The legend of Robin Hood is firmly entrenched in British folklore — an archer and swordsman who, with his band of merry men, robbed from the rich and gave to the poor during the early 12th century in Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest. Originally portrayed as a commoner, Robin’s image changed so that he was later thought of as a nobleman who lost his lands and was cast out as an outlaw.
The earliest surviving ballads telling his story are dated to the 15th century or early 16th century. And, of course, Robin Hood has long been a cinematic favorite, dating back to 1909’s silent “Robin Hood and His Merry Men.” With Russell Crowe playing the hero in Ridley Scott’s new version of the adventure, “Robin Hood,” opening Friday, we take a look at a few of the actors who would be Robin.
James Cagney was originally cast to play Robin for Warner Bros., but after he left the studio due to a contract dispute in 1935, the production was halted for three years. By 1938, Errol Flynn was the studio’s go-to swashbuckling hero thanks to his roles in “Captain Blood” and “Charge of the Light Brigade.” And he achieved superstar status with “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” one of Warner Bros.’ first films in Technicolor.
Dripping with sexuality, good humor, panache and swagger, Flynn’s Robin of Locksley captures not only the derring-do of the character, but also the more dramatic side of his fight for injustice, uttering such delectable lines as “Men, if you are willing to fight for our people, I want you!” and “It’s injustice I hate, not the Normans.”
“The Adventures of Robin Hood” has the distinction of being the only movie about the legend nominated for the best film Oscar.
The athletic silent film superstar was in his element in the lavish 1922 epic “Robin Hood,” directed by Allan Dwan, that was one of the most expensive films of the 1920s. Though Fairbanks wasn’t the greatest actor of his time, he had charisma, an amazing smile and was able to leap, well, flowing rivers with a single bound.
In this version, he plays the dashing earl of Huntington, who goes with Richard the Lionhearted to fight in the Crusades only to return to Nottingham, where he learns that the vile John has usurped the throne and that Maid Marian is — gasp! — dead.
When one thinks of Disney’s Robin flicks, the 1973 animated musical “Robin Hood,” in which the hero is a sly fox, immediately comes to mind. But in the early 1950s, Disney made several films in England including 1952’s solid Technicolor adventure, “The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men.” And in this outing, Robin is played by the very capable Irish-born actor Richard Todd. Todd’s Robin had heart, soul and knew his way around a bow and arrow.
The Oscar-winning actor-director was at the peak of his popularity when he starred in 1991’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” But what a big, big mistake to cast an all-American, boy-next-door Jimmy Stewart/Gary Cooper-type as the veddy British Robin of Locksley (one review said Costner was more Sherman Oaks than Sherwood Forest). But movie audiences 19 years ago didn’t seem to care and the film was one of the year’s biggest blockbusters.
Though he was a few months younger than 46-year-old Russell Crowe when he played the venerable Robin in 1976’s romantic drama “Robin and Marian,” Connery imbued his Robin with a world-weariness and maturity far beyond those years. His bittersweet Robin returns to England after a 20-year absence to reunite with Marian (Audrey Hepburn), now a nun, and battle the vile sheriff of Nottingham (Richard Harris). Hepburn, who came out of retirement for this film, and Connery are beautifully matched as a couple.
The Chairman of the Board has a swingin’ time in the 1964 musical comedy “Robin and the 7 Hoods,” which transplants the hero out of the English hood of Nottingham into 1930s Chicago. Ol’ Blue Eyes plays a gangster named Robbo who gets involved in a gangland war after his friend and boss of the underworld (Edward G. Robinson) is knocked off by a rival gang. And his merry men are Rat Pack cronies, Dino and Sammy. Sinatra also is in fine voice singing the Oscar-nominated hit “My Kind of Town.”