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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Adventures of Robin Hood is a 1938 movie starring Errol Flynn as the legendary medieval hero who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Though there's little sexuality and no foul language, there's a lot of old-fashioned violence. Although there's no blood, lots of characters are hanged, skewered with swords and arrows, and generally attacked. Overall, this is a classic and as fine a representation as any "swashbuckling" Errol Flynn movie.
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What's the story?
In THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, Errol Flynn stars as Lord Robin of Locksley, a Saxon nobleman who's enraged at the mistreatment of his people and the world-domination ambitions of his government. When King Richard the Lionheart (Ian Hunter) leaves on a crusade, England falls into the hands of his megalomaniacal and simpering brother Prince John (Claude Rains), who is only out to fill his pockets with Saxon money. He abuses the people, overtaxes them, and leaves them impoverished and enraged. Robin takes on their cause as a leader, becoming an outlaw for resisting Prince John's will. Soon, Robin is making a fool of the prince and wooing the beautiful Norman Maid Marion (Olivia de Havilland). But can he win out over John and return King Richard to the throne?
Is it any good?
The rapid-fire, rat-a-tat-tat dialogue; the arch, patrician accents; and acting that seems stilted and false can make it hard for younger viewers to enjoy a film like this one. But if they stick it out, they'll be treated to a great story, some unintentionally funny moments, and a window into a distinctly 1930s American sensibility. What's fascinating about The Adventures of Robin Hood is that it's less a sweet and cartoonish fairy tale than a thinly veiled attack on American capitalism and an absentee leader. When the king returns in disguise and asks Robin whom he blames for the chaos in England, he says, "I blame Richard. His task was here at home defending his own people instead of deserting them to fight in foreign lands." You can't get much more transparent than that.
And the whole robbing-from-the-rich-giving-to-the-poor thing couldn't be clearer: "To them this is heaven," Robin explains to Marion after ambushing the royal entourage and taking their riches and giving them to the starving Saxons. "Suits for rags, kindness instead of riches, limitless food instead of hunger. Why, they're actually happy." It's hard to imagine a blockbuster movie today offering such lofty sentiments. Politics aside, it's a rare action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, and that definitely adds to the fun here. Even during fight scenes, the music is light and upbeat. Compared to other man-against-his-government films such as the dour Shooter, Robin Hood is refreshing. And don't forget to enjoy the costumes -- it's delightful that in Medieval England, Marion still manages to float through Sherwood Forest in a collection of silk, lamé, satin, and chiffon ball gowns.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Adventures of Robin Hood reflects what was happening in the world in 1938. It's a good opportunity to teach kids about allegories -- that is, stories that have both literal and symbolic meaning. Can viewers spot the allegories for issues at the forefront of World War II-era America, including labor unionism, the Holocaust, and the Great Depression? What does Robin Hood represent? Why is the idea of a resistance important?
How are the violence and sexuality in the film a reflection of the time in which it was made, and how are the depictions similar to and different from how violence and sexuality are used in contemporary films?
This movie was centered on the "star power" of its leading actor, Errol Flynn. What are some contemporary examples of blockbuster movies in which A-list actors are given leading roles due in part to their mass appeal?
Does the movie stand the test of time? Why, or why not?
- In theaters: May 14, 1938
- On DVD or streaming: September 30, 2003
- Cast: Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland
- Directors: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: adventure violence
- Last updated: May 27, 2020
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