To paraphrase Douglas MacArthur, heroes do not die, but rather fade away. At the end of The Adventures of Robin Hood, we see Errol Flynn take Olivia de Havilland in his arms and run off, presumably, into the sunset. Actually, most of the movie versions of the Robin Hood tale end this way, with Robin fading away with his lady fair. But, if the cinema of the Seventies taught us anything, it is that even our most revered heroes can be flawed and that nothing in life is as easily wrapped up as in a Hollywood ending.
We begin Robin and Marian many years after Robin Hood helped Richard the Lionhearted retain his throne from the treacherous Prince John. Now Robin (Sean Connery) and Little John find themselves in the desert wastes of Arabia helping to fight the Crusades, and they have both become frustrated by the war and their King. Robin and Little John soon return to England only to find it a changed landscape. Sherwood is overgrown, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) is effectively running things, and his “Merry Men” are fewer and much less able since they left. Most surprising of all, Marian (Audrey Hepburn) is now a nun inside a convent. Robin slowly realizes that you can never go home again.
James Goldman, who also wrote my favorite film The Lion in Winter, covers familiar territory here. As in that previous film, this is the story of two larger-than-life people who are approaching their twilight years. Unlike that film, the dialogue here is not as snarky or clever, which is probably for the best. Also unlike The Lion in Winter is how these characters fight themselves more than eachother. They are coming to grips with growing older in a changing world, and all three of the main characters have different ways of tackling that problem.
For the roles of Robin and Marian, you can hardly do better that the charismatic powerhouse of Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. They have a tender chemistry together, not unlike Peter O’toole and the other Hepburn during the quieter scenes of The Lion in Winter. At the time it was made, this was Audrey Hepburn’s first film in nine years. Audiences then were treated to the sight of a young beauty who had grown old gracefully and had lost none of the magnetism she had decades before.
Like the aging characters themselves, the movie can tend to be slow and awkward on its feet. I would fault the film for this, but I believe that it is intentional. Director Richard Lester wanted this movie to be the opposite of previous Robin Hood tales by showing the brutal reality of these characters. Nothing that they plan, whether it is the escape from a castle or a final battle with the Sheriff’s men, goes as smoothly as they hope. It’s an entirely different Robin, and some may be turned off by it. But for others, they will be rewarded with this wonderful tale of what happens to legends and heroes.
For true fans of Robin Hood, this film just has to be seen. It is a tribute to the stories that many of us grew up with and, like those stories, will not easily be forgotten.
Eight out of Ten
Alonzo of Acrentropy