It has been said that this new restored HD image is like a watercolour come to life, and I would have to agree. With consideration made for the film's vintage - don't forget, this is a print from 1938 - the resulting picture is truly impressive and a delight to have splashed across the largest screen you can find. The 1.33:1 image may still have a smattering of grain, but is blessedly free of damage in the main. The instantly eye-catching thing is that the picture is full of detail, with lots of attention lavished upon the costumes and the sets, really bringing the garish pageantry to life. Flesh tones are of the rosy-hued variety, but this is no fault of the transfer, rather the desired look of the era in which the film was made. Reds are incredibly vibrant and the greens of the forest are shimmering and fresh. The archery tournament and just about any other crowd gathering scene are fine examples of a polished and colourful transfer that is reliably consistent when dealing with multiple subjects and a vast variety of hues in the same frame, remaining pleasing to the eye at all times.
Black levels aren't exactly pitch, but you would be hard-pressed to find a moment when they don't add atmosphere and depth to the image. The dungeon scenes of Robin's incarceration or, later on, during Marion's own captivity, for instance, look nice and deep and are bolstered by strong shadows. There may be some fall-off to grey, but the thing about this image is that it is unavoidably hazy (albeit slightly) due to the age of its print, which may exacerbate this effect somewhat. Contrast can also make for some slightly blooming whites at times but, for the most part, it remains steady and consistent.
Detail, thankfully, is terrific. The woodland scenes have great depth and the foliage is vividly rendered. Check out the Merry Men scampering up into the trees in preparation for an ambush for ample evidence of this. The patterns on costumes and the chain-linkage on armour is always well presented and sharply etched, as are the whiskers curling about on Flynn's chin. Textures on Robin's tunic and those of his men can clearly be seen and the frantic battle scenes conjure up myriad details to be savoured all around the frame. One aspect that I did pick up on is that some portions of the image are not quite as highly defined as others. In fact, what can sometimes be the case is that the central section of the picture is more sharply defined than the outer edges, giving the impression that the picture sort of smoothes out away from the main subject of the shot. But, you know what, in the grand scheme of things, this doesn't matter one iota because the image, otherwise, is so vivid and colourful and so full of life that I could forgive it almost anything. It's almost seventy years old, you know!
Reassuringly, there is no DNR on this transfer and even if some occasional edges can seem a tad enhanced - King Richard's face and chain-mail helmet, for instance - this is not in the least bit distracting. One of the greatest revelations of both vintage film restoration and high-definition transference-to-disc finally comes to Blu-ray. Awesome.
Otherwise, the track sounds clean and lively, with Korngold's celebrated score gaining the most benefit and coming over with a rousing sweep and an enthusiastically bombastic verve. The main signature themes are clear and distinguished and the scene-enhancing underscore always bounces along with jollity. Dialogue can sound a little tinny or harsh at times, but the clipped delivery of the era plays a large part in this, as well, with many of the words sounding rushed and a lot of sentences tending to rise to an overly theatrical crescendo. But there was never an occasion when it was not clearly discernable - from the slyly effete scheming of Prince John into the bent ears of Sir Guy and the Sheriff, to the bold emphasis of vocal derring-do from Robin, himself, the clever, cutting and ever-so-camp script is brought to fulsome life.
Although this only garners itself a 6 out of 10, don't take that as a slight on what is actually a great track that really makes the most of its original source.
Starting off with the chat-track from the ubiquitous film historian and scholar Rudy Behlmer, we are thrown pretty much head-first into the realm of the Warner Bros Studio during its hectic, and full-throttle heyday. Mimicking the sheer volume of information that he bestowed upon some of the Universal classic horrors, Behlmer may attack his topic with a completely warts 'n' all approach, but his delivery is little dry to be properly savoured all in one go. But what he may lack in spontaneity, he more than makes up for with such an amazing wealth of fact, anecdote and technical explanation. Well researched and, no doubt, rehearsed as well, his commentary is typical of all those of his that I have heard before in that it both fascinates and irritates all at once. But, taken in small doses at a time, there is much of worth to discovered and it is well-recommended on the whole.
The first of two documentaries is called Glorious Technicolor and runs for an hour. Hosted by Angela Lansbury, who has lent her soothing tones to many a archival doc such as those accompanying The Wizard Of Oz and a whole heap of Disneys, here recalls the history of the legendary colour film processing technique from its groundbreaking debut in 30's, through its vibrant heyday and then up to its lacklustre finale in the sixties when, perhaps, the gaudiness of real life left it behind. Actually, it is hard to imagine the gritty likes of Dirty Harry, Serpico and The French Connection in Technicolor had the process lasted into the dour and downbeat seventies. Overall, this is interesting stuff and well worth a look.
Next comes a much better, and far more relevant piece. Running for 55 minutes Welcome To Sherwood: The Story Of “The Adventures Of Robin Hood” features the usual film historian suspects - Rudy Behlmer and Leonard Maltin - who join ranks with numerous writers, film scholars and Robin Hood buffs (or “Hoodies”) to provide the colourful history of the fabled character and his many different interpretations in tale, song, book and film throughout the ages, including the earlier Douglas Fairbanks version from 1922. Thankfully, the documentary carries an informative and quite elegant air - Behlmer and Maltin seem to either be wearing, or be bathed in shades of Lincoln Green - and the main feature, itself, takes rightful centre-stage. The conception of the movie, its various casting sessions - Jimmy Cagney was originally touted to wear Robin's tights - the filming itself and the trials and tribulations of bringing such a masterful slice of prime entertainment to the big screen are all covered with reverence, insight and a nice sense of nostalgia. There is some gossip to be had as well ... but let's face it, you couldn't make a film with Flynn without courting controversy of some kind.
Warner Night At The Movies is a fantastic option. This sort of thing also appeared on the reasonably lavish Errol Flynn Collection from a while back and, if activated, allows you to drift back in time to enjoy the film as though you were watching it at the Movie House during its original theatrical run. Don't worry, the film is still in HD - but, with this feature, you get to view the other material that would have accompanied the movie for its nightly presentation. After an introduction from Leonard Maltin, we get a vintage newsreel, a musical short from Freddie Rich and His Orchestra, a cartoon called Katnip Kollege and the theatrical trailer for Jimmy Cagney's Angels With Dirty Faces. Of well, at least Cagney managed to get in on the Robin Hood act in some way or another.
Rudy Behlmer returns to narrate an eight-minute collection of Outtakes as well as the 14 minute Blooper Reel entitled Breakdowns Of 1938.
A Journey To Sherwood Forest (13.20 mins) showcase of home movies and on-set footage captured during the film's production. In both black and white and colour footage, Rudy Behlmer talks us through the behind-the-scenes antics shot by the crew, pointing out how rare it is that a film from this era actually had the benefit, and foresight, to chronicle its own production.
Nicely presented in full 1080p are a couple of fantastic, Hood-themed Looney Tunes Cartoons. We have Rabbit Hood (7.57 mins), Robin Hood Daffy (6.42 mins) to add even more fun to the package.
Then we get a couple of short films. Cavalcade Of Archery comes from 1945 and runs for 8.32 mins. This enjoys the skills of one Howard Hill - reputedly the greatest archer in the world at the time - as he shows off how he can shoot his bolt in the company of a cortege of cuties. He performs the old apple trick though, somewhat unsurprisingly, his young assistant is a little more reluctant to pose beneath the target when it is only a small cherry. No jokes please. The next feature is The Cruise Of The Zaca, from 1952 and running for 18.16 mins. Ostensibly a short documentary chronicling the scientific seafaring cruise of an expedition by Dr. Carl Hobbs of the University Of California, Errol Flynn actually directs and narrates and, eventually hijacks the project in his own inimitable way, eventually plotting his own, altogether more adventurous course across the waves in a speedboat with a young lady. Flynn certainly made the catch of the day.
Robin Hood Through The Ages (6.51 mins) sees good old Rudy Behlmer back again as he discusses, briefly, the filmic heritage of Robin Hood, paying particular attention to the terrific looking and action-packed silent Douglas Fairbanks version from sixteen years previously.
Splitting The Arrow Galleries are an exhaustive 1080p compilation covering many of the facets that make the film so special and so colourful. There are hundreds of images here, folks, under the topics of Historical Art, Costume Designs, Scene Concept Drawings, Cast and Crew photos and Publicity and Poster Materials. There is some great stuff to be found here.
Next up is a selection of Audio Only Features. Firstly, of course, is the Oscar-winning score from Korngold playing in its entirety on an isolated track. Then we get The Robin Hood Radio Show from 1938 which, to be honest, I never listened to on the HD disc ... and I still have yet to hear on this.But I will one day. And, to add to the list, is a selection of outtakes from Korngold's piano sessions which, again, I have not yet listened to, but it is certainly nice to have the option.
And finally, we have the Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery, featuring The Charge Of The Light Brigade, Captain Blood and, of course, The Adventures Of Robin Hood.
All in all, this is a superlative package of extras that really go the distance in adding value what is already a superior slice of prime entertainment. The emphasis is on fun and the whole roster fits the main feature like an archer's glove. Excellent.
On BD, the film looks sublime - yep, that painting come to life adage fits this transfer perfectly - and I can think of no better presentation of a production from seventy years ago. Lovingly restored and magnificently showcased with its awesome array of special features, The Adventures Of Robin Hood demands to be amongst every film-lover's collection as a shining tribute to how and when the action genre really got started, and as a reminder about how big studio movies could get away with being just rip-roaring entertainment of the highest calibre and not end up being talked-down about by the critics.
Immortal entertainment, this one hits the bull's eye.
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