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.