Categories
Action/Adventure Romance

The Adventures of Robin Hood

If your life is giving you some family time, you and your kids can together enjoy a rollicking tale of derring do set in Merry Olde England: 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. Famous as the film that made swashbuckling Errol Flynn a household name, it’s also historically important as Warner Brothers’ first foray into glorious Technicolor.

The plot is of course familiar and has been adapted dozens of times: When King Richard the Lionhearted leaves the country, his heartless brother John begins terrorizing the peasantry. The courageous noble Robin of Locksley voluntarily leaves his comfortable life to fight for the oppressed, becoming a daring outlaw who along with his Merry Men takes a personalized approach to progressive taxation. Along the way Robin wins the love of Lady Marian, who becomes a brave advocate for the downtrodden despite her blue blood.

This was a big budget film, with lavish costumes and sets designed to show off the possibilities of Technicolor photography. It’s also big in other ways: Huge battles, extended sword fights, heroic stunt work and full-blooded performances by the whole cast. For raw entertainment value alone, this is a Hollywood studio system classic, and was deservedly selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Despite being wracked with numerous health problems in real life (He died at 50 with the body of an old man), on screen Flynn is the apotheosis of the virile, roguishly charming man of action. He was working with his frequent director Michael Curtiz (Who also directed him in my recommendations Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk), who clearly knew how to get the most out of Flynn. Flynn gets outstanding support from the rest of the cast, including Claude Rains as a fey Prince John and Basil Rathbone as the dastardly Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Olivia de Havilland, who worked with Flynn on eight films, was cast more for her looks than talent in her early career, but she became a better actress over time. She’s good enough here at portraying Marian’s growing awareness of the plight of the poor and her own love of Robin. The actors in the smaller parts also do well, especially Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck.

This is a particularly good film for kids, not only because the exciting story is easy to follow but also because it embodies admirable values. I love all the ethical shading of film noir, but there is also a place for movies that teach uncomplicated moral lessons: The rich have an obligation to the poor, and good people must fight back when the strong exploit the weak. Roger Ebert, who loved this movie, said it beautifully: “In these cynical days when swashbucklers cannot be presented without an ironic subtext, this great 1938 film exists in an eternal summer of bravery and romance”.

Before closing my recommendation of this rousing classic, I leave you with two notes of trivia (1) The 1922 Douglas Fairbanks Sr. version of Robin Hood was filmed in Bidwell Park in Chico, California, and the Flynn version returned there for some of its shoot. (2) Much of the film was hilariously parodied in another of my recommendations, The Court Jester, with Rathbone sending up his own performance.

Categories
Mystery/Noir

The Kennel Murder Case

In Hollywood detective serials of the 1930s and 1940s, it was downright dangerous to be an industrialist, socialite, European baronet, heiress or well-heeled widow: You had precious little chance of surviving until the end credits. On the other hand, appropriate to your upper class status, a suave, well-dressed sleuth who moved in your circles would be on hand to crack the case. The Saint, The Falcon, and Philo Vance are among the above-average movie series that plowed this fertile ground, and one of the very best of the type is The Kennel Murder Case.

It’s from the Philo Vance series (not that it matters, they were fairly interchangeable) and was made in 1933. Along with the usual solid character actors characteristic of the series, it had A-List stars (William Powell and Mary Astor) and the magnificent Michael Curtiz as the Director. And for dog lovers, there is the further appeal of it being the only film to derive as much entertainment value from a dog show as did Best in Show.

The plot: While his own pooch is competing in a high-class canine show, Vance (William Powell) is called in to solve a murder involving a number of the other dog owners. The nasty, much-hated Arthur Coe (Richard Barrat) has been discovered dead in a locked room, with a bullet hole in his head and a gun in his hand. The police think it’s a clear case of suicide. Vance isn’t convinced, and he becomes even less so when another murder victim is discovered. Suspects are everywhere, including the Chinese servant (James Lee) who didn’t want Coe to sell his prized Oriental artifacts, the butler with the shady past (Arthur Hohl), the long-suffering private secretary (Ralph Morgan), the saucy mistress next door (Helen Vinson) and her new lover (Jack La Rue), the niece (Astor) who resented his control of her inheritance and the bankrupt, titled man who wants to marry her (Paul Cavanagh). Also on hand is the always appealing mountain of an actor Eugene Pallette as Police Sergeant Heath, who always seems one step behind Vance but is at least smart enough to listen to him.

The solution to the mystery is more than a little rococo, and your odds of guessing it are as close to nothing as makes no odds. So copy Sergeant Heath’s approach by just sitting back and watching William Powell, as Philo Vance, work his investigative magic.