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Film / The Adventures of Robin Hood

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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.

The Adventures of Robin Hood is a 1938 Warner Bros. Swashbuckler film, directed by Michael Curtiz, William Keighley, and B. Reeves Eason, and starring Errol Flynn, considered by many the definitive cinematic version of the Robin Hood legend. The film won three Academy Awards, for Best Art Direction (Carl Jules Weyl), Best Film Editing (Ralph Dawson), and Best Original Score (Erich Wolfgang Korngold).

The film was originally intended as a vehicle for James Cagney, who had gained critical approval for playing Bottom the Weaver in Warners' 1935 production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream — but when Cagney walked out on his Warners' contract, the project was retooled to accommodate rising Warners' star Errol Flynn, who had in that same year made a huge impression as the swashbuckling lead of the pirate romance, Captain Blood. Olivia de Havilland, having appeared in both movies, was a natural for the part of Lady Marian. Korngold, too, had been associated with the same two films, as adaptor of Felix Mendelssohn's theatrical music for Dream and as composer of a (mostly) original score for Captain Blood. Basil Rathbone, having displayed in Captain Blood as the evil pirate Levasseur a fine talent for fencing and sneering villainy, was tapped to play the part of Sir Guy of Gisbourne. When director William Keighley was determined by the Warner brothers to be too dilatory and measured in his approach to the film, he was replaced with yet another Captain Blood alumnus, hard-driving director Michael Curtiz.

The script, by Seton I. Miller and Norman Reilly Raine, was considerably more faithful to both the matter and the spirit of the original Robin Hood ballads than earlier dramatic versions. This was largely in reaction to Robin Hood (1922) starring Douglas Fairbanks, which had focused on a Knight in Shining Armor version of Robin, with much screen time devoted to The Crusades and tournaments and relatively little to the character's woodland outlawry. Early drafts of the script omitted Marian entirely, as Miller insisted that she was not part of the original mythos at all; fortunately, the Rule of Cool (romance division) and the chemistry between Flynn and de Havilland ensured her appearance in the final version. Miller did manage to include many elements of the ballads: the quarterstaff bout between Robin and Little John, Robin forcing Friar Tuck to carry him across the stream, even (delicately, for fear of the Catholic Legion of Decency) Robin's antipathy to bishops, though a sequence showing an exchange of fisticuffs with the disguised King in Sherwood was cut in the final edit. On the other hand, many elements that came into the legend only later were also incorporated into this version, such as the identification of the King with Richard I from the Tudor historian John Major; the treachery of Prince John, the identification of Maid Marian with the King's ward Lady Fitzwalter, and Robin's elevation to the nobility, from Anthony Mundy's Elizabethan plays; and the struggle between Normans and Saxons from Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was initially reluctant to be associated with the "90% action picture"; however, the Warners were insistent, offering extremely generous payment for his services, and he at last agreed, leaving his native Austria just in time to escape its annexation by Nazi Germany in March 1938. The Jewish Korngold was later accustomed to say, "Robin Hood saved my life." It is said that Warners provided a voluminous report on 12th century music to the composer, which he promptly dumped into the wastebasket (but see Regional Riff, below); in the event, Korngold's lush Late Romantic score, characterized by Wagnerian themes and leitmotifs, not only won the Academy Award, but set a pattern for Film Music that has lasted down to the days of John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

Other notable talents engaged for the film included fencing master Fred Cavens (yet another veteran of Captain Blood!) to choreograph the swords and champion archer Howard Hill to perform the film's archery (and to appear in the small part of "Captain of Archers"). There is some debate as to whether Hill actually accomplished the famous shot with which Robin splits an arrow with another arrow (the MythBusters actually tested this one out), but it seems most likely that some form of staging was used. Various stuntmen were paid an extra $150 (the equivalent of $2800 in 2016) to allow Hill to shoot them in their specially padded torsos.

Dame Olivia de Havilland was the last living cast member until her passing at age 104 on July 26th, 2020.

In the late 12th century, King Richard the Lion-Heart (Ian Hunter), returning from The Crusades, has been taken prisoner, and his treacherous brother Prince John (played delightfully by Claude Rains as a silky, effete Deadpan Snarker), with the help of compliant Norman barons such as the brutal Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) (whose support he gains by promising him marriage to King Richard's ward, Lady Marian Fitzwalter (Olivia de Havilland)), the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper), and the Bishop of the Black Canons (Montague Love), is oppressing the Saxon peasantry in an attempt to squeeze money out of them, ostensibly to ransom Richard, but really to buy his way to the throne.

He is opposed by the Saxon knight, Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn), who, as the outlaw Robin Hood, gathers a band of Saxon resistance fighters, including Will Scarlet (Patric Knowles), Much the Miller's Son (Herbert Mundin), Little John (Alan Hale, Sr., reprising the rôle he had played 16 years before in the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., silent), and Friar Tuck (Eugene Palette).

After Robin has stolen back the ransom money (and in the process won the heart of Lady Marian), he is taken prisoner at the archery tournament when his brilliant archery reveals who he is; he subsequently escapes (with Marian's aid, we are told).

Shortly thereafter, King Richard has returned to England in disguise; he is recognized by the Bishop, who informs Prince John and Sir Guy. When Marian overhears their plot to send the disgraced former knight Dickon Malbête to murder the king, she is detected by Sir Guy trying to send a warning, arrested, and condemned to death, but her lady-waiting, Bess, warns Much, who intercepts and kills Dickon. Meanwhile, Richard, in the guise of an abbot, has allowed himself to be captured by Robin.

When Much reveals John's plot and Marian's condemnation, they devise a plan to crash Prince John's coronation, disguised as the Bishop of the Black Canons' followers. A melee breaks out; Robin and Guy fight, and Guy is killed. Robin frees Marian. King Richard banishes Prince John, the Sheriff, the Bishop, and their followers from England for the remainder of his lifetime; pardons the men of Sherwood, and rewards Robin with an earldom and the hand of Lady Marian in marriage.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Ace: Robin, naturally. Though subverted with quarterstaffs.
  • Actually, I Am Him: Richard and his men disguise themselves as clergy to avoid assassins and fall in with Robin's men. When Much brings news of the plot against Richard, Robin immediately starts dispatching his men to find him, only for the "abbot" to inform him that Richard is in very good hands and take off his cloak.
  • Adaptational Wimp: The Sheriff is portrayed as a bumbling fool, all to make Guy of Gisbourne Robin's primary enemy.
  • Anachronism Stew: The five coloured target that the competitors aim at during the archery competition was first recorded as being used in the late 1700’s, making it highly unlikely that it would have been used during the 1100’s.
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted as being hit by Robin's arrows is apparently instant death, justified of course by the fact that we are talking about Robin Hood here...
  • Arch-Enemy: Robin Hood has Sir Guy of Gisbourne, the thuggish knight who enforces Prince John's tyranny on Nottingham.
  • Armor Is Useless: The chainmail the Normans wear does little to protect them from getting shot by Robin or stabbed. Averted with blunt weapons and helmets; where Much attempts to hit a soldier with a mace during the final battle and is stopped by the helmet, forcing him to remove the helmet before trying again, this time killing the soldier
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The Bishop of the Black Canons asks Prince John by what authority he claims to receive the blessing of the Church as Defender of the Holy Sepulcher. This is arrant nonsense, as the Defender of the Holy Sepulcher was the title of Godfrey de Bouillon as Christian ruler of Jerusalem and had nothing to do with England at all. (Oddly enough, the real Prince John as a boy actually was offered the position of Defender of the Holy Sepulcher, but his father turned it down for him, and sent him to Ireland instead.)
    • There were no Saxon earls. The Saxon nobility had been wiped out by the Norman Conquest some time before the Plantagenets, with much of them dying at Hastings and the rest being killed/driven away later.
    • Richard II was the first English king to use the style "Your Majesty" and "Your Highness," and given what happened to him the precedent didn't stick. It wasn't until Henry VIII began using it that it stuck.
    • Referring to a king's son as "Prince" would not occur until the sixteenth century with Henry VIII's son Edward. At this time, a king's son would be called "Earl" or "Lord." Given John's position of Lord of Ireland he'd be more likely to be called "Lord John."
    • On the subject of going on Crusade, Richard states that he "never should have left England". Due to the court of what we now call the "Angevin Empire" being held in either Angers or Chinon in France, even if his reign had not been consisted of mostly military activity he would not have spent the majority of it in England. Add the fact that Richard saw the Duchy of Aquitaine as his home and it becomes even more apparent that England would not have been graced with Richard's presence that often.
  • Ascended Extra: In the original tales, Guy of Gisbourne is essentially a one-shot character as an assassin to kill Robin. Here, he is Prince John's right-hand man with a long and personal feud with Robin Hood, with the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin's usual nemesis, pushed into the background as a supporting villain.
  • Asshole Victim: Pretty much everyone Robin and co. take out, but special mention goes to the guy who insists a Saxon peasant be flogged beyond what he can endure, as well as the guy who orders another peasant hanged for unclear reasons. Even their own Mooks think they're going too far. Both of them get a much deserved arrow in the chest, courtesy of an offscreen Robin.
  • Attempted Rape: During the On Patrol Montage, one of Prince John's Mooks about to rape a Saxon girl. Robin Hood puts a stop to that villainy with an arrow in the blackguard's back.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: The coronation scene was probably inspired by the coronation of George VI of England. Subverted, ultimately, because stopping the coronation is the climax of the movie.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Friar Tuck and Little John do this during the final battle.
  • Badass Boast: Robin announces his plans to raise La Résistance right to Prince John's face in Nottingham. And when Little John says he'll only yield to a better man himself, Robin makes this reply:
    "He stands before you."
  • Badass Crew: The Merry Men, of course.
  • Badass Preacher: Friar Tuck, who carries an impressive sword.
  • Balcony Wooing Scene: Robin climbs up to Marian's window for a romantic meeting where he hangs on the outside of the building and she leans out to kiss him.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Robin escapes from the banquet by telling a bunch of guards (who are apparently not up on current events) to block the door at all costs in a very authoritative manner and moving too quickly for them to get a good look at him. They dutifully hold back Gisbourne and the other knights long enough for Robin and Will to ride off unimpeded.
  • Beta Couple: Maid Marian's Lady-In-Waiting develops mutual feelings for Plucky Comic Relief Much.
  • Big Bad: Prince John Lackland, The Usurper of the throne of England.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Robin's introduction for one.
  • Blade Lock: Allows Robin and Sir Guy to exchange some choice taunts. (Fortunately, though, the scripted one where Robin tells Sir Guy, "You've been eating...onions," was dropped from the filmed version.)
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Robin shoots Gisbourne's weapon out of his hand at the start of the film.
  • Bling of War: Richard's bright red tabard with gold lions. No wonder he needed such a dark cloak to cover it up.
  • Blue Blood: Marian, Guy, and Robin are all of the nobility, though Robin is a Saxon Earl — an important distinction — who clearly loves the life of the forester.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Little John, of course, possibly the Trope Codifier in English literature.
  • Bow and Sword in Accord: Robin is an expert fencer and bowman. (He also wields the quarterstaff, to somewhat less effect.)
  • Broken Smile: The Bishop bears one when he leads the procession of monks to the coronation, because the one immediately behind him is Robin, jabbing a knife in his back and telling him to look more cheerful. (His smile is genuine, but it doesn't reach his eyes.)
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: Not quite a compliment, but when Little John asks supposed abbot Richard The Lion Heart, "What? Are you friendly to our good King Richard?" The "abbot" replies, "I love no man better."
  • The Cameo: Character actor Sam Jaffe appears as a serf.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Much is clearly attracted to Bess during the time she and Marian are held captive by the Merry Men, and she soon comes to reciprocate. Later when Marian is trying to think of a way to save Robin after he's been condemned to death, she learns from Bess where the Merry Men have meetings, thanks to her relationship with Much; and still later when Marian's life in danger Bess is able to get a warning to Much, who then carries it to Robin and Richard.
  • Composite Character: Will Scarlet was intended as a composite of the deceptively foppish Will Scarlet of the stories and of the minstrel Allan a Dale.
  • Cool Horse: Maid Marian's horse is Roy Rogers' horse Trigger.
  • Corrupt Church: The evil Bishop of the Black Canons.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Robin Hood's first meeting with Friar Tuck results in the two of them crossing blades in the middle of a small lake. After a few minutes of requisite Flynning, Robin offers Tuck free food and ale if he joins his Merry Men. Tuck answers, "If you had said so sooner you could have saved us both a wetting!"
  • Creator Cameo: Howard Hill, the archer who fired all the arrows in the film, plays the man in the archery contest who scores a bullseye only to have Robin split his arrow (of course, he really fired that shot too).
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Much, who despite not being particularly bright and kind of a klutz is a gifted hunter and manages to kill Dickon Malbete in a one on one fight.
  • The Dead Have Names: One of the knights names those killed by Robin, but an impatient Guy cuts him off and orders him not to tell him their names.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Little John knocks Robin into the river with a quarterstaff, much to Robin's amusement and respect.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Marian is certainly not impressed with Robin on their first meeting. She warms up after seeing the horrors that John is perpetuating and Robin's kindness to the victims.
  • Demoted to Extra: Robin's usual major adversary the Sheriff of Nottingham is reduced to a comic relief Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, while Guy of Gisbourne takes the role usually given to the Sheriff.
  • Diegetic Switch: The rolling tympani with which the main title music ends are seen to be played by mounted drummers accompanying the town crier.
  • The Dragon: Guy of Gisbourne, who must be defeated before Robin Hood can rescue Marian.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Though rather more a dramatic unhooding, this happens twice in the film. First, when Richard reveals that he is the King to Robin and his men in the forest. Then, when the hooded monks at Prince John's coronation reveal that they are King Richard the Lion Heart, Robin Hood, and the Merry Men.
  • Duel to the Death: A great one between Robin Hood and Guy of Gisbourne.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Robin Hood's Big Damn Heroes moment shooting Guy's club out of his hand as he's about to strike a peasant.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • During a scene where a Norman lord is having a peasant whipped, he calls for the poor man to be whipped past what he can endure. The one who speaks up on the peasant's behalf is, interestingly, the guy who just got done doing the whipping. He looks somewhat distressed and refuses to continue, saying that if they keep it up, the man will die. Apparently, he's willing to beat a man within an inch of his life - but no further.
    • The Bishop protests John's plan to have Richard murdered in his sleep, although he's the one who informed on him. John threatens to reveal his illicit activities to force his compliance.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Prince John and his followers often scoff at the idea that Robin would protect the Saxons against them, and are offended when accused of committing evil.
  • The Evil Prince: Prince John allows his cronies to run rough shod over the populace without King Richard to protect them; he also schemes to take the throne himself.
  • Exact Words: Robin manages to get ahead of the crowd chasing him in his initial escape by using this on guards at a gate. Having run ahead of the soldiers he tells the guards, who were far enough away they didn't hear him declare rebellion "Quick, lock the gate! There's a traitor in the court and he'll try to escape!". They, not knowing he is the traitor, agree and lock the gate behind him; unwittingly stalling the men trying to catch up and get Robin.
  • Expy: Marian's lady-in-waiting, Bess (Una O'Connor) who has "had the bans up five times," is clearly modeled on the Wife of Bath in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
  • Eye Scream: Robin's list of Norman atrocities in his Rousing Speech to the Saxons includes "blindings with hot irons," at which we see a man with an eyepatch.
  • Fallen Hero: A minor example in Dickon. He was a knight in Richard's court until he turned to evil and became a Psycho for Hire, whereupon Richard stripped him of his knighthood, lands, and titles. He thereafter drifted into John's service. The other knights, corrupt though they may be, don't seem to like him.
  • Fancy Dinner: Prince John is throwing a celebratory feast for his fellow Norman nobles when Robin crashes the party with a freshly killed stag. He offers it to the prince before declaring his opposition to everything John wants to do to England.
  • Fanfare: Korngold composed several for this film, notably one on solo trumpet for Robin (reused from his symphonic piece, Sursum Corda) and a recurring one for the Normans.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Prince John is a smiling, jolly, Prince of a fellow — even while he is ordering a minion to stab Robin in the back.
  • Flynning: Fred Cavens deliberately designed all the movements of the duels to be as large and visible as possible; Star Errol Flynn became famous for this style and is the Trope Namer. This style became the benchmark for cinematic sword fights for a long time.
  • Foreign Ruling Class: The Norman lords oppressing the Saxon peasants.
  • The Full Name Adventures: You were expecting The Adventures of Someone Else?
  • The Ghost: While the actual regent William de Longchamp is mentioned in the opening text, he never personally appears and no other mention of him is made, making it seem like John is the regent anyway.
  • The Glomp: The film ends with the Merry Men glomping Robin and Marian; good thing Robin can Offscreen Teleport.
  • Historical Domain Character: Richard the Lionheart and Prince John.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Richard is lionized, as usual. The real character of Richard was a far more morally grey figure, to say the least.
  • Hollywood Costuming: The clothing worn by the characters resembles late thirteenth or early fourteenth century clothing more than the rather more simply cut costumes of the late twelfth century. Though fashions did change rather more slowly in the Middle Ages, this is a bit like dressing George Washington like Robert E. Lee.
  • Idiot Ball: When King Richard and his knights are under cover at the same inn that the Bishop of the Black Canons arrives at, grumbling about being robbed by Robin and his men, one of the knights promptly blows their cover by calling Richard "sire". When the bishop goes off to inform John, the same knight blithely says that "I'm afraid he suspects, sire," as if he wasn't responsible for the bishop's realization in the first place.
  • I'm Not Hungry: As Marian tells Robin after she has been captured with the Norman treasure-caravan, "I'm afraid the company has spoiled my appetite." (She tries to sneak a bite while he's not looking, though...unsuccessfully.)
  • Improvised Weapon: Robin throws a candle at Sir Guy in their duel to allow him to get back to his feet.
  • Insult Backfire: A magnificent example occurs at the Fancy Dinner where Robin declares his opposition to Prince John's regime:
    Prince John: Why, you speak treason!
    Robin: Fluently.
  • In the Hood: At least twice in the film, once when climbing up to Maid Marian's balcony and once when disguised as one of the "black canons," Robin appears wearing a hood rather than his iconic bycoket hat; on a third occasion, the archery tournament, he seems also to be wearing one under a brimmed peasant's hat.
    • King Richard and his knights also wear hoods, when disguised as pilgrims, as an abbot and his monks, and as the "black canons" (whose bishop sports a cape with one, though he wears his episcopal galero without raising it). Bess wears one when traveling with Marian in the treasure caravan, and even Sir Guy when condemning Robin to death wears an outfit with one, though he never raises it over his head.
  • King Incognito: Richard first appears in the film as a traveling pilgrim, then as a wandering abbot, then as one of the Bishop's black canons. Mostly it's to avoid John's men, but he keeps up with the act when he runs into the men of Sherwood and hears Robin's opinion of a king who goes off fighting foreign wars and leaves his own people undefended (when he hears Robin frantically order a search for Richard to get him to safety, he reveals himself).
  • Kneel Before Frodo: "All these...have remained loyal."
  • Lack of Empathy: Prince John and his followers are not just utterly indifferent to the suffering they inflict upon the Saxons; they also think that they are justified in doing so. One notable example is during the On Patrol Montage, when a Norman lord orders one of the Saxons to be whipped beyond what they can endure.
    Norman Lord: String him up again!
    Norman Soldier: He'll die if we lash him again, my lord.
    Norman Lord: Oh, he'll die, will he? Another one of their Saxon impudences. They'll do anything to trick us. Continue!
  • Lady-In-Waiting: Marian's ubiquitous handmaiden Bess. She's very protective of Marian and initially skeptical of the Lovable Rogue Robin, but eventually warms to him and his men.
  • Land in the Saddle: Robin pulls off this jump with his hands tied behind his back. (Well, he's supposed to — if you watch closely, the stunt guy's hands move in front of his body in one shot.)
  • Left the Background Music On: The main theme that plays over the opening credits ends with the accompaniment of several drums. As the film starts, we see these drums are in the film itself, calling attention to the town crier.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: It's Much the Miller's Son, the film's Plucky Comic Relief, of all the people who intercepts and kills Dickon on his way to assassinate King Richard.
  • Logo Joke: One of the earliest in film history. The WB logo appears as a coat of arms, seen here.
  • Maid and Maiden: Marian and Bess.
  • Master Archer: Robin is a strong candidate for Trope Codifier. Splitting the Arrow may have originated (on film) here. Further, if Robin wants to send an arrowgram, it lands exactly where it can be instantly read by the intended recipient. If he wants to shoot a mace out of Sir Guy's hand, he can do so despite the fact that both are on horseback. And if he decides to skip the disarming and go straight for the kill, you're dead where you stand.
  • Men of Sherwood: They're the Trope Namers for a reason: Robin's men not only competently carry out the attack on Sir Guy's treasure caravan, but they also execute Robin's rescue from hanging even without his leadership.
  • Mook Lieutenant: Dickon, the disgraced former knight who Richard stripped of his lands and titles. He now commands John's guards.
  • Musicalis Interruptus (sort of): The film features Will Scarlet as Robin's sidekick, presenting him as a minstrel-like figure (the usual minstrel figure, Allan-a-Dale, does not appear in the film). In the original script, Will actually was to have sung a song; however, an agreement with MGM prevented Warners from including any original musical numbers in their films in 1938, so Will's minstrelsy is reduced to a few chords on a mandolin at the beginning of Robin's quarterstaff bout with Little John. In effect, the Interruptus took place before he his G-string.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Robin openly criticizes King Richard for going off on crusade and forcing men like Robin to protect the people, but he's still fiercely loyal.
  • Never Bareheaded: Marian has only one scene in which she's not wearing a headdress.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: For all his awesome moments throughout, Robin's overconfidence that gives him away at the archery tournament was his downfall. The Merry Men had even said earlier that they think the tournament is a trap, but Robin Hood ignored them and said, "Well, what of it?"
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Prince John does this to Robin near the beginning, while Robin and his men likewise entertain the Sheriff, Guy, and Marian somewhat later.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Of the main cast, only Prince John, the Sheriff, the Bishop, Will Scarlet, and Much are played by actual Englishmen, although King Richard and Sir Guy, both South Africans, and Robin, a Tasmanian, still speak received English. Maid Marian was of British parentage, though born in Tokyo and raised in California, and her maid Bess was from Northern Ireland. Little John and Friar Tuck remain thoroughly American, particularly the latter — yet somehow this seems less disturbing than in other Robin Hood films. Sheer style, perhaps?
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: The film slightly reshuffles the usual villain roles, leaving us with Sir Guy as The Dragon to Prince John's Big Bad — the Sheriff is pretty much demoted to a Cowardly Sidekick. Oddly enough, though, the Sheriff, despite his surface buffoonery, is clever enough a) to realize Prince John's treasure caravan should take extra precautions against Robin Hood (he is overruled by Sir Guy), b) to devise a plan that actually captures Robin, and c) to survive the big final battle and to be merely exiled rather than executed.
  • Oh, Crap!: John's reaction when his coronation is spoiled by the arrival of a very much alive and well Richard leading Robin's forces in an attack.
  • On Patrol Montage: The sequence where the Merry Men are shooting many Norman knights dead for their crimes in Prince John's name.
  • The Pardon: Robin's first request when asked what reward he wishes — for all his men.
  • People of Hair Color: Largely averted. We are told of the dissension between Normans and Saxons, but its racial aspect is not notably stressed. Of the principals, on the Saxon side, only Will Scarlet is portrayed as a blond (possibly the better to contrast with his costume); Robin, Little John, Friar Tuck, and Much have light to medium brown hair. Of the Normans, King Richard (so far as we can tell) has brown hair; Prince John has dark red hair; Marian has reddish-brown hair; the Bishop has gray hair; Sir Guy and the rest of the Norman knights have dark brown to black hair. One may compare these portrayals to those of Howard Pyle or N.C. Wyeth.
  • Purple Prose: The original script was full of it, but Curtiz thankfully had it toned down.
  • Railing Kill: After Robin lands the killing blow in his duel with Sir Guy, Sir Guy tips dramatically backward over a waist-high parapet.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The On Patrol Montage climaxes with a man being beaten up and his daughter is about to be raped by one Mook. Robin Hood makes sure that blackguard pays instantly for his villainy.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic:
    • Many people have cited the shots of people being shot with arrows as looking unrealistic. In actuality, stuntmen were paid $150 an arrow to be legitimately shot while wearing protection, covered by a thin piece of wood for the arrow to stick in.
    • Most viewers likely applaud the film for the historical accuracy of Marian riding sidesaddle. In fact, the forward-facing sidesaddle wasn't invented until the 1500s, and it wasn't until three centuries later that the leaping horn was added, allowing women to control horses at a gallop — until then, women who rode sidesaddle had their horses led by men, and women who rode independently rode astride (as Marion does in Robin of Sherwood). This may have been artistic license for safety reasons — an accurate period sidesaddle would have been an insurance nightmare — or it may have been done to add to the period feel of the film.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Marian delivers one to Prince John at her sentencing:
    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?
    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 weren't 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.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Robin kicks open the doors at Prince John's feast and drops the deer Much killed right in front of him. John is so impressed by Robin's boldness that he invites him to sit at his table instead of ordering his men to kill him...for a few minutes, at least.
  • Regional Riff: In a variation that might be called a "Temporal Riff," Little John appears whistling a tune called "Sumer is icumen in," the oldest known secular song in English. (Maybe Korngold Did Do The Research, after all.)
  • Revealing Skill: Robin enters the archery contest in disguise, but his Improbable Aiming Skills give him away. The whole constest was set up as a trap since the villains knew that Robin couldn't resist entering.
  • Rightful King Returns: Who says he "ought never to have left England." (Unlike the real Richard, who never expressed any regret for going on Crusade, nor for leaving England when Philip of France had attacked the Angevin domain of Normandy. Indeedm it was his war with Philip and his allies, the rebellious nobles of Aquitaine, that was the ultimate reason he never returned to England: he died during it.)
  • Right in Front of Me: While escorting a cloaked abbot through Sherwood, Robin makes some passionate criticisms of King Richard's irresponsible Crusading and says that the suffering of the people is Richard's fault as much as anyone for leaving England in the hands of people like his brother. The audience already knows the abbot is Richard in disguise and he smiles as he listens to this. When he reveals himself, he admits that Robin was quite right.note 
  • Rousing Speech: Robin delivers one to his Merry Men:
    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! 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? [Men: Aye!] Then kneel, and swear 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!
  • Saintly Church: Friar Tuck.
  • Sinister Minister: The Bishop of the Black Canons, who runs the Corrupt Church and is one of the most loyal followers of Prince John. He and John both get exiled in the end by King Richard.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Marian, eagerly discussing Robin with Bess, says "he's brave and reckless, and yet he's gentle, too, not brutal like—" Like whom, Marian?
  • Smug Snake:
    • Prince John.
    • Gisbourne is entirely assured that his treasure caravan doesn't need to take the sensible precaution of scouting the surrounding woods because they're so well-armed... not fully grasping that Robin Hood is a Guile Hero.
  • Splitting the Arrow: Probably the most famous example and in many ways the Trope Codifier.
  • The Trickster: What Robin is when not fighting for the people. He's glib, sarcastic, and enjoys playing japes and pranks on people—pranking and humiliating a priest with a sword is how he recruits Friar Tuck.
  • *Twang* Hello: Several cackling Normans are on the receiving end of this in the form of Robin's black arrow.
  • The Usurper: Prince John, who tries to have himself crowned king while the rightful King Richard is fighting the crusades.
  • Villain Ball: Guy of Gisbourne arrests Marian when he and John suspect her of conspiring with Robin...but crucially they don't think to also arrest her lady-in-waiting Bess, or at the very least put out an order that she's not to leave the castle. Bess is thus able to reach Much and warn him of their plot, and he in turn is able to ambush and kill Dickon, and get word to Robin and Richard.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Both Prince John and Guy of Gisbourne experience this when King Richard reveals himself in front of him, with Robin following suit.
    John: He's lying! He's an imposter!
    Guy: It's a trick of the outlaws! KILL HIM! SEIZE HIM!
  • Vine Swing: Robin swings on a vine from a tree on one side of a forest path to a boulder on the other while taunting Guy of Gisbourne after he and his Merry Men have defeated the group the corrupt knight was leading through the greenwood.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Little John and Friar Tuck size each other up multiple times yet also work greatly as a team when besting Prince John's army.
  • War Was Beginning: "In the year of Our Lord 1191, when Richard the Lion-Heart set forth to drive the infidels from the Holy Land..."
  • Weapon Grip Failure: Sir Guy drops his sword while dueling with Robin. Justified in that he was falling down the stairs at the time. Robin gentlemanly lets him have the sword back before continuing the fight.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When the King in disguise sees Robin frantically ordering a massive search for the King to get him to safety, the King has all the proof he needs that the outlaw is loyal to him.
  • You Fight Like a Cow: "Do you know any prayers, my friend?" "I'll say one for you!" etc.