Skip to main content

He's become a legend. Have you ever tried to fight a legend?


Robin and Marian
(1976)

(SPOILERS) It’s ironic that Russell Crowe was older than Sean Connery is here when he starred in Ridley Scott’s malformed Robin Hood origins tale in 2010. Because Robin and Marian finds the mythic character at the end of the road. This is an elegiac tale of missed opportunities for love and fulfillment. If it never quite becomes the heartfelt meditation it wants to be, that is more down to Richard Lester’s perfunctory direction rather than the sincere performances from an outstanding cast.

Robin is well into middle age when the film begins; he and Little John (Nicol Williamson) have followed Richard the Lion-Heart (Richard Harris) through the Crusades and now see him die in France. Returning to England, Robin once again finds himself on the other side of the law, reuniting with Marian (Audrey Hepburn, returning to the screen after an eight-year absence to raise her family) and seeking shelter from the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) in Sherwood Forest. King John (Ian Holm), informed of the groundswell of support for the outlaw, sends men into the Forest to quash his rebellion.

Richard Lester made his mark directing The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night and Help! Throughout the ‘60s he experimental style infused comedy movies with a more vibrant, modern sensibility. By the start of ‘70s, he had suffered a major flop (The Bedsitting Room) and then managed to reinvent himself as a more commercial force with The Three Musketeers for Alexander Salkind (he would go on to direct two, or, at least, one and a half, Superman movies for the producer). But he continued to work mainly in the comedy genre (be it corrosive black comedy Petulia or the swashbuckling frivolity of the Alexander Dumas). Action thriller Juggernaught was an exception.

Whilst there is a rich vein of humour running through it, there wasn’t much precedent for the reflective tone of Robin and Marian. Unfortunately, Lester fails to imbue it with much in the way of lyricism. For that he must rely on the actors; even James Goldman’s script seems more willing to announce its themes than properly explore them. The film is certainly very nicely shot (in Spain, due to the tax status of certain cast members) by cinematographer David Watkin (a regular on Lester’s films, and also responsible for showing off scenery in Out of Africa) but the director’s staging is flat and perfunctory. And, while this is hardly an action movie, the fights are scrappily choreographed and edited (the final duel excepted). There’s a difference between creating a contemplative tone and plain poorly pacing; too often Robin and Marian is afflicted with the latter.

As with Lester’s How I Won the War, there a strong anti-war message is present. We are introduced to Richard as a dyspeptic, unbalanced monarch ready to kill women and children. Robin is sick of the death and destruction, wondering at the actions he was required to perform in the name of God, but he knows no other way to live (hence his confrontation with the Sheriff).

Where this leaves his final scenes with Marian is another matter. I’m sure Goldman was sincere in his choice to have Robin die poisoned by Marian. It forms a poetic end in his mind, as he would never have a day like this again (and his legend will live on). But Lester fails to sell this. Marian’s choice just seems loony; maybe this is intended, that her devotion to God has corrupted her outlook. After all, she also poisons herself and admits she loves Robin more than God. The problem is, her act comes out of nowhere and Robin only accepts his fate after much protest. Was Robin dying anyway? Maybe, but he didn’t seem to think so. It seems to be an ending that works for many viewers, but Lester’s “meat and potatoes” execution renders it devoid of tragic romance for me.

Connery obviously built up a rapport with his director, as they would team up again for Cuba a few years later. If Robin and Marian was a critical success and a commercial disappointment, Cuba saw them bottom out in both areas. Connery didn’t work with his director subsequently, placing much of the blame at his door.

Connery and Hepburn are great together, however. The Scot looks a good 10 or 15 years older than he actually is here, but it works for the character. Hepburn is a striking as ever. There is a sincerity and melancholy to their relationship that comes through in spite of the failings of script and direction.

Williamson doesn’t have the brawn of your typical Little John, but he’s a charismatic, lively presence. Shaw reunites with Connery (they previously sparred in From Russia With Love) and makes a less out-and-out villain of Nottingham than you’d expect. He’s portrayed as an intelligent man, with respect for Robin and a sense of honour. Also working with Connery again, Harris relishes his crazed early scenes, which are highly memorable, and they set the scene for a world Robin no longer has much place in. Denholm Elliott is an unlikely Will Scarlet and Ronnie Barker a likely Friar Tuck. Holm is onscreen all too briefly as John, distracted from his edicts by the attentions of his child bride (played by Victoria Abril). John Barry’s score is evocative, very much in Dances with Wolves mode.

This is often cited as one of Connery’s best performances, and there is definitely a warmth and tenderness in his interplay with Hepburn that you don’t often get to see. It’s just a shame that the film as a whole doesn’t make the most of the solid premise and fine cast.

*** 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute (2018)
(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.