Now I could talk about 2001 A Space Odyssey, the Godfathers I & II, Bound For Glory or Annie Hall, all great films that made me love the world of cinematic story telling, but I thought I would go back to the first film that registered on my radar.
As a young boy, if it was a cold or rainy afternoon my mother would sometimes drop us off at “The Bay” cinema on Main Street in downtown North Bay, Ontario, my hometown. I would be with Steve and Matt or perhaps it was Blair and Mark, it was always one or two of the neighbourhood boys. Gaining entrance for a quarter we would then buy a box of popcorn and a coke for another quarter and the huddle down in the dark for our double bill with serial.
Now we did this dozens of times over a three or four year period. The movies we saw were for the most part black and white or early Technicolor and a few years old. The first one that I remember striking deep into my psycy was “The Adventures of Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn as the title character, Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Olivia DeHavilland as Maid Marian and Claude Rains as the evil Prince John released in 1938.
This is the classic story of good versus evil and the continuing struggle to do the right thing. Robin must prove to everyone that he is a man of integrity by doing battle with his men to bring them into his group of “Merry men”. The scenes where he fights Little John to show his strength to the big man or the fantastic fight with Friar Tuck that ends in laughter in the creek are the beginning of the battle against Prince John. They also create in our minds the notion that these are men of principle.
The main love story between the handsome star and the beautiful starlet is fantastic. But there is also the love story of the less beautiful lady servant and the second banana, who then rise to save the day by passing messages along.
This is classic story telling with constant reversals and surprises. The evil John “let’s have an archery tournament Robin won’t be able to resist” because he knows he is the best. Then just when you think how can he win because the first shooter has hit the centre of the bull’s-eye, bang he splits the arrow and ends up winning but captured.
Then the climatic scene, the battle in the castle where the forces of evil fight the forces of good begins. The best of swashbuckling sword fight on film to that point. Tables flipping, up the stairs, down the stairs, slashing the candles, every trick in the sword-fighting book is used to build excitement. The shot that even an eight-year-old boy was gob smacked by, was the one where Robin and Sir Guy are going at it tooth and nail. Then they cross into the corner of the frame and go off screen but their shadows keep fighting across the turret of the castle and then they reappear on the other side of the frame. I always had bladder control but this almost made me pee my pants. What a great idea having their shadows fight.
How was I to know then that years later we would use the same technique in a music video for “The Paiges”? But I digress. The final climactic scene, where King Richard makes himself know and rights all wrongs, giving Robin back his title, lands and the hand of the Maid Marian is one of the most perfect storytelling moments in cinema. It made a young boys heart go pitter-patter although long before puberty I am not sure why.
So strong story telling, clear characters, strong good men, beautiful women, love stories good versus evil, reversals, surprises, scenes of choreography that approach dance like style, men swinging from the trees to capture the money in the forest, this movie directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley had everything a boys heart could desire.