(Dir. Michael Curtiz, William Keighley) (1938)
It might be a wall of corn, but as they say in showbiz, “the colour of corn is Gold”. This is the lushest, most colourful, most joyous blood-and-thunder adventure ever to burst out of Hollywood in the Golden Age, a filmed comic book that puts modern actioners in the shade.
It has been written that Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland were very much in unrequited love, and this shines forth in the film. Olivia is pretty as a picture and she glows here, without the treacle-and-vanessa-redgrave emoting she sheds in, say, Gone With the Wind, among others. Flynn is Flynn, that is, boisterous and bumptious and a perfect swashbuckling hero.
There’s stirring music by the very appropriately named Erich Korngold, thrilling action sequences (including a sensational climactic duel between Robin and Guy of Gisbourne) helmed by Michael (Casablanca) Curtiz (co-director William Keighley probably acting mainly as a translator for his Hungarian colleague), vivid and sweeping scenes in Technicolor (southern California standing in for Nottingham during a rare dry summer) and a host of lively supporting heroes, sidekicks and villains.
Historically a bunch of tosh, the film plays as the kind of history we might prefer, but no matter, it lives thanks in part to the oily and wheedling Claude Rains as Prince John, Basil Rathbone as nasty Sir Guy, Alan Hale as little John, Ian Hunter, magisterial as King Richard, and Eugene Pallette as obstreperous Friar Tuck. Even that terrible actress, Una O’Connor, as Bess, Maid Marian’s adoring handmaiden, is kept somewhat in bounds.
This was Warner’s first tilt at the kind of film MGM did so well and it hurtled Flynn into the top rank of stars. Errol’s elegant Australian accent was more palatable, for a heroic role, to Warner Bros (who, in common with the other Hollywood studios, usually cast English actors as villains). He was not a particularly subtle actor, to put it mildly but in the right part, he had the Presence.
So while this is not a 5 star film in The Varnished Culture‘s view, it is a classic and a great entertainment. It also comes even closer to P’s carnal, carnivorous heart by featuring more succulent, dripping, roast meat dishes than any other movie in memory.[Update: There’s a nice article in the Spectator of 14 November, 2015 by Peter Hoskin, celebrating the 100th birthday of Technicolor (c) , where he writes that as a 12 year old at home in bed with the flu, this film “came on the television at the end of my bed. Nothing had prepared me for this. A Sherwood Forest that was aflame with green..Olivia de Havilland’s oh-so-cherry lips….I cast off the duvet and leapt from the fug. The sickness had gone.”]