Robin Hood's appeal tested again at Cannes

Tue May 11, 2010 9:41pm EDT
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By Gregg Kilday

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - If Robin Hood had never existed, Hollywood would have invented him.

In fact, whether there was an actual person behind the Robin Hood sung of in English ballads -- a matter of some debate -- the outlaw of Sherwood Forest owes his present-day celebrity to the big screen, beginning with Douglas Fairbanks' silent-era 1922 swashbuckler.

"America more or less hijacked Robin Hood at that point," says Thomas Hahn, a professor of English at the University of Rochester and Robin Hood scholar. "The movie took a local English folk hero and turned him into an international icon of popular culture."

Robin Hood's enduring appeal will be tested once again as the Cannes Film Festival gets under way Wednesday with the world premiere of Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," with Russell Crowe in the titular role of an archer in the employ of King Richard the Lionheart who takes up the cause of the common man against the British crown.

Crowe's Robin won't just be challenging King John, though. The New Zealand-born actor will also be measured against a commanding lineup of previous Robins: Errol Flynn's raffishly athletic turn in 1938's "The Adventures of Robin Hood," for many the quintessential Robin Hood movie; the 1952 Disney version "The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men," starring the good-natured Richard Todd; Sean Connery's autumnal take on an aging Robin in 1976's "Robin and Marian"; the avenging action hero played by Kevin Costner in 1991's "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"; and even the insouciant Robin of Cary Elwes in Mel Brooks' 1993 parody "Robin Hood: Men in Tights."

Well aware of all the Robin Hoods that have come before him -- there's even been a Disney animated version with Robin portrayed as a wily fox, not to mention Chuck Jones' 1958 toon, "Robin Hood Daffy," with Daffy Duck's Robin pitted against Porky Pig's Friar Tuck -- Crowe has promised that this new Robin will get back to basics.

Appearing on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" last month as he began his promotional rounds, Crowe explained, "We wanted to really understand where the mythology had started from, because obviously (during) the previous hundred years of cinema, we felt like the story had been reduced somewhat and people were expecting a series of what had come to be known as cliches -- cliches to the point where Mel Brooks makes a movie about it. You know you've gone too far when Mel Brooks makes a movie about your particular subject. ... (But) it just seemed to us that there was something intrinsic about the story. We should just wipe away that other stuff and get to the core."

Laughed Brooks in response, "I thought I closed the door on all the Robin Hoods. I guess it's an enduring legend -- good versus bad, evil gets its comeuppance, and it's a period piece so you don't have to worry about being sued by Enron."   Continued...