Before Ridley Scott’s, Kevin Costner’s, and Disney’s film versions of Robin Hood, there was “The Adventures of Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn. Directed in part by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”), this film was one of the first movies ever to be in Technicolor, which must have looked really nice to audiences in 1938. I saw this movie recently for the first time, and in my opinion, it still looks great today. Watch this movie, and you’ll see the kind of action-adventure filmmaking that influenced movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean”.
The film takes place in the late 12th century A.D. in… England, I guess, where Prince John, brother of Richard the Lion-Heart, has begun to take command once Richard has been captured in the Crusades. This, of course, is not a good thing, because John (Claude Rains) is a very cruel leader, keeping riches for himself and the people in the kingdom and leaving the Saxon peasants starving and impoverished. Then one day, one of those peasants shoots a deer in the woods and tries to take it away for food when he is caught by servants of the king. But who should come to his rescue but another man named Robin (Flynn), who uses his bow-and-arrow to drive the nobles away. That day, the peasant tells Robin he will follow him anywhere, and he gives him the deer carcass.
That night, Robin makes his way into the king’s dining hall, carrying the deer carcass in protest. He and John converse very politely at first, until Robin starts saying what he truly feels:
ROBIN: I’ll organize revolt, exact a death for a death, and I'll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand up free men and strike a blow for Richard and England.
JOHN: Are you finished?
ROBIN: I'm only just beginning. From this night forward I'll use every means in my power to fight you!
And the first of many swashbuckling action sequences in the movie commences. Robin makes it out okay, but after leaving, he cannot forget the face of a woman with John, Lady Marian (Olivia de Havilland). And he never forgets about her as he continues on his quest to free the Saxons. Along his way, he picks up many other followers that want to fight alongside him, including the infamous Little John (Alan Hale) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette). All his men are very willing to fight with him, and even beyond his group of men, there are other Saxons spreading the word about where Robin is and where they can find him to serve him.
To make a long story short, Robin takes some riches from one of the king’s servants, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone); he is almost hanged by Prince John until Lady Marian and Robin’s men free him and kill several of the king’s soldiers; Robin and Lady Marian fall in love; and King Richard the Lion-Heart (Ian Hunter) makes his way back to Sherwood with several of his men, joining Robin Hood and his band of merry men (I guess that’s what they’re called in legend—I don’t think they’re ever called that in the movie) and fighting Prince John and his men in a final battle. In the end, Robin kills Sir Guy, Richard drives John away, and as his first order for Robin Hood, he marries him and Lady Marian.
Not only was I really impressed with the way this movie was made, one of the first great adventure films ever made, but also something else struck me as I watched all these men join Robin Hood’s gang. Robin finds a lot of these men where they are, living their normal, daily lives, and he challenges them to fight for their freedom. Some come sooner than others. But Robin turns no one away if they are prepared to fight.
And maybe it’s just me, but I was reminded a lot about how Jesus called His disciples. He found them all in their normal, daily lives—as fishermen, tax collectors, or whatever—and he said: “Follow me.” And it ended up that a lot of men followed Jesus around at first, not just the twelve disciples that we learn about in Sunday school. When crowds saw Jesus turn five loaves and two fish into a meal for thousands of people, they were amazed and wanted to see what Jesus would do next.
But here’s the difference between what Robin Hood tells his men and what Jesus tells them. Robin Hood prepares his men to fight for freedom, and that they will have victory, which brings with it food, drink, shelter, and happiness that they have not experienced for a very long time. But do you know what Jesus told his disciples one day? He told them, as written in Mark 8:34: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Harsh teaching, right? If you want to follow Jesus, forget this life and die to yourself everyday?
And because of the harshness they felt in His words, John 6:66 tells us: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” The Twelve, we read, stayed with Him because they said they knew His words were real, and they did not want to go anywhere else. And I pray that, as you go through this week, you would take up your cross and follow Jesus, even if it might mean pain for you. His Way is worth it.