We find ourselves arranged in a wide arc about a screen; a fresh breeze sighing against our expectant nostrils. Not quite Nottingham, but Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk plays apt host to Allan Dwan‘s sumptuous production of the familiar legend. Refreshingly fun compared with more recent portrayals, Douglas Fairbanks’ ROBIN HOOD flits and gambols about the screen with great enthusiasm, setting wrongs right and making oh-so-merry with his uncompromisingly playful men, all to the rousing charms of Neil Brand’s live musical accompaniment. In a forest.
The eye-watering (at the time) one million dollar budget is money well spent. Painstaking research meant the costumes were to-the-ring accurate, if romanticised. ROBIN HOOD had one of the largest sets yet created, with Nottingham Castle and an entire village constructed in a Hollywood studio. The sets were so startlingly huge that Fairbanks was afraid he would be lost within them.
… a festival for the eyeballs, and we‘ve not even got onto the robbing part yet.
Far from it. Fairbanks – he who is lit from below – inhabits the screen with his larger-than-life personality and his amazing aptitude for stunt work. In one scene, stuck as he is between two hordes of the Sheriff’s men, leaps onto and swoops down an enormous curtain to(temporary) safety – a trick he found so much fun, he repeated it in his own time. So comfortable was he front of the camera, it is said he regularly did away with the concept of acting and simply played himself.
We all know the story by now. In the year of our Lord 12… er… something (I failed my History A-level), scowly Prince John (Sam de Grasse) puts the squeeze on poor Olde England in his capacity as Regent, while his brother, Richard the Lionheart (the prolific Wallace Beery), is out biffing foreigns in Jesus Town – and it’s down to R. Hood to take the power back. Noble knights and flappy-sleeved maidens parade before us, forming a festival for the eyeballs, and we’ve not even got onto the robbing part yet.
The usual suspects assemble in the lush woodland setting, from the bloody violent Friar Tuck to the ever-faithful Little John, when a strange knight appears, and is unwilling to remove his helmet – but offers his steel against the nefarious Sheriff (William Lowery) and the out-jousted Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Dickey). Boo. Hiss.
Much robbing of the rich and giving to the poor ensues. Swords everywhere. Then, faced with an untimely death by bowmen, the captured Robin is saved just in the nick of time by the return and redoubtable shield of good King Richard (for it is he) and the coup is dismissed. Victorious Robin, his former fear of girls melting in the moment of triumph, takes his prize in the form of the wooed-off-her-trolley Lady Marian (a glowing Enid Bennett). Hurrah!
Let’s do it all again next week.