I recently came across an article that was originally published in Independent Exhibitors Film Bulletin on July 30, 1938. David J. Hanna, the author of the article, compares and contrasts two films: The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Adventures of Marco Polo. Basil Rathbone, of course, played a major role in both of those films: Sir Guy of Gisbourne in Robin Hood and Ahmed the Saracen in Marco Polo. The article appears below. Enjoy!
ROBIN HOOD vs MARCO POLO
One of the greatest box office successes of the year, if not the greatest, is THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. Throughout the country, reports from class and deluxe houses, from city neighborhoods and rural locations, from the cheapest action spots, tell conclusively that the Warner production is at or very near the top of the season’s grossers.
THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO, Sam Goldwyn’s contribution to the year’s adventure program, met with far less success. While neither Mr. Goldwyn nor most exhibitors apparently lost money on the film, it failed to hit the “big money” class.
Both ROBIN HOOD and MARCO POLO were “big” productions in the sense that both were made on high budgets. Both had stories of the same type, each concerning the adventures of a famous character beloved by readers of fiction. If there was any advantage in cast, it rested with POLO. Gary Cooper, at least prior to the general release of the Warner picture, rated higher than Errol Flynn as an attraction. ROBIN HOOD was in technicolor; MARCO POLO was not. But it was our personal reaction (concurred in by many critics) that the tints not only did not embellish the entertainment, but actually obscured some of the dash and action of the Sherwood Forest tale.
Why, then, since these two films were virtually on a par as to external qualities, was ROBIN HOOD received with such enthusiasm and MARCO POLO so tepidly?
The screen play for POLO was placed in the usually capable hands of Robert E. Sherwood, one of our foremost playwrights. Mr. Sherwood was handed what was obviously intended to be the story of a daring, foolhardy, adventuresome character. It was to have been one of those rip-roaring yarns of reckless exploit and dangerous love.
Sherwood has specialized in stage comedies dealing with clever, if unimportant, people. His dialogue is usually brittle and smart. He apparently believed that it would not be amiss to dilute the unrestrained action called for by the story with some smatterings of light stuff.
So the writer missed his cue! He dragged in a bit of ill-timed bedroom farce involving Cooper, Binnie Barnes and Alan Hale. With so tremendously effective a villain as Basil Rathbone patiently waiting off-screen, the dynamic Mr. Polo was forced to sit around in a lady’s boudoir and look silly while she made passes at him.
Not so with ROBIN HOOD. There was the realization of every man’s, woman’s and child’s adventure hero. With hardly a moment’s cessation, the Robber of the Rich and Giver to the Poor was battling against seemingly insurmountable odds, stealing one reckless kiss from his fair lady, or plotting some daring, new escapade. In brief, ROBIN HOOD was simple, unadulterated heroic adventure.
It has long been a failing of producers and writers in Hollywood to endeavor to strike a happy formula of “universal appeal” in every film Too often they ruin a sound plot by dragging in extraneous sub-plots having no bearing on the central theme. Too many screen writers become convinced of the universality of their own tastes and standards. They seem to forget that, for all their veneer, even they can be enormously entertained by a ROBIN HOOD, with all its fairy tale fabrication.