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

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
(SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bonds in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball, but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again, despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.