We saw Robin Hood (1938) at the Stanford Theater last night, and...damn. I cast around for a decent essay on the movie, and finally remembered that Roger Ebert periodically expressed views on classic films.
The visual language of the film is just stunning:
Consider the opulent tapestries of the castle interiors, and reds and golds and grays and greens of Milo Anderson's costumes, the lush greens of Sherwood Forest (actually the studio ranch at Chico, Calif.). The cinematographers, Sol Polito and Tony Gaudio, were using the original three-strip Technicolor process, which involved cumbersome cameras and a lot of extra lighting, but produced a richness of color that modern color films cannot rival...
Their love scenes, so simple and direct, made me reflect that modern love scenes in action movies are somehow too realistic; they draw too much on psychology and not enough on romance and fable. It is touching and revealing to see the lovers in middle age in "Robin and Marian" (1976), with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn bridging the poignancy of their long separation, but how much more satisfying on an elementary level to see Flynn and de Havilland playing their characters as the instruments of fate; they come together not simply because of love or desire, but because they are so destined. Their union suggests the medieval ideal of chivalric love, in which marriage is a form of God's will.
The swashbuckling in the movie is thrilling precisely because it is mostly real. The weakness of modern special effects pictures is that much of the action is obviously impossible, and some of the computer animation defies the laws of gravity and physics. It is no more possible to be thrilled by Spider-Man's actions than by the Road Runner's. It is more exciting to see the real Jackie Chan scampering up a wall than to see the computer-assisted Jackie Chan flying...
The intimate scenes have a directness that is almost bold. When Robin and Marian look in each other's eyes and confess their love, they do it without edge, without spin, without arch poetry. The movie knows when to be simple. And it is the bond between Robin and Marian, after all, that stands at the heart of the movie. The ideal hero must do good, defeat evil, have a good time and win the girl. "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is like a textbook on how to get that right.What he said.