RogerBW's Blog

Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood 07 August 2020

1922 adventure, dir. Allen Dwan, Douglas Fairbanks, Wallace Beery; IMDb / allmovie. The Earl of Huntingdon goes off to the Crusades with King Richard…

This isn't the first filmed version of the story; there's a half-hour version from 1912 which I haven't yet found. But it was the first film ever to have a Hollywood premiere (at Grauman's), and with a budget of around a million dollars was one of the most expensive films of the 1920s. And one can see that budget on screen; long shots of the castle may use matte paintings, but the huge interiors have people moving around them and using the various stairs and openings. Interestingly, there's a very familiar shape of a staircase curling up round a wide pillar which would be re-used in the Errol Flynn film – presumably re-built, since the sets for this would have been destroyed after production, and nobody sword-fights up and down this one.

This is the "dispossessed nobleman" version of the story; indeed, we're 40 minutes into this 132-minute film before anyone mentions outlaws. Before that it's the Earl of Huntingdon,

trusted friend of King Richard, winning a tournament and being appointed second-in-command on the Crusade but "afeared of women"… until he rescues Marian from the attentions of Prince John, of course…

This Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Dickey) is splendidly dissipated, as indeed is this Prince John; and Richard looks even more like an idiot than usual to trust them, since he can see what they're like even before he goes off on the Crusade. Meanwhile the band of outlaws is already up and running before Robin turns up to take them over.

I'm not particularly versed in the grammar of silent film; I find the comedy remarkably heavy-handed compared with the straightforward staginess of other moods, and I'm tempted to call it "Robin and the Jumping Bandits"; but what really surprises me is the lack of stunts from Fairbanks. There's plenty of general tumbling and bouncing around, certainly, but only one of the big set pieces for which I know him from films like The Black Pirate (1926), a dagger-slide down the back side of a tapestry (aided, it seems, by the placement of a playground slide out of view).

Still, the pace doesn't lag once things get moving, and it's easy enough to follow the body language; it's necessarily a different style of acting from what I mostly know, but works pretty well, and Fairbanks in particular does an excellent job of showing moods with just a small facial expression. A bit more variation in appearance wouldn't have hurt, mind, especially when they're wearing mail coifs a lot of the time…

Full film here (though it's been tinted into various colours scene by scene; I just turned down the saturation on my player).

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

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