Moscow (1943); the musical This
is the Army (1943); Passage to Marseille (1944); Force of
Best known films: Errol Flynn in Captain Blood (1935), Humphrey
Bogart in Passage to Marseille (1944) and Bette Davis 20,000 Years
in Sing Sing (1933); Mildred Pierce (1945); Casablanca
(1942); Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).
- Errol Flynn - Robin Hood (Sir Robin of Loxley)
- Olivia de Havilland - Lady Marian Fiztwalter
("Maid Marian"), the King's Ward
- Basil Rathbone - Sir Guy of Guisbourne
- Claude Rains - Prince John
- Alan Hale - Little John
- Ian Hunter - King Richard the Lion Hearted
- Eugene Pallette - Friar Tuck
- Score by Wolfgang Korngold.
Supports two contradictory readings. For an American audience there is
the "isolationist" reading - a warning to middle America of the
dangers of their political leader getting involved in foreign wars (domestic
tyranny is possible when the leader is away fighting other people's wars,
i.e. European wars). RH says something like this to King Richard at the
end of the film. The isolationist reluctance to get "entangled"
in European affairs goes back to George Washington's warning in his farewell
address. For European audiences (Hungarian director) there is the "anti-fascist"
reading (the year 1938 saw the Anschluß with Austria and in early
1939 the invasion of part of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis) is a warning that
tyrants can only be resisted when all people unite in opposition. The actions
and beliefs of the "real" Robin Hood are of course shrouded in
mystery. Seems based on Sir Walter Scott's view of Robin Hood in the novel
Important historical background: invasion and conquest of England by
Normans in 1066. New ruling eilte of French nobility who taxed and confiscated
property of local Saxons. Clear class conflict based on race. Liberal class
analysis and history in 19thC (Thierry) based upon Norman example. Saxon
legal system good example of no-state private law system, restitution not
Film set in 1191 during Third Crusade. Following events depicted in film
was the signing of Magna Carta 1215. Agreement between monarch and nobles
to limit power, recognise rights, rule of law. Obligation of King to get
noble permission to raise money, i.e. tax. Fiscal crisis of medieval state,
monarch's need to raise taxes for war (crusades), resistance to tax increases
by lesser nobility and peasants.
In some versions of the story RH himself joins the Crusaders and goes
to war, returning to Marion after many years.
Story of RH good example of how history can be interpreted and used for
- historical RH probably a composite figure, 14thC
"bandit" (Hobsbawm's book on Banditry as rebellion against
oppressive state by powerless individuals). Banditry was result of reaction
against govt. taxes, consription, property confiscation, regulation.
- Story of Robin Hood revived in late 18th century
during Enlightenment and French Revolution.
- Marxist/welfare state version - RH redistributor
stealing from rich to give to the poor ("Great Society" in the
- libertarian RH of novelist Sir Walter Scott in
Ivanhoe. Impact of his work on French romanticism and liberal thought
in period 1815-48. Scott influenced by Scottish enlightenment. RH as Saxon
freedom fighter, the honourable, law-abiding man, turned into outlaw by
oppressive state; steals from Norman ruling class with no legitimate title
to property (taxation, land grants, legal privileges); gives to "poor",
i.e. taxpapyers and over-regulated consumers. Raises issue of restitution
for victims of criminal activity (state or individuals). Disney cartoon
version of RH also very libertarian.
- Curtiz's version of RH - anti-fascist theme (Prince
John as Hitler) or pro-isolationist (King Richard learns that his leaving
England to fight overseas in the Crusades brought a local tyrant to the
throne in his absence)
- Mel Brook's burlesque "Men in Tights"
- British TV series with "Group Captain"
Richard Greene and his "decent set of chaps" ensuring fair play
Stephen Knight, Robin Hood: Complete Study of the English Outlaw
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1995).
John Bellamy, Robin Hood and Historical Enquiry (London: Croom
THINGS TO NOTE
- Three levels of historical analysis required: "historical"
Robin Hood; context of Walter Scott's novel; context of filmmakers.
- The moral and political question of justified rebellion against a tyrant
king (contemporary references to Hitler?) RH says it is no crime to be
loyal to one's country, to defend serfs from oppression, and be faithful
to his "true" king. Rights of freeborn Englishmen vs feudalism
of Norman conquerors. RH variously described as poacher, murderer, outlaw,
bandit, terrorist or rebel, freedom fighter, defender of the oppressed,
supporter of the true king. RH as romantic revolutionary (Byron or Spartacus)
- The theme of taxation and theft - soldiers confiscating property of
peasants, is stealing tax money really "theft"? "redistribution"
scene in forest of clothes taken from nobles, RH's defence of Much for
killing "King's" deer.
- Idea of "King's Justice" - raised when Guy and RH confront
each other over Much's killing of deer on King's domain. Is it legal for
the Prince to use state to protect King's private interest? Is the King
the protector of a higher notion of natural justice?
- The tactics of guerrilla warfare used by Robin's band of merrie men
(and other powerless peasants) against the better armed and trained soldiers
of the sherriff. Tactics: ambush from trees, selective assasination of
state officers, robbing state of tax money, importance of intelligence
gathering, popular support for their actions
- The "isolationist" sentiment expressed to King Richard that
he should mind his own country's affairs and not meddle in foreign matters,
i.e. not go off 'crusading" in the Palestine.
- Future importance of dilemma of collaboration or resistance to occupying
power (Normans - Nazis). Under what circumstances should one be loyal to
the state, the nature of treason, the legitimacy of rulers, the justice
of revolt against a tyrnat prince. marian collaborates but "sees the
light" when RH shows her the true condition of the people under Prince
John. Role of church in collaborating with tyrant prince (collaborationist
bishop vs rebel friar Tuck).
- The references to the class, social and linguistic differences created
by the Norman Conquest upon the Saxon nobility and common people. Forest
and gaming laws protected privileges of nobility. RH calls for England
which is biger than Norman and Saxon fighting each other, need to live
peaceably with each other.
- The thrilling chase scenes on horseback - connection to Westerns of
the period (same horses and actor/riders, same Hollywood backlots).
- The image of the hero depicted in the film. Compare with Zorro, D'Artagnan.
- The wit and charm of the characters. Erroll Flynn's portrayal of the
Robin Hood hero: Marion: "You speak treason!"... RH: "Yes,
fluently." Splitting the arrow. His bent sword when he rescues Marion
in the dungeon. Much and his lady friend - "I've never tickled a lady's
- The considerable influence of the film on later movies: the genre of
Hollywood swashbuckler movies; Lucas' The Return of the Jedi (1983)
- the Ewok's attack against the Stormtroopers.
- The image of the forrest as a location of freedom (American West, California)
and castle as location of political power and oppression. Merrie men appear
out of trees, dressed in green ("the green man"). Lines of upright
Normans (fascists as depicted in Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will
- The use of 16thC literary scholar F.M. Padelford as advisor to filmmakers.
- The many anachronisms - Marian's exquisite dresses made with modern
textiles and dyes.
- Note final sword fight between Sir Guy and RH - unusually long, one
of the greatest sword fights ever filmed. The surrender of the Norman's
armed forces - throwing their swords and shields into a pile, accepting
- The important role film (and later TV) has played in the 20thC in keeping
the Robin Hood story alive, especially the 1922 version with Douglas Fairbanks
Sr. Curtiz's 1938 version regarded as definitive version. B&W TV version
starring Richard Greene 1955-58. Frank Sinatra's "Robin and the Seven
Hoods" (1964). Cartoon versions: Bugs Bunny "Robin Hood"
(1949). Disney 1973. Theme song for TV series:
Robin Hood, Robin Hood
Riding through the Glen
Robin Hood, Robin Hood
With his Band of Men.
Feared by the Bad
Loved by the Good
Robin Hood, Robin Hood.