Special to The History Place
In an interview, Russell Crowe, the latest in a long line of actors to portray Robin Hood, claims to have read somewhere between 20 and 30 books to prep for the part. He also claims to have come across the earliest depiction of the legendary outlaw, who he says is an Eighth Century hacker called 'Robin the Beheader.' Crowe’s contention that in 860 AD a bandit by that name was roaming Britain’s primal forests, hacking off both heads and hands, has created some buzz in the Blogosfere. But I’m darned if I can find any authority for it. In fact, the best I could come up with was a ballad entitled Robin Hood and the Monk, which the experts have dated to about 1450.
Researching Robin Hood’s filmography is a lot easier. Douglas Fairbanks carries off the accolades for being the first Robin of the silver screen, appearing in a million-dollar silent version way back in 1922. Errol Flynn recreated Robin in 1938. Other notable entrants include Kevin Costner’s 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and the Mel Brooks 1993 spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Back in 1976, Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn gave the world a Robin and Marian that opened with the couple entered into an uneasy middle age and ended with their mutual suicides. And, lest we overlook the little screen, The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, ran for five seasons (1955-1960).
After all these, and so many more ballads, books and movies, one might reasonably wonder what more there could possibly be to say about the outlaw of Sherwood Forest. Laying down one’s money at the box office, it was at least possible to hope for something fresh, given that Crowe turned in an Oscar-winning performance as The Gladiator under Director Ridley Scott’s tutelage. Crowe and Scott have made other good films together, as well. Toss in Cate Blanchett, recently turned 41 and still a stunner (as the Brits say), and you have the makings of some good screen chemistry. A supporting cast that includes Max von Sydow (so help me, I thought he was dead) and William Hurt (no longer a big star in his own right, but turning in some great character roles in recent years), as well as lesser lights capable of solid acting, bolstered one’s anticipation.
On the down side, I had heard that “Ho-Hum” had been the general response at the Cannes Film Festival. I had no more luck tracking down audience demographics than I had trailing Crowe’s 'Robin the Beheader.' But I’m betting that most young adults, like my 22-year-old daughter, have little or no interest in the film. Certainly I spied few from her generation in the seats at our local theater.
On the other hand, for her old man’s generation – we who cut our teeth on Richard Greene’s TV character and even made our own bows and arrows – 2010’s “Robin Hood” is the crème de la crème of its genre. Computer technology enabled Scott to depict, for example, a sort of medieval reverse-D Day, as an army charges onto English beaches from wooden versions of WWII LSTs. Here we have civil war on the grand scale, the legend inflated to maximum legendary size.
With luck, it’ll be the last Robin Hood movie, since it sets the bar at a height where – even if there could possibly be something more left to be said on celluloid – no sensible film maker should want to rise to the challenge. Still, given some 30 surviving ballads and an even larger number of films and TV episodes, who am I kidding?
Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content.
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Jim Castagnera is the author of "Al Qaeda Goes to College: Impact of the War on Terror on American Higher Education" (Praeger 2009) and Handbook for Student Law (Peter Lang 2010). He is a Philadelphia lawyer and journalist, whose Website is hstrial-kchrenterprises.homestead.com