How Robin Hood became a socialist





Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," starring Russell Crowe as a common archer turned proto-revolutionary and national warrior, will bring no merriness to the month of May. Given Crowe's surly persona, the film affords no capering in the greenwood in the manner of Douglas Fairbanks, no cocky Saxon tricksterism in the vein of Errol Flynn, and mercifully no SoCal modernity in the style of Kevin Costner. In their desire to break with the traditional aura of the English outlaw, Scott, Crowe and writer Brian Helgeland have created a moody war movie redolent of their 2000 Oscar success "Gladiator," that offers a lesson in medieval realpolitik.

The majority of "Robin Hood" movies are much softer than Scott's because violent realism wasn't an existing style at the time they were made. The likes of "Prince of Thieves" (1948), "The Men of Sherwood Forest" (1954), and "Sword of Sherwood Forest" (1960) were hidebound by the merry England clichés that were the rule of thumb in Hollywood and British cinema until Richard Lester's beautifully spare and rugged "Robin and Marian" (1976), with Sean Connery, subverted the storybook visual style.

In all, Robin Hood has featured in around 50 live-action films, 15 TV series and 15 cartoons. Five were made in the early silent period before Allan Dwan's 1922 Douglas Fairbanks vehicle set a benchmark for flamboyance. It's a wildly uneven film, ranging from the monotonously ceremonial to the absurd, with the acrobatic star proving giddy to the point of clownish. Inarguably the one masterpiece in the canon, Michael Curtiz's swashbuckler "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) starring Errol Flynn implied a comparison between Prince John's cruelty toward the Saxon peasants with Nazi atrocities in Europe. However, with its chemically bright Technicolor palette, majestic Erich Korngold score and Flynn's gentrified Robin in sequined Lincoln green, it is wholly artificial, a fantasy extrapolated less from the 15th-century ballads, in which Robin is often brutal, than from 16th-century plays and bucolic Victorian renderings....


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