The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Rated: PG for adventure violence
Length:  102 min.
Age: 4+                                      commonsense media sez: 9+ *

* There’s a big gap between our age recommendations here, which I have given a lot of thought to. Commonsense usually rates a year older than I do, but five?!   If your child likes action, and is okay with violence at a beginner level (arm’s length, non-gory), then I really think 4 or 5 is all right for this film. My daughter was a ‘slightly brave 4’ and had more trouble with the plot points than the violence. She quite enjoyed it, especially the jumping out of trees, which our stuffed animals still re-enact from time to time. … Plus, both Peter M. Nichols (The New York Times Essential Library : Children’s Movies: a critic’s guide to the best films available on video and DVD), and Ty Burr (The Best Old Movies for Families) agree with me – they both rate this film good for 4 years old and up.

Scary Factor: montage of dastardly doings to the peasants is upsetting but brief. Battles are not intense, see below. Robin is captured, which was hard to watch for my daughter, but just made his inevitable escape more exciting.

Interests: history, action, medieval life, England, knights, castles, old movies

Next: books on Robin Hood, MOVIES: other Errol Flynn: Captain Blood; Disney’s animated Robin Hood (1973)

A rollicking, wide-eyed and good-humoured version of the classic story in early, candy-hued Technicolor. Gorgeous to look at, the costumes are stunning. The plot caused many questions for my 4-year-old – court intrigue, what taxes are, who is who (lots of characters), “what are they talking about?” and “why does he want to be king so bad?” Wade patiently through the explanation, you can keep it simple: point out who the bad guys are, say that they’re being mean to people, and the good guys are helping people out. Once your younger viewers are on top of the bare bones of the plot, they’ll quite enjoy the action. There’s lots of rushing about, galloping horses, people leaping out of the trees (in a fantastic ambush scene), flashing swords, and to make it all more friendly, a lot of hearty laughter. Seriously, Errol Flynn is the master of the hearty laugh, legs planted wide, hands on hips and head thrown back. This Robin Hood has got panache all sewn up, and all viewers will get it. From entering a royal feast casually carrying a dead deer over his shoulders (!) to mocking his enemies with a ready retort and a (here it comes) hearty laugh, Flynn looks like he’s having a fine time, and his mood keeps the tone of the picture light and breezy. Olivia de Havilland is beautiful and fun to watch as well, as Robin melts her initial resistance with an unending onslaught of charm.

This is an action piece, but in the manner of its time, which means no blood or gore. There is cruelty inflicted on the peasants by Prince John, but offscreen. Then Robin strikes back: arrows thunk cleanly into people and they fall off their horses. When the merry band ambushes the royal party in the woods they do so simply by dropping out of the trees and pushing the soldiers off their horses, as if any further battle were unnecessary. Whenever Robin fights his way out of a sticky situation he does so via a lot of pushing, chair throwing, and dramatic sword swinging. At the end there is a final melée, which consists of a room full of people with swords flashing. Very exciting, and no real sense of violence involved. The action highlight is the famous swordfight between Robin and Sir Guy of Gisbourne – Errol Flynn vs. Basil Rathbone. I could be wrong, not being an expert in screen swordfights, but it seems to me that this encounter provided the pattern for many, many clashes that came later in film. (Also see the same two battling it out in Captain Blood!)

In Conclusion… an exciting action movie that doesn’t feel violent, with lots of humour, laughter, and colour. Slightly murky plot for the very young, but as long as they know who’s good and who’s bad, lots of enjoyment for all. An excellent film to entertain a wide age range.


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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