Tag Archives: Basil Rathbone

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, Michael Curtiz and William Keighley)

The Adventures of Robin Hood gets by on a lot of charm. Charm and costuming (good and bad). The film opens with title cards setting the scene. Sherwood Forest, evil King’s brother, righteous nobel, beautiful damsel, insidious villain, and Technicolor tights–Claude Rains looking like a Little Lord Fauntleroy grew up and broke bad.

Rains, with sidekicks Basil Rathbone, Melville Cooper, and Montagu Love, isn’t a terrible villain. When there’s first act banter between Rains and Flynn, it seems like Rains is going to be a great one. It’s like Rains is buying into the pomposity of the production. Maybe it’s when Keighley is still directing the film, maybe it’s Curtiz. They didn’t work together; the studio canned Keighley for weak action scenes.

And action scenes are Robin Hood’s weakness. Neither Curtiz or Keighley has much of a handle on them. There’s almost a discomfort around the castle sets, like neither director knows how he wants to shoot the exteriors. There are some decent moments on the outdoor castle and village set, but not many. Robin Hood’s best directorial moments are indoors. Even the problematic ones; one of the directors has some real issues with framing the grandiose castle interiors, like he’s going for something and it just doesn’t translate.

Olivia de Havilland’s condemned Maid Marian, tinily waiting her sentence, is a somewhat effective moment, but it’s not a style the directors use in the rest of the film. Just for inside the castle for a bit in the second half of the film, specifically as the second act winds down. de Havilland’s gowns are always exquisite–quite the opposite of the men in tights–and the shots sort of showcase them, but her performance during her bigger character moments could’ve been shot a lot better.

There’s also Ralph Dawson’s editing.

But the problem is the script more than anything else. Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller string together some introductions to familiar Robin Hood supporting cast through the first act–while setting up Rains’s villainry–and that first act is pretty much the most Flynn gets to do in the film actingwise. He and de Havilland flirt wonderfully through the rest of the film, but it’s all easy stuff. And then in the second act, de Havilland gets a lot more to do, only to lose it all for the third act. Third act is a mostly even split between Flynn and Rains, along with the deus ex machina sauntering around, but it’s not a return to the first act.

Robin Hood has a lot of (tighted) buts to it. Basil Rathbone’s an effective strong man villain, but he has no character and Rathbone doesn’t bring one to it. He just sweats well during the sword fights. Same goes for the Merry Men. Patric Knowles gets top billing despite having nothing to do. He’s purely functional. At least Eugene Pallette and Alan Hale eventually bicker, though it comes out of nowhere.

The best parts of the supporting cast are this underdeveloped, but frequently utilized, romance between Flynn’s “squire” Herbert Mundin and de Havilland’s lady-in-waiting Una O’Connor. And Melville Cooper’s cowardly Nottingham Sheriff is eventually funny, just because the script doesn’t forget about the joke. Cooper’s character gets a singular consistency and he does well with it.

Shame Rains doesn’t have a similar success.

Beautiful Technicolor cinematography from Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito. Omnipresent and overbearing, but still good in parts, score from Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

The Adventures of Robin Hood ought to be better, even though some of the cast does all right.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley; screenplay by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller; directors of photography, Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito; edited by Ralph Dawson; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Errol Flynn (Robin Hood), Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian), Basil Rathbone (Sir Guy of Gisbourne), Claude Rains (Prince John), Patric Knowles (Will Scarlett), Eugene Pallette (Friar Tuck), Alan Hale (Little John), Melville Cooper (High Sheriff of Nottingham), Una O’Connor (Bess), Herbert Mundin (Much), and Montagu Love (Bishop of the Black Canons).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND ANNUAL OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND + ERROL FLYNN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY LAURA OF PHYLLIS LOVES CLASSIC MOVIES and CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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Son of Frankenstein (1939, Rowland V. Lee)

Son of Frankenstein is a mostly wasted opportunity. For everything good, there’s something significantly wrong with it. The script is good, director Lee doesn’t direct actors well. The German Expressionist-influenced sets are great, Lee shoots it so stagy, the sets go to waste. Lee likes his long shots. He and editor Ted J. Kent do nothing to make the cuts interesting. Though, really, Kent doesn’t have any material to work with. Lee has about six different shots and he just goes through them in a cycle. It’d be annoying on its own, but with everything else, it gives Son of Frankenstein way too much narrative distance. If the sets had been worse, if the actors had been better, who knows….

The Son in the title is Basil Rathbone. He is returning to Castle Frankenstein. Oh, right–it’s basically a lot like Young Frankenstein. Rathbone discovers the monster, brings it back to life, chaos ensues. He’s got a wife (Josephine Hutchinson in an admirable performance given all the constraints on her–Lee’s lack of direction, Rathbone’s inability to share scenes) and son (Donnie Dunagan, who’s supposed to be adorable). Right off, Rathbone’s a mad scientist. Most of the film has him hanging out with Bela Lugosi (who understands how to upstage a screen hog and delivers a fairly solid performance). Lionel Atwill’s around as a police inspector with only one arm. Yes, there’s a dart scene in Son too.

Oh, right. The Monster. Boris Karloff. You’d think he’d be important but he’s not. There’s no room for Karloff or the Monster in Son, not with Rathbone, Lugosi and Atwill. Atwill’s got more chemistry with Hutchinson than Rathbone and Atwill’s not even good. Lee doesn’t direct him and sort of lets him dangle in the film’s most thankless, but most important role.

Karloff is great. He has almost nothing to do, but watching him examine himself in the mirror, one can just imagine how good it would be with better direction. Cooper’s script is full of little moments Lee just can’t convey. The script’s far from perfect–anyone but Rathbone needed to be the lead the story, the part itself is inherently unlikable and Cooper doesn’t go anywhere interesting with it.

Really lame music from Frank Skinner doesn’t help things.

Even when Son of Frankenstein feints to impress, it manages to disappoint. And most of it is Lee’s fault.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Rowland V. Lee; written by Wyllis Cooper; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Frank Skinner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein), Emma Dunn (Amelia) and Edgar Norton (Benson).


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The Last Hurrah (1958, John Ford)

While the title refers to politics, The Last Hurrah also, unfortunately in some cases, provided to be the last hurrah of a number of fine actors as well. It’s a fitting–I can’t remember the word. It isn’t eulogy and tribute seems intentional. I don’t know if Ford knew he was making the last film like The Last Hurrah, and there are a number of films like it. Watching it, the mood, the politics, and James Gleason reminded a lot of Meet John Doe. Jane Darwell, for some odd reason since she wasn’t in it, reminded me of The Informer. The Last Hurrah is very much the last film in style–and not the exact style, Ford was a fluid filmmaker–Ford pioneered in the 1930s. While Touch of Evil is, I suppose, a later stylistic descendent, The Last Hurrah‘s the last in the storytelling vein.

Ford’s direction here, his composition, his camera movements, are all very assured, very confident, but also very sentimental. He ties the composition to the story content, letting the frame express what sometimes Spencer Tracy cannot verbalize. I meant to start with Tracy, then I thought I’d save him, but now’s as good of time as any. Tracy’s performance, down the way his nose moves when he breathes, is perfect, so perfect it’s hard to remember he’s Spencer Tracy and was probably in a hundred movies. He’s nothing like any of them. He and Ford, whether by design or accident, create something amazing–Ford for constructing the framed arena capable of supporting Tracy’s performance–but also needing nothing less–and Tracy for filling this field.

The other performances, starting with Jeffrey Hunter, are excellent. Hunter’s great as the film’s emotional reference. He’s new to it, so is the viewer. The rest of the characters have all been around a while; Hunter doesn’t lead the story or even provide an access point, he just shows on screen what the viewer is experiencing. Frank S. Nugent’s script’s something fantastic, but in the story it tells, and the way it tells it. Everyone’s good so it doesn’t make sense just to list them all, but Basil Rathbone’s great as a villain, Carleton Young as Tracy’s assistant, Dianne Foster as Hunter’s wife and Edward Brophy. Brophy’s role’s hard to describe and what he does for the film. Pat O’Brien too, in maybe the least flashy of the film’s roles for good actors.

The way Ford finishes it. Coda. Is coda the word I’m looking for? Maybe The Last Hurrah is coda for certain kind of film, the adult drama of the 1930s and 1940s. Anyway, Ford’s last shot in the film. The pace, the sound, the shadows. It gets blood from a stone. It reveals a deeper capacity for feeling. It’s his best close.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Ford; written by Frank S. Nugent, based on the novel by Edwin O’Connor; director of photography, Charles Lawton Jr.; edited by Jack Murray; production designer, Robert Peterson; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Mayor Frank Skeffington), Jeffrey Hunter (Adam Caulfield), Dianne Foster (Mave Caulfield), Pat O’Brien (John Gorman), Basil Rathbone (Norman Cass Sr.), Donald Crisp (Cardinal Martin Burke), James Gleason (‘Cuke’ Gillen), Edward Brophy (‘Ditto’ Boland), John Carradine (Amos Force), Willis Bouchey (Roger Sugrue), Basil Ruysdael (Bishop Gardner), Ricardo Cortez (Sam Weinberg), Wallace Ford (Charles J. Hennessey), Frank McHugh (Festus Garvey), Carleton Young (Winslow), Frank Albertson (Jack Mangan), Bob Sweeney (Johnny Degnan), Edmund Lowe (Johnny Byrne), William Leslie (Dan Herlihy), Anna Lee (Gert Minihan), Ken Curtis (Monsignor Killian), Jane Darwell (Delia Boylan), O.Z. Whitehead (Norman Cass Jr.) and Arthur Walsh (Frank Skeffington Jr.).


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