Can a serious movie be made about a May/December romance where one party is in his late ’40s and the other is only 15? Can the “he”, a former dashing matinee idol (Errol Flynn) who already escaped one accusation of statutory rape really be seen as sympathetic, or even socially acceptable, given his proclivities? Can the “she”, a teenager of suspect talents (Beverly Aadland) be anything other than a victim?
No matter the times or the temperament, no matter a mother who basically pimps her child out for a possibility at fame (and the accompanying fortune) or the studio system and media, which sheepishly look the other way, can a film like this work? The answer, once you’ve seen The Last of Robin Hood, is “No.”
You see, we are sitting in 2014, not 1950-something, and for the last 30 plus years, we’ve gone out of our way to put such slick, shifty predators behind bars. Nowadays, someone like Flynn would be sitting in a jail cell somewhere, his penchant for young girls a guilt-producing given.
So it’s hard to get on board with co-writers and co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s late period biopic of the long gone cinematic swashbuckler. The story may be scandalous, but it’s also unacceptable, and thus undermines its motives before even circling the main subtext, i.e., Flynn’s fancy for girls who are barely, if ever, legal.
Kevin Kline, 16 years older than the icon he is portraying, does a decent job of selling us on faded fame. He looks the part, and offers up the same manner of devil may care charisma that turned Flynn into a household name. This is the end of Flynn’s career, however, a moment when his hard partying persona is catching up with him.
When he meets Beverly — a decent if decidedly one dimensional Dakota Fanning — he’s instantly smitten. The movie makes it very clear that Flynn, at least initially, believed this fetching young gal was/is “of age”. Later, when he finds out she’s not, he swears undying affection, though it’s hard to see what they have in common besides libido.
The catalyst, then, is Beverly’s fame hungry mother, Florence (Susan Sarandon). Since this is a simpler time, she doesn’t see anything wrong with her child heading over to Flynn’s house for a late night “audition”. Later, when she learns what is really going on, she turns a telling blind eye, uneasy with her teen’s activities but sure they will lead to a career in pictures. There’s even a moment to sort-of back this up, as Flynn takes a meeting with Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella) to pitch Lolita with him in the lead and Beverly as the title temptress.
In the end, it’s the young woman who pays the price, as always. She doesn’t see how her mother and her “boyfriend” are using her, manipulating her naiveté to aid in their own agenda.
Now, had The Last of Robin Hood the guts to really explore this relationship, to get down to the nasty nitty gritty and brass tacks of taking on a serial pedophile and his desire for post-pubescent companionship, we might have something. Instead, we wind up with a wholly less successful Hitchcock on our hands.
If you remember, that film wanted to argue that the late great Master of Suspense was a secret perv who lusted over headshots of unobtainable blonde starlets while suspecting his wife of having an affair — all while making the motion picture classic Psycho (talk about ambitious). What we got instead was a well meaning whitewash, a film where much of this is hinted at, but subsequently lost in a haze of half-baked characterization and flimsy cinematic psychology.
The Last of Robin Hood does the same thing. It argues that Flynn may have been a cad, but he was a polite and charming cad… so… all is forgiven? There are probably hundreds of convicted child molesters sitting in jail wondering why their “nice guy” defense didn’t work. Either that, or they’re hoping someone invents a time machine so they can travel back to an era when society simply didn’t want to address most sex crimes.
Indeed, Glatzer and Westmoreland would have been far more successful exploring the cultural climate in Tinseltown during Flynn’s reign, a place where the bubble of celebrity allowed for all manner of lewd and lascivious acts. Instead, we get a Lifetime-lite treatment of something far more serious.
Which raises the question, what is exactly the point of The Last of Robin Hood? Is this a celebration of Flynn? A condemnation? A chance for Aadland to air her side of the story before passing away? (Glatzer and Westmoreland interviewed her extensively before her death in 2010.) Perhaps The Last of Robin Hood is an honest attempt to show how Flynn and his far younger flame really connected, how their love, while forbidden, was still sweet and overflowing with sentiment.
Whatever the reason, the film loses a whole lot in the translation. Even with Kline doing his best to bring out the bravado in Flynn’s disappearing fame, the movie seems to be missing something.
Or perhaps, the story understands its inability to make sense to a far more clued in and cautious post-modern audience. Without a hook, without a means of making the story something other than another typical older man/younger woman tale out of Hollywood, you’ve got to deal with the age difference. Better still, you have to acknowledge Flynn’s reputation. Had this story been shifted to the ’70s and the players recast as Roman Polanski and Samantha Gailey, the reaction would be nuclear. Granted, that infamous case was far more seedy than what Flynn did, but it still asks us to accept a pretty abhorrent relationship.
In the end, The Last of Robin Hood is relatively harmless. That is also its major narrative flaw, considering the subject matter.