80 years of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood

Robin Hood

So often Tasmanian Errol Flynn’s legacy seems to be focussed on his off-screen bad boy behaviour, detracting from the fact that a number of his screen performances are worthy of legendary status. 

When Warner Brothers released The Adventures of Robin Hood in May 1938, it followed six earlier screen versions of the story including that played by Douglas Fairbanks in 1922. Nor was Robin Hood the first heroic swordsman played by Flynn who had similar characters in Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1935 and 1936).

Despite all this, the studio took a daring leap of faith on the project, employing brand new camera technology in three-strip Technicolor and investing a production budget of over US$2,000,000, making it the most expensive film made to that time. Settling on a tried-and-true studio formula, original director William Keighley worked with a cast that included ingénue Olivia de Havilland, the distinguished Basil Rathbone, theatre thespian Claude Rains and, of course, the roguish Errol Flynn.

Various accounts exist of production delays, budget overspends and tepidly received dailies of fight scenes but for whatever actual reason Keighley was soon hauled off the production and replaced by the no-nonsense Hungarian director Michael Curtiz. Contrary to the obvious on-screen success of their collaborations, Curtiz and Flynn did not get along and would frequently be seen violently arguing on set. 

Flynn was known to occasionally clash with his co-stars, including long-time friend Basil Rathbone in his villainous role as Sir Guy of Gisbourne. In a 1969 interview Rathbone, a skilled and professionally trained fencer said, ‘The only actor I actually fought with on the screen was Flynn, and that's the only time I was really scared. I wasn't scared because he was careless but because he didn't know how to protect himself.'

Hal B Wallis and Henry Blanke utilised the 28-year-old Flynn’s natural athleticism and good looks to promote the film. The Warner Brothers publicity machine was so successful in the promotion of its leading man that Flynn was later voted the world’s 4th biggest star by industry magazine Variety

Despite the now legendary fractious on-set relations, The Adventures of Robin Hood was a resounding success with both audiences and critics and won three Academy Awards.