May 1, 2009

Justify My Netflix: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Today's movie: The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix)

Why I added it to my queue: Because it's one of the all-time greatest classic films, not only one of the first productions to really understand what could be done with the then-new breakthrough known as Technicolor, but also one of the first truly huge Hollywood action blockbusters, creating a formula now 71 years ago that is still followed surprisingly faithfully by the studios even to this day. Because this is but one of a profoundly growing amount of classics now offered for instant streaming at Netflix, giving me an excuse to finally sit down and slowly watch them all without having to clutter up my DVD queue.

The reality: So I have to admit, what many see as the biggest weakness of Netflix's growing digital "instant movie" service (the lack of contemporary studio hits, that is, and the proliferation of cult films and classics) is what I see as its absolute greatest strength; because seriously, why the hell would I possibly want to sit around and watch the latest Mike Myers end-of-times soul-killingly depressing death-of-culture sh-tfest in digital form anyway, when I was already embarrassed on behalf of my entire country when it was in theatres to begin with? No, much better I think to have the kind of selection that is rapidly taking shape there right now, just an unending series of older movies I've always wanted to see but had never wanted to waste a slot on before in my physical-mailing queue*; I simply love how easy it is now to just dial up one of these classic movies whenever the mood just happens to strike me, and to have it playing in the background as I do other things in my apartment just like we've been enjoying movies on television on lazy weekend afternoons for decades now.

And so too is it with the 1938 edition of Robin Hood, which let's not forget was already competing at the time with a much-loved 1922 edition starring Douglas Fairbanks; and how ironic as well that this movie was for Warner Brothers at the time what The Lord of the Rings was for New Line in the early 2000s; one of the first big, lush, expensive productions from a studio known almost exclusively at the time for gritty cheap gangster flicks and other film noirs. But indeed, as I had heard beforehand, it seems that the crew behind this production really seemed to understand the artistic potential of Technicolor in a way that no one in Hollywood had really "got" before; and I have to confess, I was shocked to see how surrealistically glorious this film still looks to this day, not the realistic colors of modern film at all but rather this stunningly bright and over-saturated Wachowski-Brothers Speed Racer look, a dreamlike Max-Parrish-style cinematography that rightly made contemporary audiences forget the '22 Fairbanks version in a heartbeat. Sure, the acting and dialogue and effects are just as cheesy as you would expect a nearly century-old film to be; but it's also surprisingly thrilling to this day as well, with performances by such masters as Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone (playing the villain here, but who would go on to become much better known for playing Sherlock Holmes) thoroughly charming no matter how old they get. Plus, I know this makes me sound old and curmudgeonly, but I have to admit that it's nice to every so often watch a film made long before the days when people thought that snotty postmodern tongue-in-cheek irony was the only effective form of entertainment available for adults, back when films could be simple and earnest and wear their hearts on their sleeves and still have grown-up audiences; that's yet another reason to celebrate all these older films now being digitized and available instantly, not just for historical reasons but as an occasional antidote to the modern meta-meta-meta hipster-douchebag paradigm of the arts.

If I had watched it when it first came out: I would've developed a little pageboy gay crush on Errol Flynn. Man, what a freaking little dandy he is in this film. No wonder I couldn't stop thinking of the above scene from Terry Gillam's brilliant Time Bandits.

Strangest piece of trivia: When cowboy entertainer Roy Rogers watched this film, he became so impressed with the horse rode by de Havilland that he purchased it for his own movies. That horse was of course the now notorious "Trigger."

Worth your time? Very much so, as long as you don't mind feeling slightly like a dork.

*And what are some of these older movies getting digitized these days that I've always wanted to see? Well, a random sampling of my classics list right now includes among others Cleopatra, Breathless, The Great Escape, Night of the Iguana, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Camelot, The Lost Weekend, and dozens of other titles that make people when they hear them go, "Oh, I've always meant to sit down and watch that someday!" That 'someday' for me is now, I've discovered, now that Netflix makes it as easy as clicking a mouse button to watch any of these films at any exact spur of the moment, 24 hours a day, that you just happen to be in the mood to watch it; and I've discovered that it's not only convenient but is changing the very way my brain even thinks of consuming the arts. The studios may think they're being clever, withholding all their contemporary piece-of-crap Ben Stiller sh-tfests from being digitized and available instantly, thereby bumping up retail DVD sales by a few thousand units per title in the short term, but they're actually digging their own graves; as I and millions of other Netflix customers are suddenly discovering, it's no loss whatsoever for the instant-movie section to be missing these contemporary cultural nadirs, not when there are thousands upon thousands of much, much better movies available at a moment's notice instead. And once that's become the reality of the arts in all of our brains, why will we bother watching any of the Ben Stiller sh-tfests to begin with?

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:20 AM, May 1, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |