The Adventures of Robin Hood (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

We all know the story of Robin Hood, though these days most of us are more familiar with the Kevin Costner version as opposed to the brilliant version being reviewed here. Robin Hood is one of those stories that, like the O.K. Corral, has been done about a zillion times in Hollywood. Now, granted, this isn’t a bad thing as some versions of the film are infinitely more enjoyable than the others. Even for having the worst English accent, Costner’s version has it’s upsides. But I digress. This was the first Technicolor Warner Brothers movie and what a glorious way to present Robin and his Merry Men than in the brightest greens and colorful colors of the rainbow (even before Dorothy and the gang followed the Yellow-Brick Road, too)! The movie wasn’t without it’s problems, though. James Cagney was originally supposed to play Robin Hood, but stormed off the set only to be replaced by the dashing Errol Flynn. Flynn’s star was on the rise (while Cagney was already a major Hollywood presence) and this movie gave him the role he’s most identified with and established him as a leading man. The direction also lacked some key action scenes and Michael Curtiz (best-known for directing “Casablanca”) was brought in to replace William Keighley (though both are credited as directors). So with all this going against it, would the film be a success?

Of course! Revered as one of the best-loved movies around, this ranks at #164 on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the Top 250 of all time. Now that says something as this list is voted by fans of the movie and there’s more than 50,000 to choose from. And as far as the plot goes, we mostly know that by heart; but for those who have been living in a cave, here we go. Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) is the defender of the Saxons, when Prince John (Claude Rains) assumes power of the throne from his absent brother, Robin vows to oppose the new ruler and recruits help for the cause. He becomes an outlaw and along the way gathers his bunch of “Merry Men”. A colorful (no pun intended) group of characters that include: Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette) and Little John (Alan Hale) to name just a few. Naturally, they face obstacles and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) stands in their way. Robin, along the way, robs from the rich and gives to the poor in his effort to thwart the powers that be. Lest we forget, the lovely Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) whom Robin woos and may or may not end up with the girl in the end (though most of us already know the answer to that question).

In a year when Frank Capra’s “You Can’t Take it With You” took home the prize for Best Picture, this movie walked away with three Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction and Best Music. It was also nominated for Best Picture. To say that they don’t make ‘em like they used to is a drastic understatement. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” has all the qualities of that traditional Hollywood type of movie that we’ll likely never see again. While today’s younger audiences will likely lean towards the newer version of this timeless tale, it’s a shame that this could possibly be overlooked by them. Yes, the felt hat of Robin is something that looks corny, there are one-liners that no one would even consider muttering today and even before the opening credits roll, we all know what will happen in the end. Still, this is a classic and it deserves to be seen. All of the elements are in place here, we have a great storyline, a swashbuckling hero we can all look up to and action (albeit “1938 style” action) to boot. See it for the great performance by Errol Flynn or see it mainly because it’s one of the better American movies around. But do see it! Highly recommended.

Video: How does it look?

“The Adventures of Robin Hood” is currently the oldest HD DVD title on the market. Does that make it the worst-looking? Of course not. The three strip technicolor was cleaned up and made very presentable for the previous two-disc DVD release and that print has been cleaned up even moreso for this subsequent HD DVD release. The colors really pop, black levels are right on the money and just about every other detail looks as good as a movie that’s nearly seventy years old can. Literally translated, this new HD version improves on the standard DVD and though it does pale somewhat in comparison to some newer releases, it still shines.

Audio: How does it sound?

The previous DVD release offered up a Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack which, considering the age of the film, sounded somewhat decent. This new HD DVD release has a Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack that, arguably, doesn’t sound a whole lot better but it does improve on the previous editions of this movie. Dialogue is very consistently clean and though this isn’t the type of movie that will shake the walls, it certainly sounds better that it ever has. Loosely translated, you’ll like what you hear and how it’s presented.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This HD DVD version has all of the supplements ported over from the previous two-disc edition, so you’ll know what you’re getting here. “The Adventures of Robin Hood”. We start off with an audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Behlmer is very talkative here and obviously knows his stuff. He does give a lot of information about the troubled shoot and seems to deliver the kind of track that only someone who has been studying his material for a long time knows. He does. A music-only track that features Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score is also included. Lastly, we have the “Warner Night at the Movies 1938” which attempts to re-create what is would have been like to see the film at the theater back then. Hosted by Leonard Maltin, we are greeted with his introduction and shown a number of theatrical trailers, a newsreel and even a cartoon. Also included is a trailer gallery of Errol Flynn’s movies.

A documentary “Welcome to Sherwood: The story of The Adventures of Robin Hood”. Interviews with writers and filmmakers are shown as is the production of this great movie. Leonard Maltin, Robert Osborne (host of Turner Classic Movies) and others share their thoughts on the film at hand. It’s this kind of high-quality work that make Warner’s editions so beloved by fans. We then have a slew of shorter featurettes “From the Cutting Room” has some outtakes of the movie and the “Breakdowns of 1938” showcasing all the bloopers from all of Warner’s movies of that year. Next up is “Robin Hood through the ages”. Even as old as this movie is, it had been done before and this showcases some of the earlier screen versions. “A Journey to Sherwood Forest” shows some rare home movies shot on the Warner studio lot during the film’s production. Not the most informative of features, but a neat little feature nonetheless. Some classic cartoons are shown as well, the Looney Toons shorts “Rabbit Hood” (with Bugs as Robin Hood” and “Robin Hood Daffy”. “Splitting the Arrow” is a focus on the Academy Award winning Art Direction (which included Costume Designs, storyboards and some cast and crew photos). The original Robin Hood radio show is broadcast (audio only, naturally) with the stars of the film as well as a piano session with composer Korngold. Lastly, Angela Lansbury narrates “Glorious Technicolor” which follows the evolution of Technicolor through the ages. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was the first Warner picture to use this process, so this is naturally a welcome addition. All in all, a great offering of one of the more popular “early” action movies has made its way to HD DVD, and it looks and sounds great.

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