Great films I
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Great films can’t be measured scientifically because greatness is extremely subjective. The artistic greatness of films (and other works of art) can never be rated or quantified, although critics, reviewers, and fans still make ten best lists, hundred best lists, all-time greatest lists, favorites lists, awards lists, and generate results of polls. Over a long period of time, it has been found that the English-language films found here in this selection of 100 Greatest Films repeatedly appear on all-time best film lists and are often noted in the collective responses of film viewers.
Arguably, there is reasonable consensus by most film historians, critics and reviewers that these selections are among cinema’s most critically-acclaimed, significant “must-see” films (of predominantly Hollywood-American production). These 100 choices were limited to English-language, theatrically-distributed, narrative feature films. [That means foreign-language films, documentaries, TV movies and mini-series, and short films were not considered.] Emphasis in these selections is purposely directed toward earlier, more classic Hollywood/American films (and other English-language films) than more recent films, although some recent films (and British films) are included.
These are films that give us pieces of time that we can never forget. They have the power to entertain, enchant, inform, and move us emotionally – and change our perceptions of things. The films below range from the earliest defining silent films of Hollywood, to all the genre types (screwball comedies, westerns, etc.), and to the blockbusters and epics of today. These ‘Greatest Films’ refuse to fade from memory even after the long passage of time – they share the unifying fact of being seen and talked about decades after they were made. Many of these Greatest Films were made many years ago, and overlooked when they were first released, yet they have endured the test of time.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) The African Queen (1951)All About Eve (1950)All Quiet On The Western Front (1930) An American In Paris (1951) Annie Hall (1977) Apocalypse Now (1979) Ben-Hur (1959) The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) The Big Parade (1925)The Big Sleep (1946) The Birth Of A Nation (1915) Blade Runner (1982)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is one of the greatest, most colorful costume dramas, swashbucklers, and romantically-tinged adventure films in film history. After the icy restrictions placed on the film industry following the establishment of the Production Code Administration (Breen Office) in the mid 1930s, Warner Bros. Studios decided to find relief from censorship by bringing about a renaissance of the historical-costume adventure film, with swordplay, sweeping action, and romantic charm.
Although its main star had portrayed a similar role in Captain Blood (1935) with the same dynamic director, Michael Curtiz, this film established 29 year-old actor Errol Flynn as a dashing, gallant, romantic, impudent but light-hearted, athletic legendary adventure hero – it is the Errol Flynn picture and the definitive film portraying the Robin Hood legend. [This was another of the twelve films that Curtiz ultimately directed with Flynn as star.] Director Michael Curtiz was brought in by studio executives to quickly replace William Keighley when incapacitated by illness, according to Variety, while other sources claimed that Curtiz was chosen to create more engaging, impactful, fast-moving and action-oriented content when Keighley couldn’t meet the tight production schedule. Both directors received screen credit for their work. [William Keighley had previously directed top-billed Flynn in the Warner Bros’ costume drama The Prince and the Pauper (1937) a year earlier.]
It expertly tells the story of the heroic Robin and his Sherwood Forest followers, who saved England from royal treachery by scheming nobles during the absence of the crusading and captured-ransomed King Richard the Lion-Hearted. And it tells the fairy-tale romance with nostalgic chivalry, colorful pageantry, simple righteousness triumphant over villainous and evil might, and spectacular action.
There were at least six silent era attempts at the story. The Reginald de Koven-Harry B. Smith light opera version of Robin Hood was originally presented in 1890. And Douglas Fairbanks starred as the infamous outlaw hero and Wallace Beery as Richard the Lion-Hearted in an early silent version of the film directed by Allan Dwan – Robin Hood (1922), reportedly the most expensive film made up to that time (at $1.6 – 2 million). In addition to his daring stunt work (sliding down a drapery, engaging in archery and swordsmanship, and other acrobatic feats), Fairbanks wrote the screenplay (with pseudonym Elton Thomas) for the fast moving, epic silent film filled with medieval pageantry.
The 1938 Warner Bros. film is expensively mounted (at $2 million, it was the studio’s largest budgeted film), and beautifully photographed in glorious and brilliant, three-strip Technicolor (Warners’ first use of color) by cinematographers Sol Polito and Tony Gaudio, especially in the Sherwood Forest sequence [filmed in Bidwell Park in Chico, California] and other scenes of costumed pageantry. [During preliminary plans for the film, it was originally expected that James Cagney would star as the legendary outlaw and contract player Guy Kibbee would play Friar Tuck.]
The spectacle includes superb casting of memorable characters, a light-hearted, but spirited story, exciting dueling and action scenes requiring extensive stunt work, and the ideal love team of de Havilland and gallant Flynn with their witty and tender romantic scenes together. [It was their third of eight films together – the first two were Captain Blood (1935) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) – and this was the first of their pairings in color.] Flynn did most of his own dueling and other action stunts except for the expert archery shooting, and was coached by fencing master Fred Cavens.
Oscar-winning Erich Wolfgang Korngold (who won his second award) created the richly orchestrated, lush score that effectively provided the musical backdrop for the action and the rich settings, and the literate screenplay was co-written by contract writer Norman Reilly Raine (who won the Academy Award in 1938 for the prestigious The Life of Emile Zola (1937)) and Seton I. Miller (who was co-author of The Sea Hawk (1940), another Flynn swashbuckler).
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Interior Direction (Carl J. Weyl), Best Original Score (Erich Wolfgang Korngold), Best Film Editing (Ralph Dawson), and Best Picture, and lost only its Best Picture recognition to Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You (1938).
Disney produced two Robin Hood versions: The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952) (Disney’s second made-in-Britain production) and the animated Robin Hood (1973). And Hammer Studios produced three Robin Hood movies in the 1950s and 1960s: Men of Sherwood Forest (1957), Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), and A Challenge for Robin Hood (1968). The 1938 film had a sequel of sorts, Robin and Marian (1976), with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn as middle-aged lovers. And Kevin Costner starred as the title character in Kevin Reynolds’ Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).
During the titles and credits, the viewer is informed that the quasi-historical story of the rogue outlaw is “Based Upon Ancient Robin Hood Legends,” although the film also borrowed from old English ballads and Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe, with its emphasis on the oppressive treatment of the Saxons by the Norman knights.
[Historically, Richard left England in late 1189, continued onto the Holy Land in mid 1190, was seized by Austria in late 1192, and returned to England (in a state processional acknowledged publicly) in March, 1194, when Prince John was in France (or Normandy). The Prince’s Nottingham Castle was seized by King Richard himself while John was still absent.]
The film opens with a lengthy historical prologue, setting the film’s time period in late 12th century England:
In the year of Our Lord 1191, when Richard, the Lion-Heart, set forth to drive the infidels from the Holy Land, he gave the Regency of his Kingdom to his trusted friend, Longchamp, instead of to his treacherous brother, Prince John. Bitterly resentful, John hoped for some disaster to befall Richard so that he, with the help of the Norman barons, might seize the throne for himself. And then on a luckless day for the Saxons…
A proclamation is read by a town crier to a crowd that news has arrived from Vienna that King Richard the Lion Hearted (Ian Hunter) has been captured in Austria by Emperor Leopold and held for ransom while returning from the Third Crusade in the Holy Land. The news at Nottingham Castle is welcomed by Richard’s brother, the sly, scheming, evil and despotic Prince John (Claude Rains) – who has usurped power and declared himself Regent of England (heir-apparent to the British throne) by self-appointment during the King’s absence and imprisonment. [The motion picture, beyond its entertainment value, also served warnings against oppression toward the dictators of the late 1930s – counterparts of Prince John.]
Ruthless Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) – the ruler of the city of Nottingham, the ineffectual High Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper), and other ruling Norman nobles and knights in the upper class (with Prince John) plot to brutally subjugate and overtax the Saxons (pretending that the money will pay the King’s ransom) and take over power in the kingdom.
In Sherwood Forest located near the city of Nottingham [filmed in Chico, California’s Bidwell Park], Sir Guy and a group of knights discover Much the Miller’s Son (Herbert Mundin) poaching a royal deer, an offense punishable by death. When asked if he knows “it’s death to kill the King’s deer,” Much replies indignantly, denouncing their tyranny:
Yes, and death from hunger if I don’t, thanks to you and the rest of you Norman cutthroats at Nottingham Castle…You can beat and starve our Saxons now, but when King Richard escapes, he’ll take you by the scruff of the neck and fling you into the sea.
Gisbourne moves to strike Much with his mace, but the weapon is shot out of his hand by an arrow out of the bow of the dashing, athletic, and heroic Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn). Robin, wearing a green outfit with brown woodman’s cap and hunting boots had viewed the entire encounter with partner Will Scarlet (Patric Knowles). Gisbourne also threatens Robin with the death penalty for opposing him. Robin asks: “Are there no exceptions?” as he draws a second arrow and aims it at Gisbourne’s heart, forcing him to back down and gallop off with his party of knights. Grateful for having his life saved, Much pledges himself to Robin’s service:
From this day on, I’ll follow only you. Why there isn’t a poor Saxon in all of Nottinghamshire that doesn’t know and bless Sir Robin of Locksley. Take me as your servant. Why in all the forest, there isn’t a hunter as good as me. I ask no pay, just to follow you.
To introduce the next memorable scene, another description:
The great cold hall of Nottingham Castle, the stronghold of Sir Guy Gisbourne, knew an unaccustomed warmth this night, for Prince John and his friends were met to celebrate a promising future.
Prince John holds an extravagant evening banquet at Nottingham Castle for the ruling Norman barons that are assisting him in his conspiracy. Prince John speaks to the gathered throng:
Well, this is what we Normans like – good food, good company, and a beautiful woman to flatter me.
At the head table with Prince John is the lovely Norman ward of King Richard (before he left on the Third Crusade), the seemingly demure and innocent, yet regal Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Olivia de Havilland). She is an unsuitable match for an arranged marriage with Gisbourne. With tongue-in-cheek humor, the matchmaker Prince John suggests Gisbourne for her love interest, but she graciously defers:
Prince John: Was it worthwhile, coming with me from London to see what stout fellows our Nottingham friends are? Take Sir Guy. He’s from London, one of our most renowned defenders of the realm.
Marian: Must I take him, your Highness?
Prince: Why, you like him, don’t you?
Marian: Well, he’s a Norman, of course.
Prince: Is that the only reason for liking him?
Marian: Isn’t that reason enough for a royal ward…?
Prince: Nay, I not force you, my lady. But he’s our most powerful friend in these shires. And he’s already in love with you. If I could promise him marriage to a royal ward, it might help my plans.
Marian: Perhaps when I know him better.
Prince: Of course. You’re a very wise young woman.
Without real concern or sincerity, the Prince asks everyone: “Any more objections to the new tax from our Saxon friends?” One of the nobles responds:
Noble: Objections your Highness? With a Saxon dangling from every gallows tree…?
Prince John: Well said…but not too many mind, else we’ll have nobody left to till our land or pay the tax.
Sir Guy Gisbourne tells of his encounter with the notorious Sir Robin of Locksley – one Saxon noble he is unable to subdue. The Prince responds that he has heard “precious little else since I’ve been here.” Then he asks: “What’s his latest outrage?” Sir Guy admits it was something of a problem for him to take him prisoner. Lady Marian demurs and mocks him: “A Saxon a problem?” Robin is considered:
…a reckless rogue who goes around the shires stirring up the Saxons against authority, and he has the insolence to set himself up as the protector of the people.
The Prince orders his Sheriff of Nottingham to immediately capture Robin and hang him.
At this point, introducing himself with a dramatic entrance, the handsome, but uninvited, devil-may-care Robin unexpectedly bursts through the gate to the great banquet hall with the body of a slain deer draped across his shoulders. Robin throws the deer on the table before host Prince John, who reacts in an amused, gracious fashion:
Let him approach…By my faith, but you’re a bold rascal. Robin. I like you.
Robin is introduced to the beautiful Lady Marian – she immediately detests his company: “What you hope can hardly be important!” Typical of the entire film’s jocular tone, Robin replies wittily:
What a pity your manners don’t match your looks, Your Highness.
The Prince invites Robin to sit in a chair at the table in front of him, and orders:
Prince John: Bring Sir Robin food! At once do you hear. Such impudence must support a mighty appetite.
Robin: True enough, your Highness. We Saxons have little to fatten on by the time your tax gatherers are through.
The Sheriff asks Robin if he feels the Saxons are overtaxed, to which he honestly replies:
Robin: Overtaxed, overworked and paid off with a knife, a club or a rope.
Marian: Why, you speak treason.
Involved in the evil machinations of the Prince, the Bishop of the Black Canons (Montagu Love) retorts: “I’d advise you to curb that wagging tongue of yours!” Lady Marian is unimpressed by Robin’s treasonous activities, even when Robin boldly announces resistance: “We Saxons aren’t going to put up with these oppressions much longer.” Prince John explains the reasons for the taxes – to collect the ransom to release the King from imprisonment by Emperor Leopold. He also announces he has deposed Longchamps as Regent and appointed himself to take charge.
Sir Robin lays down his own laws – he promises rebellion against anyone who offers allegiance to the “traitorous” Prince John and denounces his plans to usurp the throne. He warns the Normans that he will take a Norman life for each Saxon life:
Robin: What else do you call a man who takes advantage of the King’s misfortune to seize his power? Now, with the help of a sweet band of cutthroats, you’ll try to grind a ransom for him out of every helpless Saxon, a ransom that will be used not to release Richard but to buy your way to the throne.
Sir Guy: Let me ram those words down his throat, your Highness!
Prince John: Oh no. Later. Let him spout for a moment. (To Robin) And what do you propose to do?
Robin: I’ll organize a revolt, exact a death for a death, and I’ll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand up free men, and strike a blow for Richard and England.
Prince John: Have you finished?
Robin: I’m only just beginning. From this night on, I’ll use every means in my power to fight you!
One of John’s henchmen aims his spear at the back of Robin’s chair, missing him as he dodges to the side at the last instant. Robin overturns the chair backwards, uses it as a shield, and then draws his sword and fights off the castle guard as they attempt to seize him. He sends forth a deadly accurate flurry of arrows from his bow, keeping his pursuers from following him out the large hall’s great doors. With acrobatic agility, he escapes into Sherwood Forest on a waiting horse with Will Scarlet and Much the Miller’s Son.
Robin is officially declared and branded a rebellious outlaw. His possessions are to be forfeited to the crown, his title is taken away, and Prince John vows to make the people who support Robin feel the pressure by mercilessly collecting the ransom with the most brutal means possible. The arrogant Sir Guy is presented with a death sentence for Robin and promises:
I’ll have him dangling in a week.
Robin is committed to rebellion and proceeds to recruit a band of followers from Nottinghamshire. In a legendary moment in the forest, red-clad Will Scarlet watches Robin tackle the boisterous Little John (Alan Hale, who played the same role in the 1922 silent film version). They meet in the middle of a narrow log footbridge spanning a stream and engage in a hilarious quarterstaff jousting duel. Robin is beaten by his opponent and dunked during the bout, but afterwards makes Little John his chief lieutenant. After being defeated, Robin comments: “I wanted to see what you were made of, and I did.”
The word is spread from ear to ear that Robin will meet with the peasants in Sherwood, encouraging them to band together to revolt against the oppression:
I’ve called you here as freeborn Englishmen, loyal to our king. While he reigned over us, we lived in peace. But since Prince John has seized the regency, Guy of Gisbourne and the rest of his traitors have murdered and pillaged. You’ve all suffered from their cruelty – the ear loppings, the beatings, the blindings with hot irons, the burning of our farms and homes, the mistreatment of our women. It’s time to put an end to this! (Cheers.) Now, this forest is wide. It can shelter and clothe and feed a band of good, determined men – good swordsmen, good archers, good fighters. Men, if you’re willing to fight for our people, I want you! Are you with me?
The men enthusiastically rally to his call for resistance to the oppression and tyranny of the Prince, becoming his Merry Men of Sherwood by kneeling and swearing to this oath:
That you, the freemen of this forest, swear to despoil the rich only to give to the poor, to shelter the old and the helpless, to protect all women rich or poor, Norman or Saxon. Swear to fight for a free England. To protect her loyally until the return of our King and sovereign Richard the Lion Heart. And swear to fight to the death against our oppressors!
Another historical description summarizes the reign of terror and brutality waged by Prince John:
But Prince John’s reign became even more murderous. Terror spread among the helpless Saxons who knew that resistance meant death. Soon death became preferable to oppression and the defiant oath became more than a thing of words.
Robin’s elusive men use black arrows to kill and strike down the evil, villainous Prince’s men who continue to oppress the common people with hangings, theft and cruelty. One black arrow bears a warning, and strikes the table where the Sheriff and Sir Guy are plotting more brutal extortion with cruel tax collectors.
In a light-hearted moment, Robin steals a leg of mutton from a jovial, pious, fat Friar Tuck of Fountain’s Abbey (Eugene Pallette) sleeping at the foot of a tree by a stream. At the point of a sword, Robin teaches him “obedience” and forces the rotund cleric to carry him piggyback in a shortcut across the stream. Halfway across, the friar dumps Robin over his head into the water, and they break into a lively broadsword fight.
Friar Tuck, like Little John, is recruited into Robin’s band of Merry Men in Sherwood Forest, promised all the food he can ever feast on in the greenwood. Little John notices the friar’s round girth:
Little John: He’s well named Friar Tuck. It would take half the deer in Sherwood Forest to fill that cabin.
Tuck: And twice that to fill your empty head!
Will rides up and is assured that the new recruit is one of them. Will responds: “One of us? He looks like three of us.”
Will alerts Robin and his men to the next day’s rich, but well-armed Norman caravan transporting tax money to London. It was collected to fill the private coffers of Normans rather than to pay the King’s ransom. The small army, led by Sir Guy, will pass through the impenetrable Sherwood Forest on its way to London and Nottingham. Robin and his outlaws plan an ambush to waylay the treasure caravan. At a signal, Robin’s Merry Men appear out of bushes, fly out of trees on camouflaged vines, swoop and dive down to the ground and bloodlessly subdue Sir Guy’s retinue. After swinging from a treetop, Robin delivers another welcome to Maid Marian, who has accompanied the Norman column, riding on a palomino horse [called Golden Cloud – that later became Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger]:
Welcome to Sherwood, my lady!
Apparently, Robin has put himself in the path of danger to also encounter the Maid Marian, with whom he has fallen in love. As Gisbourne and the Sheriff are led away, Sir Guy threatens that Robin will hang for his insolent actions. Robin gallantly informs Sir Guy that courting Lady Marian is worth the risk:
Hanging would be a small price to pay for the company of such a charming lady.
Marian is scornful of him and his charm: “What can a Saxon hedge robber know of charm – or ladies?”
The two captive prisoners are forced to dress in poor rags – they exchange their clothes with the Merry Men. Robin and his men attend a feast at a banquet in the woods. Robin speaks to Lady Marian, his reluctant guest, about the joy he has brought to his band of followers:
Robin: To them, this is heaven. Silks for rags. Kindness instead of riches. Limitless food instead of hunger. Why, they’re actually happy!
Marian: Are they?
Robin: Aren’t you even a little pleased to see them enjoying themselves?
Marian: I think it’s revolting.
Robin: Ha. Your life’s been very sheltered, hasn’t it, Marian? Too sheltered perhaps. But if you could know these people as I know them, their infinite patience, loyalty, goodness…
A member of Robin’s band calls everyone to the banquet table: “To the tables, everybody, and stuff yourselves!” At first, Marian hates him for being a Saxon outlaw, and disdainfully refuses to eat: “I’m afraid the company has spoiled my appetite.” At the banquet, Robin pledges to divert the collected ransom funds from the captured group (that the Prince was planning to keep for himself) and pay the ransom for the King.
Robin: Are you really interested in learning why I turned outlaw? Or are you afraid of the truth, or of me perhaps?
Marian: I am afraid of nothing, least of all you.
As she hears and sees more, Lady Marian begins to learn the truth of his activities and the justice of his cause, and her opinion and attitudes toward him soften and change. When shown the once-content and harmless people who are now mutilated and oppressed victims of Prince John’s injustice, Marian is more convinced and impressed by his dedication. She witnesses Robin’s kindness to the poor, lame and oppressed, and hears their gratitude to him, although he realizes for her that it is “hardly an inspiring sight for such pretty eyes.”
Marian (questioning): But you’ve taken Norman lives.
Robin: Yes, those that deserved it, cruel and unjust.
Marian: You’re a strange man.
Robin: Strange? Because I can feel for beaten, helpless people?
Marian: No. You’re strange because you want to do something about it. You’re willing to defy Sir Guy, even Prince John himself, to risk your own life. And one of those men was a Norman!
Robin: Norman or Saxon, what’s that matter? It’s injustice I hate, not the Normans.
Marian: But it’s lost you your rank, your lands. It’s made you a hunted outlaw when you might have lived in comfort and security. What’s your reward for all this?
Robin: (surprised) Reward? Just don’t understand do you?
Marian: I’m sorry. I do begin to see…a little…now.
Robin: You do, then that’s reward enough. (He kisses her hand gently.)
Lady Marian is personally escorted to the castle on horseback with a changed attitude and growing love for Robin, something not unnoticed by the Sheriff. During the forest banquet, Bess (Una O’Connor), Marian’s flirtatious yet cronish lady-in-waiting/maid servant develops a romance with Much the Miller’s Son.
Sir Guy and the High Sheriff are returned after the robbery, on foot, penniless and in rags – they have been taught a lesson in humility. Prince John is furious when the “two nincompoops” return without the tax money. John vows that Robin must be captured. At the Sheriff’s suggestion, they plan to stage an archery contest at Nottingham to outwit and trap Robin. Robin, the finest archer in England, is expected to be the tournament’s winner even though he might be disguised. He will be irresistibly drawn to the first prize of a Golden Arrow offered by the hand of Lady Marian, especially with his warm regard for her.
The memorable archery tournament challenge [filmed in Pasadena, California in the old Busch Gardens] opens with a fanfare and parade. On the observation platform, the Sheriff’s voices his hope: “I hope our little golden hook will catch the fish.” Though Robin is suspicious of their conniving trap, he cannot resist and confidently enters the contest, disguised as a tinker. He wins the preliminary rounds and John and Gisbourne suspect Robin’s identity. They close in with guards just before the final round.
At the conclusion of the exciting contest when the target is moved back 20 paces, Robin splits the shaft of his opponent’s arrow after the latter makes a perfect bull’s-eye. “Godfrey of Sherwood” is pronounced “Champion Archer of England,” even though John and Gisbourne know that only Robin Hood could perform such a miraculously-accurate feat. Robin is arrested and almost escapes after putting up a spectacular struggle, but he is dragged from his horse by soldiers and captured.
Gisbourne is responsible for Robin’s punishment – the outlaw is sentenced for crimes of:
outlawry, theft, murder, abduction, false pretenses, contempt of the crown, poaching in the royal forests and high treason.
Robin requests other counts be added to the charges: “To love one’s country, to protect serfs from injustice and be loyal to one’s king.” Robin is held in a dungeon awaiting execution the next day in a public hanging in the town square.
A converted ally and troubled by the thought of Robin’s execution, Marian arranges to help Robin escape. She learns from Bess that Robin’s outlaw comrades can be contacted at the Saracen’s Head Tavern, a place they often frequent. Under cover of darkness, Lady Marian meets Robin’s men there with a message and a plan for rescue. After convincing them of her sincerity, she warns his men so they can organize and position themselves in the crowd during the execution to facilitate his escape.
The next day, Robin is brought to the gallows in a wagon and prepared for the hanging. At a signal, his men shoot a guard and the hangman after which Robin leaps from the gallows onto a horse (even though his hands are still bound behind his back! – an unbelievable stunt) and gallops through the city. His men block the way of his pursuers with carts and wagons.
At the main city gate after all his men have passed through, Robin cuts the portcullis rope, closing the grating over the entrance. Holding on to the rope, the weight of the closing portcullis swings him up to the top of the gate entrance. Acrobatically, he climbs over the main gate, slides down the rope on the other side, and successfully escapes with his men on horseback. [Flynn used a stunt double for this and the previous action stunt.]
That night, Robin climbs up the ivy on the steep Nottingham castle wall to the chamber window of his beautiful lady love, to express his gratitude for her daring part in his rescue. When he reaches the top of the wall, he overhears Marian’s thoughts on the subject of love as she speaks to her maid Bess. He is startled to hear her confess that she is in love with him:
Lady Marian: He is different from anyone I’ve ever known. He’s, well he’s brave and he’s reckless, and yet he’s…gentle and kind. He’s not brutal like…tell me, when you are in love, is it, well, is it hard to think of anybody but, but one person?
Bess: Yes, indeed my lady, and sometimes it’s a bit of trouble sleeping.
Lady Marian: I know, but it’s a nice kind of not sleeping.
Bess: And it affects your appetite too. Not that I’ve noticed it’s done that to you, except when he was in the dungeon waiting to be hanged.
Lady Marian: And does it make you want to be with him all the time?
Bess: Yes, and when he’s with you, your legs are as weak as water. Tell me, my lady. When he looks at you, do you feel a kind of prickly feeling like goosy pimples running all up and down your spine?…Then there’s not a doubt of it.
Lady Marian: Doubt of what?
Robin: That you’re in love.
She is surprised when he enters through the chamber window, high in the castle wall. He thanks her for her assistance in his rescue. She is embarrassed to realize that he has overheard her confession of love. Denying her feelings of love, she excuses her thoughts as a “game.” In an amorous conversation exhibiting one-upmanship, the two banter and jest with each other. They share a tender, innocent, storybook romantic scene on the open balcony. They are equally in love with each other:
Robin: …I couldn’t help overhearing about that ‘prickly feeling.’ I’m very glad I did come.
Lady Marian: That, that was a game. Now you’ve got to go at once.
Robin: Game, eh? Well, couldn’t I join in? Of course, I probably wouldn’t be as good at it as, uh, (he playfully pinches Bess’ chin) this pretty young girl. I could do my best.
Lady Marian: Bess, will you leave us? Please.
Robin: Now let’s see, where does this game begin? Oh, I know. It’s simple. We’ll start where you are in love with me. You are, aren’t you? Because I am with you. Terribly. That’s why I came. I had to see you.
Lady Marian: You must go at once and I don’t love you.
Robin: Oh! You sure?
Lady Marian: Yes.
Robin: Very well then, I’ll go. (Robin retreats to the window to descend the ivy.) This is rather unfriendly of you, exposing me to my enemies like this….Goodbye my lady.
Lady Marian: Robin!
Lady Marian: Please.
Robin: Then you do love me, don’t you? Don’t you?
Lady Marian: You know I do.
Robin: Well, that’s different. (Robin re-enters the window and they share an embrace and kiss.)
Lady Marian: You know you’re very impudent.
Lady Marian: You are. And when my real guardian King Richard finds out about your being in love with me…
Robin: I know, he’ll make me court jester.
Lady Marian: He won’t. He’ll stick your funny head on London’s Gate.
Robin: A very fine decoration it will be, my bold Norman beauty.
Lady Marian: I’m not bold.
Robin: But you’re a Norman…And you are a beauty. You are the most beautiful…
Lady Marian: And you’re leaving here at once. Please darling! Every minute you’re here, you’re in danger.
Robin: I know…
After expressing her concern about his safety, he asks the captivatingly-beautiful heroine to join him in Sherwood:
Robin: …Marian, will you come with me?
Lady Marian: To Sherwood? (He nods)
Robin: I’ve nothing to offer you but a life of hardship and danger. But we’d be together.
Lady Marian: ..a problem dear.
Robin: I know. It’s asking a lot. But who knows how long it will be before Richard returns. Friar Tuck would marry us. Will you?
Lady Marian: Because I love you Robin, I’d come. Even the danger would mean nothing if you were with me.
Robin: Then you will.
Lady Marian: No…
Rather than join him, Marian decides to stay in Nottingham to provide intelligence on John’s activities and watch for treachery in the castle: “I could help much more by watching for treachery here and leaving you free to protect Richard’s people until he returns. Now do you see why you have to go back to your men alone?” After gallantly courting her and encouraged by her love, Robin agrees to go back to his men without her. She bids him goodbye: “Go now quickly, dearest.” They tenderly kiss a few times until Robin must descend on the ivy down the castle wall.
Strangers at Kent Road Tavern disguised in clerical robes turn out to be King Richard and his men who have secretly returned to England from the Crusades. They are detected by the treacherous Bishop of the Black Canons (Montagu Love) who enters the tavern during their stay. Prince John is notified of the King’s presence and commissions a sole assassin, Dicken Malbete (Harry Cording) to murder Richard.
Overhearing the plot against her beloved, Lady Marian (who is loyally committed to saving Robin) writes a letter to tell him to find and warn Richard. Realizing that his amorous affections for Marian have been outdone by Robin and that she is in league with the outlaw, the nasty Sir Guy sees through Marian’s denials and protestations of innocence regarding her association and feelings for Robin:
You’re very charming, Lady Marian, but not exactly clever.
He believes she has been aiding Robin and his men with information. He intercepts her letter and has her arrested for her part in helping the outlaw Robin and the King. After being brought before Prince John, Marian defends her beliefs:
Sir Guy: Not only has she consorted with this Saxon rebel, found guilty of outlawry, theft, murder, abduction, and high treason, but she has betrayed her own Norman people. Are you not ashamed my Lady Marian?
Lady Marian: Yes, I am, bitterly, but it’s the shame that I’m a Norman, after seeing the things my fellow countrymen have done to England. At first, I wouldn’t believe. Because I was a Norman, I wouldn’t let myself believe that the horrors you inflicted on the Saxons were just and right. I know now why you tried so hard to kill this outlaw whom you despise. It’s because he was the one man in England who protected the helpless against a lot of beasts who were drunk on human blood. And now you intend to murder your own brother.
Prince John: You’ll be sorry you interfered.
Lady Marian: Sorry? I’d do it again if you killed me for it.
Prince John: A prophetic speech, my lady, for that is exactly what is going to happen to you.
Lady Marian: You wouldn’t dare.
Her punishment will be death for high treason, but she reminds Prince John that only a king can pass a death sentence on a royal ward: “I’m the royal ward of King Richard and no one but the King himself has the right to condemn me to death.” With a wry smile, John promises to condemn her to execution following his crowning in a few days: “You are quite right, my dear. And it shall be a King. I will order your execution for high treason exactly forty-eight hours from now. Take her away.” Lady Marian is sent to the dungeon in the castle to await execution. Fortunately, Bess (who wrote the letter for Lady Marian) sends word to Much, who is dispatched to intercept the King’s assassin.
Meanwhile, Robin and his men waylay the band of strangers dressed in black monks outfits that are traveling through Sherwood. Identifying themselves as friends of Richard, they are invited to one of his forest banquets. On their way to the tables, Robin explains how the King forsook his duties at home:
His task was here at home defending his own people instead of deserting them to fight in foreign lands…I’ll condemn anything that leaves the task of holding England for Richard to outlaws like me.
Their encounter is interrupted when a wounded Much is carried in by Will Scarlet with word of the assassination plot on the King. Much has killed the assassin, but has suffered wounds. Robin shows his loyalty to the King and orders his men:
Richard must be found. He must be found and brought here to safety…Don’t rest, day or night, any of you, until he’s found.
Suddenly, one of the monks removes his cowl, revealing that he is King Richard who has returned incognito to England with his men. Robin responds: “Sire!” and they kneel in awe before their acknowledged and long-missing sovereign. They are told to rise.
They vow to disrupt the next day’s coronation ceremonies, where the Bishop of the Black Canons is to proclaim Prince John the new King. They also vow to act quickly to save Lady Marian who has risked her life to warn them. Knowing that it would be useless to storm the castle, Robin and his men call on the Bishop that evening at his abbey to persuade him to suggest a way to rescue Marian and stop the coronation. The next day, they have coerced him to lead them, all disguised in black as monks, to the coronation day ceremonies at Nottingham Castle. Robin’s entire band (including Richard and his men) sneak into the castle as part of the ceremony and interrupt the Prince’s plan to announce King Richard’s death and have himself crowned the new King. Sir Guy urges his men to seize the outlaws.
Sir Guy of Gisbourne engages Robin in one of the best swashbuckling broadsword fights ever put on the screen. At the beginning of their climactic, prolonged, exciting, vicious duel, they taunt each other with a superb dialogue exchange:
Robin: Did I upset your plans?
Sir Guy: You’ve come to Nottingham once too often.
Robin: When this is over my friend, there’ll be no need for me to come again.
The theatrical scene alternates between closeups of the two opponents and long shots of their shadows. They struggle throughout the castle, winding down the curving castle’s stone staircase to the dungeons, casting gigantic shadows on stone walls and enormous columns and pillars, and overturning a giant candelabra that crashes to the floor. Sir Guy is fought to the death. Then, Robin forces the dungeon guard to release Lady Marian into his arms.
In the final scene, after the overthrow of the Normans and the reinstatement of the King, Prince John and the other traitors are banished for life. The King restores justice and brings peace to England once again:
And I further banish from my realm all injustices and oppressions which have burdened my people. And I pray that under my rule, Normans and Saxons alike will share the rights of Englishmen.
The King has some parting words with Robin, offering the outlaw anything he wishes:
King Richard: And what about you Robin?
Robin: My sword is yours, Sire, now and always.
King Richard: Is there nothing England’s King can grant the outlaw who showed him his duty to his country?
Robin: Yes, your majesty. A pardon for the men of Sherwood.
King Richard: Granted with all my heart. (Cheers.) But is there nothing for yourself?
Robin (looking at Marian): There’s but one thing else, Sire.
The King (looking at Marian and asking): And do you too wish…?
Lady Marian: (beaming) More than anything in the world, Sire.
As a reward for his bravery, Robin is commanded to accept the King’s order to have his title and his estates restored. Robin is also restored to knighthood and renamed Baron of Locksley, after which he receives the King’s consent to marry Lady Marian:
King: Kneel Robin Hood. (Robin kneels.) Arise Baron of Locksley, Earl of Sherwood and Nottingham, and Lord of all the lands and manors appertaining thereto. (Robin rises.) My first command to you, my Lord Earl, is to take in marriage the hand of the Lady Marian. (His men cheer and gather around.) What say you to that, Baron of Locksley?
Robin (after ducking out of the circle and running to the door with Marian, he grins and responds): May I obey all your commands with equal pleasure, Sire!
With a boyish grin, Robin departs with Marian out the massive doors of the Great Hall of Nottingham Castle. The great doors close behind them.