Friday, April 25, 2008

Robin the Second

The second and final post of TAORH.

At the beginning of October, 1937, The Adventures of Robin Hood rolled film in Chico, California (despite the production manager's uptightness about lousy weather ... which they got). Early on, the seeds of William Keighley's later departure in favor of Warners' workhorse Michael Curtiz were sown:

From: Hal B. Wallis

Dear Bill: I don't want to start worrying you or ride or crowd you but while the first three days' dailies are gorgeous and just the last word, at the same time it has taken three days to shoot the meeting between Robin and Little John, and it was not yet complete at end of three days' work. I don't have to tell you that at this rate we will be on location until it snows ...

As production on Robin Hood ramped up, shooting on Gold is Where You Find It, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Olivia De Havilland, Claude Raines, and George Brent, was winding down. Gold, little seen today, was Warners second three-strip Technicolor film (released in February, 1938) and De Havilland joined the Keighley unit soon after filming wrapped.

By late October, the production was more than a week behind schedule, and Errol Flynn had a problem:

Dear Hal [Wallis]:

... My wig ... I loath the bloody thing. With the hat on it's fine, and the alteration I want to suggest does not affect any of the stuff we've shot so far -- the part that's wrong is hidden by the hat. The centre part in the wig is my chief complaint. I would like an almost unnoticeable part on either side so that one side or the other could sweep back off the forehead. The fringes would then, when the hat is removed, not look like fringes but just a few locks of loose hair carelessly falling over the brow. My drawing of course is hopeless but I've explained to the make up here who say they will write to the studio and explain it.

...I haven't had my hat off yet and when I do, the new wig would match. ... I'm quite certain you will think it an improvement, Hal. ... I hate this present one so much I shudder every time I see the Goddam thing -- and I've had nothing but comments from people, when they see it with the hat off, about the stupid looking fringe and centre part. So there must be something to it...

Errol Flynn got his new, improved wig. The old one can be seen here in Robin and Little John's first meeting ... which was also the first sequence filmed in Chico.

Shooting wrapped at the Bidwell Park location in northern California on November 8, and the unit returned to Burbank. There Keighley undertook scenes in Maid Marian's apartment, followed by location shooting of the archery tournament at Busch Gardens in Pasadena.

By now TAORH was fifteen days behind schedule. Hal Wallis and Jack Warner were not happy, and decided (on November 30) to replace Keighley with Michael Curtiz. This made Errol Flynn unhappy, because the actor strongly disliked the Hungarian director. But the producers wanted the man who had delivered big action films (Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade) that had also been accompanied by big bucks, so Mr. Flynn swallowed his bile and bowed to the front office's wishes (four years later, he wouldn't.)

Curtiz had a flair for staging and sweeping camera moves that William Keighly did not, yet Keighley's Sherwood forest location work meshes relatively seamlessly with Cutiz's interiors. Mr. Keighley's fight with quarter staffs (above) might not have the fluid panache of Curtiz's work, but it doesn't need to. The choreography is good and the dialogue pings back and forth; the editing and actors do the rest. (His final director's job would turn out to be Errol Flynn's last quality swashbuckler: The Master of Ballantrae).

First unit work for TAORH wrapped on January 15, 1938, at 3:10 in the morning. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, initially reluctant to score the film, reversed himself and composed Robin's symphonic underpinnings in seven weeks (and John Williams has been forever after in his debt.)

Lastly. The Adventures of Robin Hood had a final negative cost of $1.9 million dollars. That wouldn't float a small indy feature today, but in 1938 it was the highest budgeted film in Warner Bros.'s history. Happily, Robin became the sixth highest-grossing feature of the year. Happier still, most of its triple negative survived into the digital age, and is now -- seven decades further on -- available on high def DVD.


Anonymous said...

Yes, a great film, no two ways about it.

Those old WB interoffice communications are priceless reading...any time I want a laugh I reread the ones where Wallis excorciates Curtiz on "Captain Blood"--wow!

Site Meter