Friday, October 08, 2010

Robin Hood (Douglas Fairbanks 1922) (MoMA Film Archive 75th Anniversary)

(Douglas Fairbanks Picture Corporation, for United Artists, US 1922). D: Allan Dwan; story: Elton Thomas [Douglas Fairbanks]; scen. ed: Lotta Woods; literary consultant: Arthur Knoblock; DP: Arthur Edeson; AD: Wilfred Buckland, Irvin J. Martin, Edward M. Langley; cost: Mitchell Leisen; research: Dr. Arthur Woods; tech. dir: Robert Fairbanks; cast: Douglas Fairbanks (The Earl of Huntingdon / Robin Hood), Wallace Beery (King Richard), Sam De Grasse (Prince John), Enid Bennett (Lady Marian Fitzwalter), Paul Dickey (Sir Guy of Gisbourne), William Lowery (Sheriff of Nottingham), Alan Hale (Little John), Willard Louis (Friar Tuck), Lloyd Talman (Alan-a-Dale), Maine Geary (Will Scarlett); 35 mm, 10,960 ft., 133 (22 fps), tinted; source: The Museum of Modern Art. Restored 2009. Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with support from The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Fund.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in Italian and XX on the grand piano, 8 Oct 2010.

EILEEN BOWSER in the GCM Catalogue (boldfacing by me): "Robin Hood greatly impressed audiences of its day with its Maxfield Parrish-style romantic atmosphere, its enormous sets, and its horde of costumed extras. Few seemed to notice that Fairbanks was a little subdued by it all, or at least forgot his subdued demeanor when, in the last part of the picture, he returned to his old dashing self, and the excitement he generated carried the film through to its smashing climax. Today, Robin Hood appears less entertaining and less well constructed than its masterful predecessor, The Three Musketeers. This was Fairbanks’ own version of the Robin Hood legend (he is the “Elton Thomas” listed in the film’s credits), mixed with a little history and the Fairbanks legend itself. In the first half of the film, he plays the Earl of Huntingdon, strongest and bravest of the knights at court, named second in command of the Crusades by Richard-the-Lion-Hearted; later, victim of intrigue, unjustly suspected by the King, he becomes Robin Hood, the outlaw of fairy-tale fame. In the role of the Earl, Fairbanks is hampered by the gorgeous mise-en-scène. The camera is held back, often to extreme long shot, in order to include the huge exteriors and interiors of the medieval castle, and the characters are dwarfed by them. This somewhat awkward use of the large, expensive sets calls to mind comparisons with D.W. Griffith’s masterful use of the towering walls of Babylon in Intolerance a few years earlier, his camera positions, movements, and contrasts of intimate details with panoramic views. Nevertheless, the opening shot of Robin Hood is a very impressive one: the drawbridge descends toward the camera, almost filling the screen, kinesthetically drawing in the spectator.
The first half of the film moves much more slowly than we expect of a Fairbanks film; though it is enlivened with occasional touches of humor, based on the Earl’s shyness with women, the film shows little of Fairbanks’ athletic grace, and the amount of intrigue as well as décor seem to have a strangling effect on him. Once Robin Hood is established in Sherwood Forest, the swashbuckling Fairbanks emerges, and the picture begins to move. If it was not clear from earlier films that Fairbanks was himself responsible for the creative use of the medium, it is surely evident here, where Allan Dwan’s direction is on the whole rather pedestrian. However, the sequences in which Fairbanks performs his stunts – the leap from the trees to the man on horseback, the chase through the castle climaxed by his slide down the great drapery, the jump across space from one wall to another, the climb up the chain of the rising drawbridge – could only have been staged by the man who devised them and performed them. And it is precisely here that the production comes to vivid life, expressing visual excitement of a kind not possible to any other medium.
Worth noting, too, is Wallace Beery’s performance as Richard: his portrayal of the historical figure as a rude-mannered, boisterous, jolly fellow rather than as an aristocrat lends a note of realism, and was much admired at the time. – EILEEN BOWSER (Film Notes, The Museum of Modern Art, 1969)."

A beautiful print, all tinted. Douglas Fairbanks' version is original and different from the others. I agree with Eileen Bowser that the film really comes to life after the long introductory sequences when the "swashbuckling Fairbanks emerges" and have nothing to add to her astute judgement.

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