Monday, October 28, 2013

Best Basil Rathbone Films - #1 "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938)

The moment you have all been waiting for has arrived - my pick for the best Basil Rathbone film. If there's one thing that you should have picked up on from these reviews, it's that I love swashbuckling epics. My top three picks have all fallen into the sub-genre. My number one favourite Basil Rathbone film is 1938's "The Adventures of Robin Hood."

King Richard the Lionheart has been captured on his return from the Crusades, and his brother Prince John (Claude Rains) has his eye on the throne. Oppressing the masses, it seems as though the commoners are helpless against Prince John and his right-hand man, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone). One man stands in the way of their total control - an arrow-toting vigilante called Robin Hood (Errol Flynn). As Robin gathers together his band of merry men, he falls in love with Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland). Exposing the truth about how poorly Prince John is treating the people, she joins Robin in his quest to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Simply stated, "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is a very fun movie to watch. Even by today's standards, some of the action scenes are standouts. I won't spoil any of the best moments, but rest assured "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is exciting from start to finish. Part of what makes the movie so good is the level of enthusiasm from all the players. Errol Flynn, who stars as Robin Hood, is excellent. Since his career-making performance in 1935's "Captain Blood," the actor had become associated with swashbuckling costume epics. It seems like Flynn is having a very fun time playing the part, and his joviality transfers wonderfully to the screen.

The rest of the cast is equally impressive. Olivia de Havilliand is excellent as Maid Marian and Claude Rains is at his evil best as Prince John. Rains is one of this reviewer's favourite actors and aside from his brilliant performance in 1933's "The Invisible Man," Rains is at his finest here. Basil Rathbone, much like Flynn, seems to be having a ball in his part. Rathbone is seldom seemed so menacing or intimidating as he does in this movie. His performance is a testament to how fantastic he was as an actor, and it for that reason that I cite this movie as one of Rathbone's greatest performances.

Flynn (left) and Rathbone (right)
What is also notable about the movie is that it was produced on such a grand scale. The sets created for the film are breathtaking - especially the giant dining hall which is glimpsed early on in the film, and provides Robin Hood with a brilliant entrance. With a deer which he has caught and killed slung over his shoulders, Robin forcibly gains entrance into the dining hall and takes a seat opposite Prince John. It's a stunning vignette and one of the film's standout moments. (I know I said I wouldn't spoil anything - but I had to wet your appetites) As can be expected with a film of this sort, there's plenty of swordplay and the climatic duel between Flynn and Rathbone is brilliant - surely the finest sword duel ever committed to film. Fencing expert Fred Cavens was Warner Bros.' instructor when it came to sword duels, and he choreographed many of the most outstanding duels committed to film. Cavens also worked with Basil Rathbone two years earlier when Rathbone had co-starred in a 1936 adaptation of "Romeo & Juliet."

"The Adventures of Robin Hood" is based entirely upon the original legends which persist concerning the cunning thief. Many of the Robin Hood myths are crammed into the script, which means that a real plot does sort of fall by the wayside. Though this could be a problem, I think that this manages to make the movie exciting, as it bobs and weaves its way through the Robin Hood mythos. In fact, in my background research for the movie, I discovered that a jousting sequence was excised from the final film, which would have only added to the spectacle prevalent in the movie. Yet, "The Adventures of Robin Hood" did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture - losing out to Frank Capra's "You Can't Take It With You."

And so, I conclude this series of five reviews. For those of you anticipating more Sherlockian-related posts, they will be along soon. In the meantime - what are your favourite Basil Rathbone films? Do you agree with my Top 5 list? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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