ROBIN HOOD (Allan Dwan, 1922, USA, 110m, BW)
Cast: Alan Hale, William Lowery, Roy Coulson, Billie Bennett, Merrill McCormick, Wilson Benge, Willard Louis, Bud Geary, Lloyd Talman, Enid Bennett, Wallace Beery, Paul Dickey, Sam De Grasse, Douglas Fairbanks
Director: Allan Dwan
Running Time: 170 min.
The Earl of Huntingdon (Douglas Fairbanks) learns from his beloved Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Enid Bennett) that the throne of King Richard the Lion-Hearted (Wallace Beery) has been usurped by his treacherous brother, Prince John (Sam De Grasse) while the king was off fighting the Crusades. Huntingdon adopts the name Robin Hood and gathers a band of merry men led by the stalwart Little John (Alan Hale) to fight the prince and his henchman, the High Sheriff of Nottingham (William Lowery) as villain.
One of the major advantages of seeing this blend of medieval derring-do, comedy, and a gentle touch of romance on the big screen, rather than simply on a television, was that the magnificent scale of the world that this movie created is much easier to appreciate. After a brief, poetic nod to Victorian vision of the past, courtesy of a quotation from Charles Kingsley, the action began in a stately fashion as a massive drawbridge lowered to reveal the a beautifully realized 12th century court on the day of a joust. The revels are overseen by an unlikely, slightly buffoonish but likable King Richard, (well played by Wallace Beery), marching toward the camera across a larger than life moat from a towering castle. As a matter of fact that castle, with a facade that was ninety feet tall and took up ten acres, rivaled the lavish production design of Fairbanks‘ later masterpiece, The Thief of Bagdad, (though Robin Hood came into being without the participation of William Cameron Menzies).
The castle’s facade was ninety feet tall, and historically accurate in every detail, constructed by Lloyd Wright, the son of the famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, (before the younger Wright went on to design a version of the Hollywood Bowl). While glass shots were used to give even the battlements and landscape beyond a more impressive scale, despite Douglas Fairbanks initial concern that his antics might be dwarfed by the size of the sets. Fortunately, once the director drew his attention to a demonstration of a long child’s slide hidden beneath a voluminous drape, allowing the star to execute a quick escape from his pursuers on the second floor of the castle, the perennially impish acrobat in the star accepted the fact that their could be advantages to working on this large a canvas on screen. (This stunt would reappear to greater fame in one of the star’s very best swashbucklers later in the ’20s, as Fairbanks rode down a sail in The Black Pirate). Another stunt that delighted all of the audience came when Fairbanks clambered up the massive chain of the closing drawbridge to the top of the castle wall. Originally planned for execution by a trained stuntman, during production, the heedless Fairbanks slipped into the stuntman’s place and performed it far better than his substitute.
With Allan Dwan as director, the crowd scenes throughout Robin Hood come to life in detailed ways that bring individual members of the mob into high focus, giving them individuality, a messy humanity, and a realistic place as medieval peasants, knights and nobles. The size and enthusiasm of the remarkable number of extras in these scenes may also have reflected a Hollywood population being very grateful for the work. With movie box office receipts down for a time in the early twenties, and bankers becoming a bit leery about investing in films after scandals such as those involving Roscoe Arbuckle and director William Desmond Taylor, employment was probably very welcome.
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