Don’t be hoodwinked by ‘Robin Hood’

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Errol Flynn memorably portrayed the titular romantic swashbuckler in the 1938 Warner Brothers’ costume drama, “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” “The Last of Robin Hood” depicts the final years of Flynn (Kevin Kline) before his premature death at age 50. The film is dominated by his ill-fated relationship with an aspiring young starlet, Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning). It also explores the facilitative role of Beverly’s fame-obsessed mother, Florence (Susan Sarandon). When exposed, this sordid affair became the cynosure of sensationalized tabloid accounts.

It remains unclear whether Robin Hood was a real personage; was quasi-historical, inspired by the conflation of various real life characters; or merely an apocryphal figure, popularized by Medieval ballads. Over the centuries, his persona has evolved. Traditionally, he was identified as a yeoman. Beginning in the 19th century, certain new elements were ascribed to the formulation of the Robin Hood legend. In the reformulated version of the tale, Robin Hood became described as the erstwhile Lord of Locksley, who had been wrongfully divested of his hereditary lands. The aggrieved Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men systematically fought oppression. They robbed from the rich Norman lords and gave to the poor indigenous Saxon populace.

Whether or not Robin Hood actually existed, he is one of the great characters in popular culture. The heroic outlaw has frequently been portrayed on screen by a litany of actors. Arguably, none has captured his essence with greater panache than Errol Flynn, then a handsome twenty-nine old actor.  In the climactic, stairwell duel, he displayed consummate chivalry and athleticism before skewering his bête noire, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone, ironically a skilled fencer).

Once, Flynn was a paragon of irresistible charm and virility. “The Last of Robin Hood” is set in the late ‘50s. Now, Flynn is well past his prime as a screen superstar. He has become a faded, booze besotted roué. As portrayed by Kline, Flynn has devolved into a pathetic parody of his former self. He struggles for roles, while using his one-time stature to accommodate an insatiable sexual appetite.

One day, Flynn espies a young blonde walking across the studio lot. She turns to be Beverly Aadland, an obscure member of the chorus line in a film then in production. Flynn is taken with her and sends a studio lackey to fetch her.

Under the guise of auditioning her for an upcoming play, Flynn lures Beverly to an estate where he staying. One thing leads to another. Flynn has soon added her to his long list of conquests. The portrayal of this event is unclear as to whether the sex was consensual.

Now that Flynn has had his way with her, Beverly assumes that he will lose interest in her. To Beverly’s surprise, Flynn continues to pursue her. The film offers no explanation for why Flynn is so consumed with Beverly. The young girl is not presented as being exceptionally attractive. Although Beverly is an aspiring actress, dancer, and singer, she exhibits only modest talent. What is her appeal to Flynn, who is still putatively able to still attract a wide variety of women?

There is a glitch. It turns out that Beverly is only fifteen years old. Her ambitious mother, Florence, has obtained a bogus birth certificate to make Beverly eligible to work and presented her as being eighteen. Whether or not Flynn’s initial encounter with Beverly was consensual, he becomes aware that his ongoing assignations with her constitute statutory rape.

To obfuscate the unsavory aspects of his relationship with an under-aged paramour, Flynn presents her as a protégé. To further the charade, he entices Florence to accompany them to all public outings.

Beverly’s career continues to founder. Flynn eventually had her cast as the female lead in his last film, “Cuban Rebel Girls.” It was shot with the blessing of Fidel Castro, while he was still leading the eventually successful revolution against the country’s dictator, Fulgencio Batista. However, after Castro assumed power, Flynn became disillusioned with him.

The screenplay by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who jointly co-directed the film, uses a dubious framing device. To provide a narrative structure, they employ Florence’s efforts to cash in by providing a tell-all account to a writer of her daughter’s relationship with Flynn. However, Florence is an inherently unsympathetic, self-deluded character. Is this someone, who can provide a remotely reliable perspective?

For a period drama, this vehicle is significantly underfunded. This becomes evident in its failure to capture any sense of the era’s period details. The cinematography is flat and unappealing.

The film disingenuously spurns certain salient issues. When did Flynn first realize that Beverly was not a young woman above the age of consent, but actually a girl still enrolled at Hollywood High School? The film acknowledges, but glosses over the fact that in 1943, Flynn was prosecuted on two counts of statutory rape. As Flynn was wont to brag, “I like my whiskey old and my women young,” When did Florence become aware that the relationship between her daughter and Flynn had been carnal from the outset? What were Beverly’s feelings for Flynn? Does Beverly sincerely love him or is she simply trying to exploit his voracious appetite for young flesh to advance her career? “The Last of Robin Hood” fails to offer any answers to these key questions. The film takes these extremely controversial subjects and effectively neuters them.

The title, “The Last of Robin Hood” exudes great resonance. It evokes both a classic character from folklore and a colorful actor, who portrayed him. It boasts a very strong cast. Don’t be hoodwinked, the film itself is dull, disappointing dud.

“The Last of Robin Hood”: *1/2 R (for some sexuality and language) 94 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

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