- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

Hollywood hasn’t trifled with Robin Hood since the early 1990s. In retrospect, it appears that both “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” the Kevin Costner misadventure, and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” the Mel Brooks afterthought, proved useful in discouraging similar misfires for at least half a generation.

Meanwhile, the most satisfying movie of its kind, “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” which established Errol Flynn as the prevailing model of a bold, handsome, high-minded and good-natured Robin, has reached a venerable 65.

The American Film Institute Silver Theatre is hosting a two-week revival of the 1938 classic in a fresh 35 mm print reflecting digital reconditioning that promises “the full vibrancy of its magnificent color, as well as the full range of its stirring soundtrack.” These enhancements will be within the reach of DVD owners indefinitely because Warner Video is distributing a two-disc special edition of the movie as an irresistible gift item for the holidays.

Vintage Technicolor justifies the “vibrancy” boast. Several Technicolor features had been made before “Robin Hood,” but the three-strip dye-transfer process introduced just three years earlier in Rouben Mamoulian’s “Becky Sharp” enjoyed its most dazzling and exhilarating display in “Robin Hood.” The sun-dappled exteriors and ruddy complexions and richly saturated fabrics impart a pictorial radiance and sense of happiness that remain extraordinary. It’s as if Technicolor simultaneously intensified and refined the spectrum.

“The Adventures of Robin Hood” previewed better than any previous film in Warner’s history and became the most popular attraction of 1938. Incredibly, it was not one of the 10 nominees for best cinematography during the Academy Awards season. However, none of the finalists in the category was a color film. The next year, the academy added a separate category for color cinematography, which was impressively represented by such nominees as “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,” the next Warner Bros. historical romance with Errol Flynn.

Costume design didn’t become an Oscar category until 1948. Considering the glamour associated with wardrobes and costume spectacles during the formative years of the Academy Awards, this is a truly remarkable feat of foot-dragging. Milo Anderson, the costume designer for “Robin Hood,” belongs at the top of any list for shortchanged candidates of the late 1930s.

Olivia de Havilland, cast as Maid Marian to Mr. Flynn’s Robin, endears herself in part as a one-ingenue fashion festival. She enters in a gown that suggests stained glass transposed to cloth. While risking espionage missions at Nottingham Castle in climactic episodes, she looks sublime in a clingy, satiny gown that seems to get even better when isolated as a source of illumination in deeply shadowed compositions.

Also nominated as best movie, “Robin Hood” won the Oscars for interior decoration (later renamed art direction), film editing and original score, a sensuous enhancement that imprints itself as vividly as the color.

The DVD “extras” include two informative compilation films, originally shown on Turner Classic Movies: “Welcome to Sherwood Forest: The Story of ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’” and “Glorious Technicolor.” Segments in the former deal specifically with art director Carl Jules Weyl — recalled by Gene Allen, a prominent art director two decades later — and composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, whose rapturous work is summarized expertly by conductor John Mauceri.

The ultimate authority over the editing rested with production chief Hal B. Wallis rather than the film editor, Ralph Dawson, or the two directors, William Keighley and Michael Curtiz. “Sherwood Forest” reproduces an example of one of Mr. Wallis’ lengthy memos specifying cuts for the finished film.

Typically, the DVD supplements range from priceless to expendable. The most savory piece of “Robin Hood” trivia concerns a walk-on performer. Watch for the palomino horse Miss de Havilland is riding when Robin and his men intercept a caravan in Sherwood. Named Golden Cloud at the time, this animal was sold to an emerging cowboy star a couple of years later, and that is how Roy Rogers and Trigger became inseparable.

WHAT: “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938)

WHERE: AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

WHEN: Through Dec. 3. No screening Monday.

RATING: PG (“For action violence,” according to the MPAA; the film was made in 1938, decades before the advent of a rating system; occasional scenes of battles and duels within a medieval historical setting but scant graphic violence.)

CREDITS: Produced by Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke. Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. Screenplay by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller. Cinematography by Sol Polito and Tony Gaudio. Art direction by Carl Jules Weyl. Costumes by Milo Anderson. Archery supervisor: Howard Hill. Fencing master: Fred Cavens. Film editing by Ralph Dawson. Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: Four stars


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