US Release Date: 10-18-1922
Directed by: Allan Dwan
- Douglas Fairbanks, as
- The Earl of Huntingdon / Robin Hood
- Wallace Beery, as
- Richard the Lion-Hearted
- Sam De Grasse, as
- Prince John
- Enid Bennett, as
- Lady Marian Fitzwalter
- Paul Dickey, as
- Sir Guy of Gisbourne
- Alan Hale, as
- The Squire / Little John
- William Lowery, as
- The High Sheriff of Nottingham
- Roy Coulson, as
- The King's Jester
- Billie Bennett, as
- Lady Marian's Serving Woman
- Willard Louis, as
- Friar Tuck
- Bud Geary, as
- Will Scarlett
- Lloyd Talman as
They don't build sets like this anymore.
Coming right on the heels of the success of The Mark of Zorro and The Three Musketeers, Douglas Fairbanks made the original feature length Hollywood version of Robin Hood. He was now the biggest action star in the world and this Robin Hood is an epic extravaganza. At a cost of 1.4 million dollars it was the most expensive Hollywood movie produced up to that time. The castle set for this movie, though not as visually spectacular as Griffith’s Babylonian set from Intolerance, was reportedly the biggest set ever constructed for a silent movie. Douglas Fairbank’s Robin Hood also holds the distinction of being the first movie to open with a gala premiere at Grauman’s new Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.
The movie opens with a jousting contest between the Earl of Huntingdon (later to become Robin Hood) and Sir Guy of Gisbourne while what seems like all of England looks on, including the noble King Richard and his evil brother Prince John. Pageantry of the medieval variety abounds and it is easy to see where all the money was spent.
Unfortunately the story is slow in starting. Eventually, after feasting and celebrating and a bit of romancing with Maid Marian, the Earl of Huntingdon departs with King Richard and company for the crusades. Later a message is sent to him from Marian telling of the evil deeds of Prince John acting as Regent. Huntingdon leaves the crusades and returns to England where Robin Hood is born.
We don’t see Fairbanks as the merry rogue until well over an hour into the movie. Yes it is impressive to the eye but the story needed to be sped along. The final hour, however, is filled with brilliant nonstop action leading to a proper smashing ending.
Douglas Fairbanks wasn’t the most handsome man in Hollywood but he was an amazing acrobat, especially when you consider that he was pushing 40 at the time. He performs several notable stunts, the most famous being where he escapes from the castle by sliding down a huge curtain. Every move the guy makes as Robin Hood is graceful, he never just walks, he prances.
The supporting cast is good. Wallace Beery, who was often cast as the heavy, gets to play the noble King Richard the Lion-Hearted. Alan Hale created his signature role as Little John for this movie. He would reprise the part alongside Errol Flynn for the more famous The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938 and it would be his last screen role alongside John Derek in 1950’s Rogues of Sherwood Forest.
The ending of the silent era was a unique period in cinema history. Movies that were cutting edge big budget spectacles one minute became forgotten relics the next. Thankfully many of these movies have survived to an age where they are being once again appreciated for the art form that they were. Robin Hood is too long and perhaps even overproduced but it is nonetheless an impressive achievement that deserves more recognition than it has received.
Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood.
Isn't it funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same in Hollywood. Movies today might be shot in high definition color with cutting edge special effects and Dolby Digital Surround Sound, but the origins of films released today, can be traced back to the early days of cinema.
Superhero movies, for instance, are currently all the rage and they tend to follow the same formula. They're mostly bloated epics, with large budgets, that feature an origin tale and get remade every few years. While this may seem like a modern trend, Hollywood was already doing the exact same thing in the Silent era, with movies like this one.
The character of Robin Hood had already appeared in several shorts before Douglas Fairbanks took on the part, but his was the first feature length version. As Patrick mentioned, it was one of the most expensive films of its day and no expense was spared on the elaborate and enormous sets. Fairbanks was the preeminent action star of his day and this was a big budget action movie of the kind that Hollywood is still churning out today.
Patrick noted the film's biggest flaw. It's just too damn long. Like too many superhero films, we are forced to sit through a long backstory before the hero ever dons his costume. What we want to see is Robin and his merry band living it up in Nottingham forest, but instead, over an hour is wasted just getting Robin to that point. His backstory could just as easily been summed up in a few title cards at the beginning of the film.
Fairbanks was pushing 40, and it shows in the closeups, as does his apparent weight gain since Zorro. However, he does move with the energy and gracefulness of a much younger man. Once he dons the tights, he never stops moving, seemingly with boundless energy. This makes his character entertaining, but his exuberance doesn't suit the character's backstory that took so long to tell. Over the first hour, the love of his life dies (so far as he knows) and he is branded a traitor by his liege lord and best friend, and yet he just keeps getting jollier and jollier.
I agree with Patrick again that the final hour is easily the film's best. After the Earl of Huntingdon finally becomes Robin Hood, the pacing of the story is kicked into high gear and it flies by. It's only during this point that the spirit of the film comes close to matching 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, which still stands as the definitive Hollywood version of the Robin Hood legend.
With roughly a century of movies behind them, you'd think that Hollywood would have perfected the art of filmmaking by now. Time and time again however, we see them make the same mistakes. The technology has improved, but the stories, and often the flaws, remain the same.
Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood.
Bigger is not always better. I agree completely with my brothers that the first hour of this film needed to be cut out almost entirely. It is not until Robin Hood shows up that the film finally becomes more than a curiosity.
The sight of Douglas Fairbanks running and jumping around that large castle set is truly the epitome of Fairbank's charm. He was the movies very first action film star and he was always good when in motion. When forced to actually act he was at best passable. The scene of him being chased in the castle and of him in the trees would be duplicated by Errol Flynn years later but other than the fact that they are in color, are really not any better.
My favorite scene is when Robin Hood single handedly storms the castle to rescue Marian. He climbs the drawbridge chain. He dodges an arrow, and sword fights some guards. He climbs a wall and catches Marian, who just fell out of a window. He then fights Sir Guy of Gisbourne. I told you, no one is better than Fairbanks once he gets going.
As a baseball fan, I was thrilled to discover that Fairbanks, also a baseball fan, hired the entire Los Angeles Angels baseball team to play Robin Hood's Merry Men. The Angels were just a local minor league team at the time. I find it pretty cool that long before Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and C. J. Wilson were doing television commercials, these players were in a major Hollywood film with the biggest action star of the day.
Photos © Copyright Douglas Fairbanks Pictures (1922)