Monday, April 16, 2007

Robin Hood through the ages

I had the unusual experience of seeing three different interpretations of Robin Hood last week. That inspired me to give a quick overview of Robin Hood in movies and TV.

The character of Robin Hood has been popular for 700 years and has been through countless interpretations. One of his better appearances in literature was as a supporting character in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. This was cast as a Saxon/Norman fight.

There were several versions of Robin Hood in early cinema but the best one is Douglas Fairbank's version. I saw a screening of a shortened version of this with live accompaniment. It's over the top in many places but still a fun version. Fairbanks played Robin Hood as enjoying himself even as he fought evil and was Fairbank's most popular movie.

Errol Flynn played nearly the same character. Like Fairbanks, Flynn played a Robin Hood who enjoyed the fight. Again, this was one of Flynn's most popular movies.

There was a British TV series in the 1950s. It was strongly influenced by the Errol Flynn movie. I remember seeing it a few times but I don't remember any details.

In 1975, Mel Brooks did his first take on Robin Hood with the TV series When Things Were Rotten. It was amusing but was canceled after a few months.

In 1976, Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn played an aging Robin and Marian. Robin returned from crusade after King Richard's death to find that everything was back like it had been. Worse, Marian had taken the veil and was now a nun. Robin had to regroup his merry men and lead a new revolt.

There was a British series, Robin of Sherwood, in the 1980s. I only saw one episode which seemed ok. The series was available on one of the premium channels in the US and gathered a following.

Then came Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves. Slow and dreary, it was poorly received. They didn't even put Robin Hood in green. For some reason they insisted that green hadn't been invented yet or some such excuse.

The only good thing to come out of Prince of Thieves was that it gave Mel Brooks an excuse to do the character again. This time he did a theatrical version - Robin Hood, Men in Tights. While not Brooks' best, it was still far better than the Costner's version.

This brings us to the present. The BBC has a new Robin Hood TV series. This has a rather grim Robin Hood who seems too young. His character's motivations is somewhere between noblesse oblige and Marxism. He's a bit of a wimp. He went to lengths to convince the Sheriff that he was capable of killing although I'm not sure that he's even wounded anyone yet. Marian has been reinvented. She is the daughter of the previous Sheriff. She disguises herself as the "Night Watchman" and does her own good deeds.

The costumes are wretched, far worse than any other version, even the Costner one with the scarves. The chain mail looks like molded vinyl and some costume pieces that Marian and Sir Guy wear could pass for modern fashion.

Clearly, the best interpretation of Robin Hood is the slightly over-the-top one. He needs to enjoy himself as do his companions. After all, they are "merry men" (but still butch).

1 comment:

Clement of the Glen said...

Remember Disney's live-action version made in 1952?

I have a blog dedicated to this underrated movie and the complex legend of Robin Hood at

Take a peek!