Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian

This post could easily just be me drooling over Errol Flynn for a thousand words. I'm kinda sorta really in love with him, and I will protest until my dying day that he was a fantastic, underrated actor. Watching one Flynn film makes me want to watch ten more immediately, a particular addiction of mine that only Flynn can lay claim to. While I can't say I love every movie of his, I can say that I've always loved his performances, and The Adventures of Robin Hood happens to belong to both camps. Quite simply, it is one of the best films period, and so doing a review of it is a bit daunting. Good thing I'm not doing a review!

Because it is Olivia de Havilland's birthday on July 1st, I wanted to focus solely on her in this film. Even if I didn't adore Flynn as much as I do, it would be hard to tear my concentration from him because let's be honest, he is the unequivocal star here. Does he have an incredible cast surrounding him? Oh yes. But Flynn had a high wattage of star power that could blind you, and unfortunately, it has often kept me from appreciating Ms. de Hallivand. That stops today!

Let's get the superficial stuff out of the way first. De Havilland may be the most gorgeous part about Robin Hood. Shimmering dresses with colored veils look stunning on Olivia, thanks to costume designer Milo Anderson. (For more on the costuming, check out Girls Do Film's piece here.) The lush Technicolor is dazzling to see, especially on the big screen, and lovely Olivia is a sight to behold. You might need sunglasses for this one, folks!

The glowing beauty of characters like Maid Marian are frequently my problem with swashbucklers: the leading ladies, although crucial to the romantic storyline, often have the substance of their characters sacrificed for the sake of building up the daring hero and sometimes the dastardly villain. Marian's first scene exemplifies this. While Flynn's introduction involves him riding into frame on a horse with Erich Wolfgang Korngold's magnificent
score and the brilliant blue sky behind him in a close-up, de Havilland's first look is her seated at a table in a wide shot with a candle blocking her face. The camera eventually does a close-up, but it's not nearly as breathtaking as Flynn's. He instantly steals the focus again when he strides into the dining hall with a dead deer hoisted on his shoulders, daring anyone to try anything. Marian's shock over his rebellion allows for one of the film's best lines, as she gasps "Why, you speak treason!" With an amused smile, Robin replies "Fluently." You can watch the scene here.

As the film progresses, Robin is able to change Marian's perspective, although it really isn't that difficult. After all, her problem isn't her moral decency but rather her shielded lifestyle. You get the sense that she hasn't had to see the dark side of what a monarchy can do, which oddly enough makes her more cynical than optimistic. She questions the validity of Robin and his mission, believing that the money they took from Sir Guy will be used for their own gain
instead of for King Richard's ransom like they claim. Once she sees the starving, wounded people that Robin is helping, she still has trouble comprehending the purity of his intentions:
M: "You're willing to defy Sir Guy, even Prince John himself, to risk your own life, and one of those men [in the camp] was a Norman."
R: "Norman or Saxon, what's that
matter? It's injustice I hate, not the Normans."
M: "But it's lost you your rank, your lands. It's made you a hunted outlaw when you might have lived in comfort and security. What's your reward for all this?"
R: "Reward? You just don't understand, do you?"
M: "I'm sorry. I do begin to see, a little now."

Although she starts the film as a haughty noblewoman, there are brief moments where we can tell there is more to Marian than a naive passivity. When Prince John mentions her becoming betrothed to Sir Guy, Marian smartly sidesteps that disastrous idea, playfully suggesting that she wants to know him better before tying the knot. (Meanwhile, her eyes are saying "No way!") In that same scene, she appears uncomfortable when John announces that he is taking his brother's place. You get the feeling that she's been humoring John and his cohorts because she expects Richard to return at any moment and make things normal again, but this decision is her first big clue that something is going wrong.

One of my biggest pet peeves is a female character who does nothing to help the hero, thus dwindling her significance and contributing to the inequality of their relationship. If a woman just stands and screams, I will not root for her, plain and simple. Fortunately, Maid Marian doesn't fall into that category. When our first fight scene breaks out in the dining hall, you can hear a lot of women screeching... except for Marian, who looks on with a mixture of
curiosity and worry, as if she doesn't want someone to die but she is interested in seeing this Robin Hood guy in action after hearing about his ability to avoid arrest literally five minutes ago. When he later captures the caravan led by Sir Guy and the Sheriff of Nottingham, Marian makes it clear that she won't be cowered by Robin: "I'm afraid of nothing, least of all you." I love it when she refuses his offer of food, but she's hungry so she tries to slyly nibble on a chicken leg, hopeful that she won't give him the satisfaction of seeing her eat.

Marian isn't one to be inactive, making the archery contest frustrating for her to watch. She discovers it is a trap for Robin, her facial expressions illustrating that she is trying to figure out how to tell him, but she can't without endangering herself or making the situation worse for him. She makes up for it when she devises a plan to get him out of his imprisonment. Although she initially couldn't understand why Robin would risk his life for his cause, Marian
ends up doing the same thing by going to the Merry Men's covert tavern and aiding them in their goal to rescue their leader. When Robin sneaks into her room to thank her, he asks her to come with him and Marian declines. Is it because of the rough conditions? The poverty? The danger? No, it's because she believes she can do more for King Richard if she stays in the castle and spies, a decision that Robin respects.

I must admit that I do have one major quibble with Marian, and that's when she gets caught by Sir Guy. She overhears the plot to kill King Richard and is somehow so stealthy that she escapes notice by Guy, John, and the Bishop all the way down the stairs until they catch a glimpse of her turning the corner. She writes a note for Bess to give to Robin while also telling Bess everything, making the note kind of superfluous, and then she does the stupidest thing: she hides the note in a box when Guy knocks on her door. First off, why doesn't she destroy it in the fire that's right in front of her? And why does she keep drawing attention to the box? Thankfully Bess is able to escape and spread the word, but it drives me crazy how obvious Marian is, making it my only problem with the script. She is always so careful concerning her contact with Robin and his men, but the screenplay needed her to make a mistake so she would be imprisoned and raise the stakes. It's frustrating that Marian is made passive for the last part of the film, although she does give a great, defiant speech to John before she is locked away. I like to think that Robin's rescue of her isn't a hero saving the damsel, but rather him returning the favor since she once helped him out of captivity.

Maid Marian isn't exactly the first woman that springs to mind when I think "swashbuckling heroine." Those words usually conjure up the image of Maureen O'Hara or Binnie Barnes, but just because she doesn't wield a sword or wear pants doesn't mean that Lady Marian isn't a swashbuckler at heart.

Plus, anyone who can hang out with Bess must be okay.

With love,
Michaela

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This is my minor contribution to the Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon, a celebration of the still-living Ms. de Havilland's 100th birthday. You can see the other entries here.

Comments

  1. I was nodding my head in violent agreement when you wrote about how frustrating it is when she doesn't burn the paper! I probably mention it every time I see the film, urging her to burn it, even though I know she won't. :)

    What a wonderful tribute...and I so agree about her being a "swashbuckler at heart!" She looks sweet, but one always gets the feeling that inside she's as tough and smart as they come. It's only the script that keeps her back.

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    1. Yes! That wonderful script just doesn't go all the way to accommodate Marian like it should. Every time I see that scene, I think "We know you're better than that, Marian! Come on!" Glad to see I'm not the only irritated viewer out there. Thanks for reading!

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  2. Lady Marian daintily picking at the luncheon provided makes me smile just thinking about it. She and Errol were a powerhouse screen team.

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    1. They really were. I haven't seen all of their films together -- just Dodge City, Robin Hood, Elizabeth and Essex, and Captain Blood -- but so far, I think Robin Hood is their greatest. It's certainly the one that gives Olivia the best role, in my opinion.

      Thanks for reading!

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  3. Thank you, Michaela, that was a good idea to approach the movie in terms of Maid Marion rather than Robin Hood. I know it is hard to do in any movie with Errol Flynn. I agree that an active heroine is a lot more interesting, and that Maid Marion is great until she doesn't burn the note. I enjoyed your review.

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  4. I love Olivia as Maid Marion. She is the only actress who can take what is a typical female love interest role and turn it into something extraordinary. She's always a match for any man, but particularly Flynn.

    Thanks for this fantastic contribution!!

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  5. You've made me want to see this again as soon as possible - fortunately I have the DVD, so can do that very soon, and then reread your piece. I will also try to focus on de Havilland while watching, though I have the same problem with finding it hard not to focus on Flynn. Great stuff!

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    1. The charisma and star power of Flynn is pretty hard to ignore. It takes an incredibly strong actress to match him, like Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck or, of course, Olivia. Thanks for reading!

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  6. I really love this movie, and this is one of my favorite Maid Marians. Like you pointed out, she's not inactive and superfluous. And while she does lose her head over the whole hide-the-paper thing (my kids and I always yell at her for that), on the whole, she's a smart, resourceful cookie. My younger daughter went as Maid Marian for Halloween last year, when she was only 3 -- she insisted on having the stripey dress Marian wears when Robin gets rescued from the gallows, because that's her favorite :-)

    Great character sketch!

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    1. Sounds like you're raising your kids right! That's a great costume. I remember when I was about six or seven, I went as Morticia Addams for Halloween -- my parents exposed me to the best, obviously. Thanks for reading, as always!

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    2. Doing my best! My son's favorite movie is the John Wayne WWII movie Operation Pacific (he's 8), and my daughters generally can't decide between Meet Me in St. Louis, this, and the new live-action Cinderella, so I think I'm d doing pretty well :-)

      And wow, Morticia Addams had to have been a fun costume! I went as Zorro when I was about seven, and even though my boots were brown instead of black and my sword was made from a stick covered in duct tape, it was one of my favorite costumes ever.

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    3. Your kids are lucky to have that influence. My oldest niece lives with us and it's so hard to show her classic films -- I wish we would have exposed her to some before she became a close-minded teenager. She did enjoy Psycho and Some Like it Hot, so maybe there's a glimmer of hope somewhere. (Mary Poppins, sadly, didn't have the same outcome.)

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    4. Just passing the joy along! My parents raised me on John Wayne and musicals too, and that's what I still love best (though there are plenty of modern movies I also enjoy), so that's what I own, so that's what my kids get to watch :-)

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  7. I paid more attention to Flyn than to Olivia the first time I watched the film, but I was glad that she wasn't just a pretty lady doing nothing - she got to help Robin as well! And all the colors of her outfits are just beautiful. Best dressed lady of Sherwood, without a doubt.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

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    1. Yes, the costumes are marvelous! Olivia's are obviously the best, but the wardrobe department didn't skimp on Flynn's now-iconic costumes either. Only Errol could wear green tights and still make my heart flutter. Thanks for reading!

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  8. I really liked your character analysis of Olivia as Maid Marion. There is lots going on in this film, not the least of which is Mr Flynn, all of which are quite distracting. This makes your essay all the more impressive. You've made me want to see this again ASAP! :)

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    1. Thanks, Ruth! I'm getting the theme song in my head just talking about the film! There are so many elements at play, it can be difficult to not look at the big picture instead of narrowing in on specific things. I was glad to be able to focus in on Maid Marian, although Robin certainly tried to make me forget her. ;)

      Thanks for reading!

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  9. Love your overview of Olivia's portrayal of Maid Marian! While there's so much to absorb in this film, I'm constantly drawn to Marian like Robin was. Olivia really infuses the strength the character needs to be a compatible match for the title character, and I'm glad Marian adds value to the plot aside from being the love interest. Also the costumes she wears throughout are simply divine!

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    1. I must admit that for the longest time, I didn't really appreciate Maid Marian, or de Havilland for that matter. I know it's been said a thousand times, but Errol Flynn's magneticism completely swept me off my feet and made me ignore things like Marian. I'm pretty grateful that this blogathon happened because I feel like it's made me totally reevaluate Ms. de Havilland. Her ability to share the screen with Flynn and own her roles should have been enough of a clue to me that she's something special.

      Thanks for reading!

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