THE BEST TIME I've had in a movie house this year was seeing a new Technicolor print of this 1938 adventure classic (on disc Sept. 30) at the Cinerama. It arrived unheralded and left town too soon, but it would be a perfect family-friendly rep title for SIFF '04 with its stunning colors, rousing action, and constant good cheer. In the title role, Errol Flynn is wonderfully unconflicted about being heroic; it makes you miss those days before every guy with a gun or sword had to be a brooding Hamlet. And the script is downright witty. Says Olivia de Havilland to Flynn, "Why, you speak treason!" "Fluently," he replies.
The extras on this two-disc set are a treat. There's a cleverly packaged sample of what a 1938 audience would see before the feature: cartoons, musical shorts, and a newsreel. The latter, chillingly, depicts both Hitler's Anschluss and American military mighta reminder of the political subtext to the film's Saxons-versus-Normans plot. The several making-of featurettes reveal how thoroughly Robin Hood bore the Warner Bros. stamp; the studio originally intended James Cagney to star, but he went on strike. Contract player Flynn was hot from Captain Blood, which also had lots of fencing and stunts, so he got the role. The film was a conscious departure from Warner's usual gritty, urban gangster fare (partly necessitated by the Production Code), yet the script is full of anachronistic wisecracksone reason the movie holds up so well.
Warner Bros. historian Robert Behlmer makes his commentary dense and informativeno lazy lulls here. There's plenty of trivia (de Havilland's horse later became Roy Rogers' Trigger!), all done in the usual respectful style of Turner Classic Movies specials. One striking historical note: The great composer Erich Korngold won an Oscar for his score after Warner called him back from Vienna just before the Anschluss. "My life was saved by Robin Hood," he said, and you can hear his gratitude in every bar.
YOU CAN BE grateful for these Oct. 14 releases: The Matrix Reloaded on two discs (which we'll review Nov. 5 when part three comes to theaters); Blue Car, with David Strathairn, which hardly got a fair shake in theaters; John Frankenheimer's 1977 terrorist thriller Black Sunday has some ugly, prescient echoes of today's geopolitical reality; and Alan Rudolph's Afterglow features a radiant turn by Julie Christie. BRIAN MILLER