The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The Adventures of Robin Hood
Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn

'The Adventures of Robin Hood' is an historical romantic adventure film made in 1938, directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley and starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Rains. It is one of the greatest swashbuckling adventure movies in film history and at the time of its release was Warners' most expensive film, costing over $2 million. It became an international sensation and to this day is regarded as the definitive Robin Hood film.

The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards. It lost the Best Picture Award to Frank Capra's 'You Can't Take It With You' but won its other three nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score. In 1995, the movie was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


The movie tells an essentially simple story of good triumphing over evil with the gallant Robin and his merry band helping to save England from the evil Prince John and his treacherous nobles during the absence of the crusading King Richard the Lion-Heart. It calls for spectacular action sequences, glorious three-strip Technicolor (used for the first time by Warners) and features a charming and innocent romance between Robin and Maid Marion.


Location shooting took place in Chico's Bidwell Park for six weeks and the archery contest was staged at Busch Gardens in Pasadena, CA. The forest at Chico was augmented by art director Carl Weyl, with plaster of Paris trees and rocks and artificial grass was brought in. Additional outdoor shots were filmed in the nearby Sherwood Lake and Sherwood Forest areas, so named because they were the forest location for the 1922 Robin Hood. Other exteriors were filmed at the Warner Ranch in Calabasas, CA. The crew left Chico on November 8, 1937 and shooting finished two months later. The famous archery tournament was filmed at the former Busch Gardens, now part of Lower Arroyo Park,] in Pasadena which was later used for the Wilkes plantation exteriors in Gone with the Wind (1939) as well as many other films. .
The cast were tutored in sword and quarterstaff routines by Belgian fencing master Fred Cavens and his son Albert. The actual trick shooting, including the famous arrow-splitting shot was done by archery expert Howard Hill. He also shot the arrows which hit heavily padded stuntmen and bit players who were paid $150 per shot for letting Hill do it. Flynn did most of his own stunts except for a leap with his hands tied behind his back, another leap unto the back of a horse, his swing up the Nottingham gate and his drop to the other side.
Two directors received screen credit for their work. William Keighley was the original director chosen by Warner Bros. He had directed Errol Flynn in 'The Prince and the Pauper' in 1937. He was replaced by the more dynamic Michael Curtiz who also had previously directed Flynn in a similar role in 'Captain Blood' in 1935. Both Directors were given on screen credit for their work. Curtiz and Flynn never had a warm relationship but would ultimately make twelve films together.
James Cagney was the original choice for Robin but it is nowadays difficult to imagine anyone other than Errol Flynn playing the part. His features uncannily resembled that of a classic Robin Hood illustration and by 1938 he was already developing a reputation as a swashbuckler both on screen and off. A over sixty years after his death, Errol Flynn continues to be the model of the dashing, roguish swashbuckler hero.

With Flynn set for the lead, it was a natural next step to cast Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian. The two had displayed an undeniable on-screen chemistry in 'Captain Blood' and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and they would ultimately appear together in eight films in all.

Robin's Merry Men were drawn mostly from the ranks of sought-after character actors. Alan Hale, who had played Little John in Douglas Fairbanks' 1922 version, was cast in the role again and went on to play him again in 'Rogues of Sherwood Forest', released by Columbia in 1950.

Guy Kibbee was originally marked down for the part of Friar Tuck, but it eventually went to Eugene Pallette. The role of Will Scarlett was originally intended for David Niven, but he was unavailable, so the part went to Patric Knowles, who had appeared with Flynn in 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'.

Robin Hood's enemies came from distinguished acting ranks. Basil Rathbone, an acclaimed actor for more than 15 years (he had also appeared in Captain Blood) was cast as Sir Guy. Claude Rains, who would soon be seen with Flynn in The Prince and the Pauper (1937), was chosen for the wryly amused, aloof and effete air he could bring to the villainous Prince John. In earlier stories (and future film and television versions), Robin's chief adversary was the Sheriff of Nottingham, the rivalry with Sir Guy being largely an invention of an 1890 operetta. Here, the Sheriff was depicted with more humorous buffoonery, perfect for first-rank character actor Melville Cooper, who specialized in both menacing heavies and comic roles.

As the project started coming together, the studio decided to go for broke and shoot the picture in "glorious Technicolor," which increased the budget considerably, thanks to the patented process's need for special cameras and lighting. But producer Hal Wallis and company considered the expense worth it, and the decision heralded a new, more ambitious style for the studio. The production phase of the film ran a month behind schedule and went over budget. The total cost eventually ballooned to more than $2 million, Warner Brothers' most expensive motion picture made at that time.

Of interest to trivia collectors: Olivia de Havilland rode a horse in the movie called Golden Cloud. It later became extremely famous after Roy Rogers bought it and renamed it Trigger; the winning of the archery contest when Robin splits an arrow with his own arrow was not trick camera work but actual expert marksmanship by professional archer Howard Hill, who appears in the movie as Owen the Welshman, one of the archers defeated in the tournament.


The Adventures of Robin Hood is the hallmark of what a major studio was capable of doing in Hollywood's Golden Age: glorious Technicolor, sumptuous sets and costumes, a well-structured literate script, exciting action, a rousing award-winning score, and impeccable casting. It is the perfect conjunction of a star at the apex of his image and appeal and a master producer with an eye for the tiniest detail, a sense for what the public most enjoyed, and the ability to draw the system's top artists, technicians and craftsmen into a crack working unit to produce what is still considered one of the best films of its type.

Main Cast

Errol Flynn ... Robin Hood
Olivia de Havilland ... Maid Marian
Basil Rathbone ... Sir Guy of Gisbourne
Claude Rains ... Prince John
Patric Knowles ... Will Scarlet
Eugene Pallette ... Friar Tuck
Alan Hale, Sr. ... Little John
Melville Cooper ... High Sheriff of Nottingham
Ian Hunter ... King Richard the Lionheart
Una O'Connor ... Bess
Herbert Mundin ... Much the Miller's Son
Montagu Love ... Bishop of the Black Canons
Leonard Willey ... Sir Essex
Robert Noble ... Sir Ralf
Kenneth Hunter ... Sir Mortimer
Robert Warwick ... Sir Geoffrey
Colin Kenny ... Sir Baldwin
Lester Matthews ... Sir Ivor
Harry Cording ... Dickon Malbete
Howard Hill ... Owen the Welshman
Ivan F. Simpson ... Proprietor of Kent Road Tavern


Directors ... Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
Producers ... Hal B. Wallis, Henry Blanke
Production Company ... Warner Bros. Pictures
Story ... Based on the original 'Ivanhoe' story by Sir Walter Scott
Screenplay ... Norman Reilly Raine, Seton I. Miller
Format ... Technicolor
Initial Release ... 14 May 1938
Running Time ... 102 minutes

Academy Awards

Three Wins:
Best Art Direction-Color ... Carl J. Weyl
Best Original Score ... Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Best Film Editing ... Ralph Dawson
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Picture ... Warner Bros.