Robin Hood (1922) Review

Robin Hood (1922) Director: Allan Dwan

★★★★☆

Errol Flynn will always be the pinnacle of Robin Hood in my mind, however Douglas Fairbanks gives a fun, acrobatic take on the character in 1922’s Robin Hood. First, a bit of trivia about the film: the title was actually copyrighted in 1922 as “Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood” in order to market the production in conjunction with the popularity with the “King of Hollywood.” The film was actually one of the most expensive of the 1920s with a budget estimated to be as much as $1,000,000. It was the first movie to premier at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood with an admission fee was $5 per person an expensive price when it opened on October 18, 1922 –it was not shown in any other Los Angeles theatre during that year. Robin Hood runs over 2 hours long –quite a lengthy run-time for a silent era blockbuster.

With towering castles and sweeping vistas of forests and pageantry –Robin Hood is something to behold. Many of the sets for the film were constructed at Pickfair, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford’s legendary estate in Los Angeles. Some of the sets were even designed by Frank Lloyd Wright himself.

At the outset of the film, a title reminds the audience that the past is but a mixture of history and mythology. A great jousting tournament begins, with spectacular scenery and quick cuts to build the tension. The Earl of Huntingdon (Fairbanks) defeats the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne, despite his best efforts to cheat and tie himself to his horse. Huntingdon wins a kiss from the Lady Marian Fitzwater. Huntingdon joins King Richard on crusade in the Holy Land, while the evil Prince John usurps the English throne, at the behest of Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Evil acts of torture are performed against the people of England (we see shocking and gruesome scenes of people being hanged by their necks). Lady Marian sends a note to Huntingdon, and upon learning of the news, Huntingdon attempts to return home to England to fight Prince John but he is caught by King Richard’s men and assumed to be a deserter so he is imprisoned. He eventually escapes from prison only to return to England to find all his comrades turned into outcasts, and the Lady Marian has apparently died. He assumes the name of Robin Hood in the second half of the film, defender of the poor, forming his merry band of Friar Tuck, Little John, and others as they upset Prince John and the High Sheriff of Nottingham’s plans at every turn. In the end, he defeats Guy in a dramatic scene and he climbs the tower to rescue Lady Marian, who has not been killed but merely imprisoned. Then King Richard arrives and Huntingdon marries Lady Marian. To a modern audience, the second half of the film will be the most familiar narrative.

Interestingly enough, this was not the first Robin Hood film, there were several earlier silent films, including one shot in the woods of Fort Lee, New Jersey, but this installment certainly stands a cut above the rest until the arrival Errol Flynn’s wonderful technicolor performance in 1938. This film was produced by Fairbanks through his own company, and distributed by United Artists, his joint partnership with Pickford, Chaplin, and Griffith. Robin Hood has been called Fairbanks’s most important film and in this respect I have to agree.

The Thief of Bagdad (1924) Review

9/5/2016

The Thief of Bagdad (1924) Director: Raoul Walsh

★★★☆☆

Loosely borrowed from parts of the Thousand and One Nights, The Thief of Bagdad is a grand early blockbuster of the silent era. It stars the “first celebrity” of Hollywood, Douglas Fairbanks, and it has since been reported that he considered this film his favorite. This film was later remade more than once, but the most famous is Disney’s animated film Aladdin (1992).

The Thief of Bagdad tells the story of Ahmed, a comical thief on the streets of Bagdad as he robs freely from the street vendors. In an early scene, he can be seen running from authorities as he amusingly leaps between pots in the market. This was filmed using trampolines. In his unobstructed robberies, he takes a magic rope and climbs up into the Princess’s room but he is caught by one of her Mongol slaves. He escapes and his associate reminds him of a story of a man who stole a princess. So Ahmed decides to try to steal the Caliph’s daughter.

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The next day is the Princess’s birthday and the suitors are coming to ask for her hand in marriage. An attendant of the princess instructs her that the first man to touch her rose bush will be her husband. There are three suitors, aside from Ahmed, and the leader of the Mongols, the clear villain of the three, is warned by an attendant to touch the rose bush so he can reaffirm the Princess’s superstitions, but he is scared off by a bee just as Ahmed’s horse launches him into the bush, proving the prophecy. However, later that night after she chooses Ahmed, the Mongol prince discovers that Ahmed is nothing more than a common thief and he informs the Caliph who orders that Ahmed be lashed.

In order to delay her decision, the Princess says that she will marry the man who bring to her the most exotic item over the next “seven moons”. The Persian Prince (played by a woman) retrieves a flying carpet, and the Mongol Prince gets an apple that will cure anything. He instructs his surrogates to poison the princess while he returns to Bagdad on the Persian Prince’s flying carpet. Ahmed receives a cloak of invisibility and some magic powder that will transform into anything Ahmed wishes.

Upon his return, the Mongol Prince orders his army to capture Bagdad after saving the Princess with his apple. However, Ahmed returns and storms the city of Bagdad with an army he conjures with the powder. He rescues the Princess with his invisibility cloak and as a reward, the Caliph gives him her hand in marriage.

The Thief of Bagdad is a film of epic proportions. Walsh once claimed it was the first Hollywood film to cost more than $1 million. In keeping with the tradition of other Fairbanks movies, this film is a satire of many swashbuckling movies –almost a comedy of errors. It is a long film, running at nearly two and a half hours. I’m not sure I would recommend this film much further beyond devotees of Douglas Fairbanks or else Disney purists searching for the inspiration behind the classic animated movies!

Little Caesar (1931) Review

Little Caesar (1931) Director: Marvin LeRoy

“Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”

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★★★☆☆

Directed by Marvin LeRoy for Warner Bros., Little Caesar (1931) is the first great crime film in Hollywood history, spawning legions more to come. The forthcoming mob-crime film wave in the 1930s was a direct result of the success of Little Caesar, with each film copying Little Caesar‘s sleazy, low-budget sets that reflect a shadowy criminal underworld of the 1920s and 1930s. The film’s title character and story-line all mirror the life and times of Al Capone. Little Caesar stars Edward G. Robinson as Little Caesar and Douglas Fairbanks as Joe Massara. Little Caesar vaulted Edward G. Robinson into Hollywood stardom, and brought crime films into the mainstream. It is a classic that should be in every film lover’s repertoire, particularly for its noir themes in further building upon the shadowy effects of German Expressionist cinematic language coupled with Old Hollywood extravagance.

The film opens with a partial quote from the Biblical book of Matthew:

“…for all they take the sword shall perish with the sword”

The big city mob world has been dominated by Diamond Pete Montana. Caesar Enrico Bandello, or “Rico,” complains that he wants the chance to ‘be somebody’, like a fugitive or an outlaw who commands respect and authority. He and his friend Joe join the Sam Vettori gang, and their first job is to rob the night club where Joe works. Despite strict orders, Rico guns down commissioner Alvin McClure during the heist.

Upon returning, Rico seizes control of Sam’s gang and after nearly getting shot by ‘the Big Bosses’ henchmen, he edges out other rival mob bosses and gains control of the city’s entire northside.

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Rico pays a visit to Joe after he threatened to defect from the group, and Rico tries to kill him but finds he doesn’t have the strength to kill his old friend. Joe goes to the cops who then chase Rico and destroy his powerful organization. Rico escapes and hides in a shelter before he overhears that the papers have labeled him a coward. He foolishly calls the police to threaten them, but his call is traced. He flees to a spot below a billboard featuring Joe and Olga dancing where he is shot by the police. Dying, he utters his last words, “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”