One of the prezzies I managed to score for my birthday was the beautifully restored, exemplary packaged, DVD edition of the 1938 version of The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. I had commented on this film briefly before (here) in response to Terry Teachout's discussion of Swashbucklers (here). Now that I have my own grubby little mittens on this fine DVD box, I can give a bit more of a personal assessment.
Teachout had this to say in reference to a showing of the film at the Film Forum, "Anyway, Generation Z was out in force and we all had a terrific time, except for a few dried-up spoilsports who kept turning around in their seats and shushing the fathers who were telling their children all about Robin Hood. Sure, I like a quiet theater, but to expect a dead hush at a Labor Day matinee of The Adventures of Robin Hood is just plain silly. Me, I didn't mind the background chatter one little bit. The newly restored Technicolor print was delicious-looking (no red is quite so red as Technicolor red), Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score was more thrilling than ever, and - glory of glories - they even showed a cartoon, Chuck Jones' "Rabbit Hood," a Bugs Bunny in which Errol Flynn makes a cameo appearance. I can't remember the last time I went to a matinee screening of an old-fashioned swashbuckler complete with cartoon. Probably not since I was a kid, and I had at least as much fun last Monday as I used to have watching Saturday-afternoon Audie Murphy double features at the Malone Theater in Sikeston, Missouri. The only thing missing was a newsreel.
"Was it art? No. Do I care? No. Man cannot live by art alone. He needs a little popcorn from time to time, and the occasional Bugs Bunny cartoon to go with it. Which is how I spent my Labor Day, thank you very much. "
I think Terry makes many of the salient points about the restored version. The technicolor is more vibrant than I can every remember. After years of faded prints on Saturday matinees it is a joy to see the color as it was originally intended. The score is indeed thrilling. The addition of a Looney Tunes short before the film, completes the experience, and the DVD includes a choice of two, the above mentioned Bugs Bunny and a Daffy Duck version of the legend. The Bugs Bunny is the better and more classic of the two. I part company only slightly with Terry on his use of the word "silly". Though he obviously means it fondly, I would hate the reader to think that this film is somehow not worth your time. It is good fun in a way that we are rarely allowed to have it in our era.
The DVD package, as I've stated, is excellent. Along with the beautiful restoration and the two animated shorts, there is a plethora of extras that are actually worth watching. Feature length commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer. A Warner documentary with Leonard Maltin. A collection of Errol Flynn trailers. Documentaries on Robin Hood in history and in the movies. Errol Flynn home movies. More vintage short features, and more. I often find myself ignoring the extras on these overloaded "special editions", but these are truly extras worth having and add to the movie watching experience.
Let's hope that move classics of Hollywood's golden age receive similar treatment in the future.