The Adventures of Robin Hood

The Adventures of Robin Hood is a 1938 American Technicolor swashbuckler film directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley and starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Rains. It was distributed by Warner Bros. and produced by Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke.

The Adventures of Robin Hood
DVD cover
Directed by
Produced by
Screenplay by
Music by
Edited byRalph Dawson
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • May 14, 1938 (1938-05-14) (US)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3,981,000[1][2]

Written by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller, the film depicts the legendary Robin Hood as a Saxon knight who, in King Richard's absence in the Holy Land during the Crusades, fights back as the outlaw leader of a rebel guerrilla band against Prince John and the Norman lords oppressing the Saxon commoners.

The Adventures of Robin Hood has been acclaimed by critics since its release.[3] In 1995, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.[4]

Alan Hale Sr., who plays Little John, had played the same character in the 1922 version of the film and went on to play him again in Rogues of Sherwood Forest, released by Columbia in 1950.[5]


Richard the Lionheart (Ian Hunter), King of England, is taken captive in 1191 by Leopold V, Duke of Austria while returning from the Holy Land. Richard’s treacherous brother Prince John (Claude Rains) usurps the throne and proceeds to oppress the Saxons, raising taxes to secure his own position.

Only the Saxon nobleman Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) opposes him. Robin acquires a loyal follower when he saves Much the Miller's Son (Herbert Mundin) from being arrested for poaching by Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone). At Gisbourne's castle, Robin boldly tells Prince John and his Norman followers, and the contemptuous Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Olivia de Havilland), that he will do all in his power to restore Richard to the throne. Robin escapes, despite attempts by John's men to stop him.

Robin, Much, and friend Will Scarlet (Patric Knowles) take refuge in Sherwood Forest and recruit Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.), while other men join their growing band, including the rotund Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), an accomplished English swordsman.

Branded as outlaws, Robin binds his men by an oath: to fight for a free England until the return of Richard, to rob the rich and give to the poor, and treat all women with courtesy, "rich or poor, Norman or Saxon". Robin and his band begin a guerrilla war against Prince John, systematically killing the Prince's tax collectors and any Norman nobleman or man-at-arms who abuses his power.

Robin and his men capture a large party of Normans transporting tax money extorted from the Saxons. Among Robin's "guests" are Sir Guy of Gisbourne, the cowardly Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper), and the Lady Marian. Disdainful of Robin at first, Marian comes to accept his good intentions and to see the reality of Norman brutality. Robin allows the humiliated Sir Guy and the Sheriff to leave Sherwood, telling them that they have Lady Marian's presence to thank for their lives being spared.

The Sheriff devises a cunning scheme to capture Robin by announcing an archery tournament with the prize of a golden arrow to be presented by the Lady Marian. All goes as planned: Robin wins the prize and is taken prisoner and is sentenced to hang.

Marian helps Robin's men rescue him, and he later scales a high castle wall to thank her. Each pledges their love for each other, but Marian declines to leave with him, believing she can best help by staying to be a spy for the men of Sherwood.

King Richard and several trusted knights have returned to England, disguised as monks. At a roadside inn, the Bishop of the Black Canons (Montagu Love) discovers them and alerts Prince John and Gisbourne. Dickon Malbete (Harry Cording), a degraded former knight, is given the task of disposing of Richard in return for the restoration of his rank and Robin's manor and estate.

Marian overhears their plot and writes a note to Robin, but Sir Guy finds it and has her arrested, pending trial and execution. Marian's confidant, Bess (Una O'Connor), sends Much to warn Robin. On his way, he intercepts and kills Dickon but is wounded in the process.

As Richard and his liegemen journey through Sherwood Forest, they are stopped by Robin and his men. Richard assures Robin that he is traveling on the King's business; when asked if he supports Richard, the incognito King replies, "I love no man better". He accepts Robin's invitation to dine with the men of Sherwood and Robin's rebuke for him not staying in England instead of fighting in foreign lands.

Will finds the injured Much, who tells Robin of Marian's peril and that Richard is now in England. Robin orders a thorough search to find Richard and bring him to Robin for safety. Now certain of their loyalty, Richard reveals his identity.

Robin devises a plan to sneak into Nottingham Castle. He coerces the Bishop of the Black Canons to include his men, disguised as monks, in his entourage for John's coronation. In the great hall Richard reveals himself to the assembled nobles, and a huge melee breaks out. Robin and Sir Guy engage in a prolonged sword fight, ending with Gisbourne's death. Robin releases Marian from her prison cell, and Prince John's men, now defeated, throw down their swords, shields, and banners in surrender.

Richard exiles John and his followers for his lifetime and pardons the outlaws. He elevates Robin Hood to be Baron of Locksley and Earl of Sherwood and Nottingham, and commands that Robin marry the Lady Marian. With Marian now by his side, from across the great hall, Robin replies with enthusiasm, "May I obey all your commands with equal pleasure, Sire!"


Uncredited Cast


The Adventures of Robin Hood was produced at an estimated cost of $2 million, the most expensive film Warner Bros. had made up to that time.[7] It was also the studio's first large budget color film utilizing the three-strip Technicolor process.[Note 2][8] It was an unusually extravagant production for the Warner Bros. studio, which had made a name for itself in producing socially-conscious, low-budget gangster films,[9] but their adventure movies starring Flynn had generated hefty revenue and Robin Hood was created to capitalize on this.

James Cagney was originally cast as Robin Hood, but walked out on his Warner Bros. contract, paving the way for the role to go to Flynn.[8] The filming was postponed three years, as a result.[10]

The Adventures of Robin Hood was shot on location in various areas of California. Bidwell Park in Chico stood in for Sherwood Forest,[11] although one major scene was filmed at the California locations "Lake Sherwood" and "Sherwood Forest", so named because they were the location sites for the earlier Douglas Fairbanks production of Robin Hood (1922). Several scenes were shot at the Warner Bros. Burbank Studios and the Warner Ranch in Calabasas. The archery tournament was filmed at the former Busch Gardens,[12] now part of Lower Arroyo Park,[13] in Pasadena.

Stunt men and bit players, padded with balsa wood on protective metal plates, were paid $150 per arrow for being shot by professional archer Howard Hill. Hill, although listed as the archer captain defeated by Robin, was cast as Elwen the Welshman, an archer seen shooting at Robin in his escape from Nottingham castle and, later, defeated by Robin at the archery tournament. To win, Robin splits the arrow of Philip of Arras, a captain of the guard under Gisbourne, who had struck the bullseye. An examination of the film images in slow motion led to speculation that the arrow split may have been made of bamboo and had been previously split, the parts being held together with small rings. Stuntman Buster Wiles, close friend of Errol Flynn and his frequent on-set stand-in, maintained that the arrow-splitting stunt was carried out using an extra large arrow (for the target) and that the second arrow had a wide, flat arrowhead and was fired along a wire. Wiles discusses the scene in his autobiography, My Days With Errol Flynn. The Mythbusters episode "Myths Reopened" revisited the Robin Hood arrow-splitting stunt. An Olympic-grade archer was unable to fully split a straight-grained cedar arrow from about 50 feet (the arrow only split along a third of its length), but split a hollow bamboo arrow from nock to arrowhead. This tends to support Wiles' statement.[14]

Hill can also be seen as one of the Merry Men in the scene where Robin is rescued from the gallows. Concealed in a wagon, he shoots a mounted man-at-arms, whose horse is instantly mounted by the bound Robin Hood and ridden to the city gate.

Korngold's music score

In 1938, Korngold was conducting opera in Austria when he was asked by Warner Bros. to return to Hollywood and compose a score for The Adventures of Robin Hood. The film is considered the finest of its kind, with a continuous series of romantic and adventurous sequences propelled by Korngold's dynamic score.[15]:27 Music historian Laurence E. MacDonald notes that there were many factors which made the film a success, including its cast, its Technicolor photography, and fast-paced direction by Michael Curtiz, but "most of all, there is Korngold's glorious music".[16]:49 And film historian Rudy Behlmer describes Korngold's contribution to this and his other films:

Korngold's score was a splendid added dimension. His style for the Flynn swashbucklers resembled that of the creators of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century German symphonic tone poems. It incorporated chromatic harmonies, lush instrumental effects, passionate climaxes—all performed in a generally romantic manner. Korngold's original and distinctive style was influenced by the Wagnerian leitmotif, the orchestral virtuosity of Richard Strauss, the delicacy and broad melodic sweep of Puccini, and the long-line development of Gustav Mahler.[17]:38

In reply to Warmer Bros.’ request, Korngold told studio head of production Hal B. Wallis that he was a composer of drama and the heart, and felt little connection to what he perceived as “a 90% action picture.” Wallis was persistent, with Korngold finally agreeing to begin composing on the condition that he not have a contract, and work on a week-by-week basis so that he could withdraw if he were dissatisfied with the music he composed.

Before Korngold began composing the score, Austria was annexed by the Nazis, and his home in Vienna was confiscated.[17]:35 This meant that all Jews in Austria were now at risk, so Korngold stayed in America until the end of World War II. He later said, "We thought of ourselves as Viennese; Hitler made us Jewish".[18] Korngold noted that the opportunity to compose the score for Robin Hood saved his life.

Korngold called his film scores “Opern ohne Singen,” operas without singing, but otherwise approached their composition just as he would for the operatic stage. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was, therefore, a large-scale symphonic work and, despite the studio music department’s providing a team of orchestrators, including future Oscar-winner Hugo Friedhofer, to assist Korngold, the amount of work was immense, especially for the limited time he was given to compose. In describing this dilemma to his father, Julius Korngold, one of Vienna’s foremost music critics, the elder Korngold suggested that themes from his 1920 symphonic overture “Sursum Corda” (“Lift Up Your Hearts”) would serve splendidly for much of the most demanding action-scene music, and Erich agreed.

It also gave him his second Academy Award for Best Original Score and established the symphonic style that would later be used in action films during Hollywood's Golden Age.[16]:50 Modern day epics such as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies similarly included original symphonic scores.[16]:50 Composer John Williams has cited Korngold as his inspiration in scoring the Star Wars series.[19]:717


Contemporary reviews were highly positive. "A richly produced, bravely bedecked, romantic and colorful show, it leaps boldly to the forefront of this year's best", wrote Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times.[20] "It is cinematic pageantry at its best", raved Variety. "A highly imaginative retelling of folklore in all the hues of Technicolor, deserving handsome box office returns".[21] Film Daily called it "high class entertainment" with "excellent direction" and an "ideal choice" in the casting of Flynn.[22] "Excellent entertainment!" wrote Harrison's Reports. "Adventure, romance, comedy, and human appeal have been skilfully blended to give satisfaction on all counts ... The duel in the closing scenes between the hero and his arch enemy is the most exciting ever filmed".[23] John Mosher of The New Yorker called it "a rich, showy, and, for all its tussles, somewhat stolid affair", praising Flynn's performance and the action sequences but finding the "excellent collection" of supporting actors to be "somewhat buried under the medieval panoply".[24] Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of critics gave the film a positive rating based on 46 reviews, with an average score of 8.94/10. The film is currently No. 50 on their list of the best-rated films in cinema.[25] Rotten Tomatoes summarizes the critical consensus as, "Errol Flynn thrills as the legendary title character, and the film embodies the type of imaginative family adventure tailor-made for the silver screen".[26]

Box office

The Adventures of Robin Hood became the sixth-highest-grossing film of the year,[7] with just over $4 million in revenues[2] at a time when the average ticket price was less than 25 cents.[27]

According to Warner Bros records the film earned $1,928,000 domestically and $2,053,000 foreign.[1]

The Adventures of Robin Hood was the fourth highest grossing movie in the U.S. nationally in 1938 and the highest grossing film of 1938 in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas.[28]

Warner Bros. was so pleased with the results that the studio cast Flynn in two more color epics before the end of the decade: Dodge City and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.[29]

A sequel, Sir Robin of Locksley was announced but never developed.[10]

Awards and nominations

The film won three Academy Awards at the 11th Academy Awards and was nominated for one more:

Won: Best Art Direction (Carl Jules Weyl)
Won: Best Film Editing (Ralph Dawson)
Won: Best Original Score (Erich Wolfgang Korngold) – The love theme of Robin and Marian went on to become a celebrated concert piece.
Nominated: Best Picture (Hal B. Wallis, Henry Blanke)


The film's popularity inextricably linked Errol Flynn's name and image with that of Robin Hood in the public eye, even more so than those of Douglas Fairbanks, who had played the role in 1922.[30]

This was the third film to pair Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (after Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade). They would ultimately star together in nine films, the aforementioned and Four's a Crowd (1938), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Dodge City (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940), They Died with Their Boots On (1941) and Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), although they shared no scenes in the last film.[31]

Scenes and costumes worn by the characters have been imitated and spoofed endlessly. For instance, in the Bugs Bunny animated short film, Rabbit Hood, Bugs is continually told by a dim-witted Little John, "Don't you worry, never fear; Robin Hood will soon be here." When Bugs finally meets Robin at the end of the film, he is stunned to find that it is Errol Flynn, in a spliced-in clip from this film (he subsequently shakes his head and declares, "It couldn't be him!"). Other parodies were Daffy Duck and Porky Pig in Robin Hood Daffy and Goofy and Black Pete in Goof Troop's Goofin' Hood & His Melancholy Men.

A fragment of one of the film's sword fighting scenes was converted to sprites by Jordan Mechner and used for his 1989 platform game Prince of Persia.[32]

In Disney’s 2010 animated film Tangled, the appearance and personality of Flynn Rider are partly inspired by that of Errol Flynn, with his surname also being used in homage.

Picture-Strip adaptation

Knockout Comic (weekly picture paper • Amalgamated Press, London) No 434, June 21, 1947 – No 447, September 20, 1947 • 14 issues, 28pp in black-and-white (Drawn by Michael Hubbard)[33][34] Produced when the film was first revived. In spite of several deviations from the plot, generally faithful to the look and narrative of the film. However, the famous climactic duel between Robin and Sir Guy is reduced to a couple of frames, with Robin still dressed in a monk's habit. Also, it opens with a joust between Robin and Sir Guy, which was in the screenplay but was never shot.[17]

See also



  1. Roy Rogers admired the then-named Golden Cloud so much that he bought Trigger to use in his own films. This eventually made Trigger one of the most famous animals in show business.
  2. The first, preceding it by a few months, was Gold is Where You Find It, which tested the process as a run-up to The Adventures of Robin Hood.


  1. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1–31 p 18 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. Glancy, H. Mark. "Warner Bros film grosses, 1921–51." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. March 1995
  3. "Top 100 Movies of All Time – Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  4. "25 old films honored". St. Petersburg Times. December 28, 1995. Retrieved July 22, 2009.
  5. "Detail view of Movies Page". Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  6. Rowan, Terry M. (2016). Character-Based Series Part I. p. 170. ISBN 978-1365421051. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  7. Higgins, Scott (2007). Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s. University of Texas Press. pp. 138–139. ISBN 9780292779525.
  8. Ebert, Roger (August 17, 2003). "Roger Ebert's review of "The Adventures of Robin Hood"". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 30, 2007.
  9. "The mobster and the movies". CNN. August 24, 2004. Retrieved July 9, 2008.
  10. Thomas, Tony; Behlmer, Rudy; McCarty, Clifford (June 1969). The Films of Errol Flynn. Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press. p. 62–67. ISBN 978-0806502373.
  11. The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations by Tony Reeves. The Titan Publishing Group. Pg.14 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-06-25. Retrieved 2015-06-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. Higham, Charles (1984). Sisters: The Story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. Dell Publishing. p. 72. ISBN 0-440-17866-5.
  13. "Archery club, hikers clash over Lower Arroyo Park trail in Pasadena". ABC News. May 25, 2011. Archived from the original on November 1, 2014. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  14. Mythbusters Season 4, Episode 12, "Myths Reopened." Originally aired April 26, 2006.
  15. Thomas, Tony. Korngold: Vienna to Hollywood, Turner Entertainment (1996)
  16. MacDonald, Laurence E. The Invisible Art of Film Music: A Comprehensive History, Scarecrow Press (1998)
  17. Behlmer, Rudy. The Adventures of Robin Hood, Univ. of Wisconsin Press (1979)
  18. Bernardi, Daniel. Hollywood's Chosen People: The Jewish Experience in American Cinema, Wayne State University Press (2013) p. 48
  19. Hischak, Thomas S. The Encyclopedia of Film Composers, Rowman & Littlefield (2015)
  20. Nugent, Frank S. (May 13, 1938). "Movie Review – The Adventures of Robin Hood". The New York Times. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  21. "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Variety. New York. December 31, 1937. p. 22. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  22. Daly, Phil M. (April 29, 1938). "Reviews: The Adventures of Robin Hood". Film Daily. New York. 73 (99): 8. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  23. "The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains". Harrison's Reports. New York. XX (27): 74. May 7, 1938. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  24. Mosher, John (May 21, 1938). "The Current Screen". The New Yorker. New York. pp. 71–72.
  25. "Top 100 Movies Of All Time". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  26. "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  27. Weitzman, Elizabeth (February 6, 2009). "The Depression-era gems at 1930s prices". New York Daily News. Retrieved October 5, 2010.
  28. "Warner Bros Film Grosses, 1921–51: the William Schaefer ledger". Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television.
  29. Levy, Emanuel (September 12, 2016). "Reel/Real Impact: Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)".
  30. King, Susan (May 12, 2010). "Classic Hollywood: 100 years of Robin Hood movies". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  31. "AFI Catalog of Feature Films". American Film Institute. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  32. Mechner, Jordan (2011). Classic Game Postmortem: PRINCE OF PERSIA (Speech). Game Developers Conference. San Francisco. Event occurs at 38:35. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  33. David Ashford/John Allen-Clark/Steve Holland: Knockout Comic: An Illustrated Guide (CJ Publications, UK • 1997)
  34. Https://
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