The band of merry men

The band of merry men

Russell Crowe is only the latest in a long line of 12th century men who lived in Sherwood Forest,robbed the rich to help the poor,and romanced Maid Marion on the side....

Russell Crowe is only the latest in a long line of 12th century men who lived in Sherwood Forest,robbed the rich to help the poor,and romanced Maid Marion on the side. The very first one was Douglas Fairbanks,whose Robin was a huge success : it was shot on studio lots,featuring the very American Fairbanks as one of the most quintessential English heroes,without anyone finding it incongruous.

The second one,with Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland,carried the tradition forward faithfully. Robin Locksley is out on the Crusades,gets waylaid by ruffians,and returns home after a long gap to find the evil Sheriff of Nottingham in place. His men terrorise and torture,maim and kill. In place of the lawful rule,under the wandering King Richard,also knows as Richard the Lionheart,there is anarchy.

Flynn swashbuckles beautifully. Not only is he adept at swordplay,he is good at funny one-liners. The first time he enters Nottingham’s castle,with a large gathering of noblemen and women sitting down to supper,is wonderful: Robin strides in,carrying a bloody carcass,and dumps it on the high table,creating a stir. The cowardly nobles,busy tearing into their meat,look up in alarm as Robin declares war,and launches into a smart swordplay set,making good his escape. The scene sparkles,even after so many years.

Olivia De Havilland makes a radiant Marian. She doesn’t immediately get swept away by the charms of the outlaw,who lives with his men in the forest. She makes him work for her,and it’s only when she finds that he is not the black creature been painted by her companions,does she give in. The whole tone and tenor of the film is light-hearted,not a stroll in the park,but definitely a merry walk through the woods.


A few decades after that,there was Robin and Marian,which shows us characters past their first flush of youth,an unusual point of view in the Robin Hood movies. A grizzled Sean Connery plays an older,worn-out Robin,and the gamine Audrey Hepburn,a most unusual choice,is Marion,but they exhibit the same passion that inspired ballads sung by generations of folklorists.

The Robin Hood saga lends itself eminently to Bollywood too. Several leading men’s characters (from Raj Kapoor to Amitabh Bachchan) were modelled on this hero,a thief who stole from the wealthy to feed the starving. The last time Robin inspired a major Hollywood outing was a film with Kevin Costner,which turned out be almost Bollywoodian in its execution.

The first encounter of Robin and Marion(Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) takes place in a darkened hall,with Marion fighting Robin,her face covered in armour. It falls off,her auburn tresses are revealed in all their glory,and Robin is smitten. How many times have we seen this scene in a masala Hindi film? Alan Rickman as the bad Sheriff of Nottingham prances about and gnashes his teeth like the most outrageous Bollywood villain.

There’s one added star attraction in this one. Morgan Freeman as the good ‘Moslem’ Azeem,who has vowed to save Robin’s life to repay a debt (Robin saves his). So you have Morgan,who can’t act badly even if he tries very hard,hamming it up as the hero’s best friend,who is willing to sacrifice everything for a friend.

It’s also that film where you can predict the dialogue just before it gets spoken: I managed it about five times. How more Bollywood can you get?