A sort of tragicomedy/adventure film, "Robin and Marian" picks up the Robin Hood legend some twenty years after most versions of the story, with Robin and his sidekick Little John returning to their old Sherwood haunts world-weary from the Crusades and their sickening brutality. They're informed by former cohorts Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett that Maid Marian now lives at the nearby priory, where she has become an abbess. Marian greets Robin's return with mixed feelings, but after he rescues her from his longtime enemy, the Sheriff of Nottingham, who tries to arrest her on religious grounds, the two become lovers once again.
Sean Connery ... Robin Hood
Audrey Hepburn ... Lady Marian
Robert Shaw ... Sheriff of Nottingham
Richard Harris ... Richard the Lionheart
Nicol Williamson ... Little John
Denholm Elliott ... Will Scarlett
Kenneth Haigh ... Sir Ranulf
Ronnie Barker ... Friar Tuck
Ian Holm ... King John
Bill Maynard ... Mercadier
Esmond Knight ... Old Defender
Veronica Quilligan ... Sister Mary
Peter Butterworth ... Surgeon
John Barrett ... Jack
Kenneth Cranham ... Jack's Apprentice
It brought Audrey Hepburn back to the screen after an absence of eight years. It brought Sean Connery and Richard Harris back together again after their teaming in "The Molly Maguires" and it even brought back Connery and Robert Shaw fourteen years after they fought to the death in "From Russia With Love". Unfortunately at the time of its release it did not bring back audiences to the theaters. For a movie going public acclimatized to the likes of "Jaws" and "Rocky", a film concerned with aging and loss, corruption and mortality was not likely to find very wide acceptance. Today it is generally regarded as a classic and one of the best adult love stories ever filmed. What do heroes do when it's time to call it a day? This is the problem confronting Robin Hood, a legend in his own time, on his return to Sherwood Forest after twenty-five years of fighting in the Holy Land. Should he, as old soldiers are said to do, quietly fade away, or go out in a blaze of glory? Unfortunately Robin is, as his great adversary, The Sheriff of Nottingham wisely observes, "A little in love with death." So it is unlikely he will slowly fade away. And Death hangs over the film like an unseen presence. This central theme is given visual emphasis in one of the opening shots. We see three apples set in an open window. Perfect at first, then suddenly an abrupt jump cut showing them rot. This motif of aging and corruption is repeated for the closing of the film as well. We hear Will Scarlett sing about, "Following Jolly Robin to the grave." The mortally wounded Richard Lionheart confides to one of his lieutenants his dislike of the cold and dark; when Little John expresses his desire to go see his father again, he is ruefully informed by Friar Tuck that, "He died years ago, John..." The wistful reaction on Little John's face eloquently expresses regret too profound for words. Visually and verbally death is a constant presence. Indeed, the original script was titled, "The Death of Robin Hood." With a title like that it was not going to be a rehash of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. And perhaps that also added to the films lackluster performance at the box-office. Audiences brought up on "The Adventures of Robin Hood" simply could not accept seeing these two beautiful star-crossed lovers ravaged by time, even if they were portrayed by the likes of Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn.
However like the Flynn film, "Robin and Marian" boasts a superb cast. Sean Connery gives one of his great performances. His Robin refuses to acknowledge the approaching infirmities of old age, and like a great ex-athlete attempts to make a comeback in a world that has long since left him behind. Nicol Williamson, woefully under-used in most films has one of his best roles as Little John, the terrible gentle giant who follows Robin with the unquestioning simplicity of a child. He and Connery have the essential chemistry necessary and make an incredibly good team. Robert Shaw brings intelligence, sensitivity and danger to the Sheriff of Nottingham, a man who will ultimately be undone because of those very virtues. Richard Harris does a magnificent turn as King Richard the Lion-hearted. Even though burnt out by years of chasing after glory, he still retains the after-glow of greatness. Ian Holm as his brother Prince John is a wonderful contrast, anxious and insecure, scheming and pleasure loving. His scene with the ambitious, equally scheming Sir Ranulf, the marvelously supercilious Kenneth Haigh, highlights another of the film's themes; the passing of the chivalric age. This is signaled by the death of King Richard, continues with the death of The Sheriff, and is completed by the deaths of Robin and Marian. Prince John and Sir Ranulf symbolize the ascendancy of the modern, hollow man, ambition without vision, loyal only to power and expediency. Prince John, is King as CEO interested only in profit, Sir Ranulf, like the armor he sports, a soulless, mechanical bird of prey. Denholm Elliot as Will Scarlett and Ronnie Barker as Friar Tuck complete Robin's band. Elliott was an actor who could express more with a simple look than most actors can with pages of dialog, and Barker has some nice ironic moments as the Friar. Finally "Robin and Marian" brought Audrey Hepburn back to the screen, as radiant and lovely as ever. Seeing her first in her nun's garb recalls her appearance in, "The Nun's Story" sixteen years earlier. Some people have an ageless beauty and Audrey Hepburn had that quality. She and Connery may be the best tragic lovers since Humphrey Bogart told Ingrid Bergman to get on that plane in "Casablanca". Their scenes together are magic. When Marian asks Robin why he followed Richard during all the years of terrible carnage, Connery sums up his life with a simplicity that is breathtaking; "He was my King..."
The film is wonderfully elegiac and the melancholic sense of time irretrievably lost is heartrending. James Goldman's screenplay is quite simply his best, surpassing his own adaptation of his play, "The Lion in Winter". Unlike that film Goldman refuses to indulge in pithy witticisms at the expense of period flavor. John Barry's bittersweet score and Richard Lester's austere direction never descend into sentimentality and underscore the tragedy of the two lovers reunited after spending half a lifetime apart. David Watkins's gritty cinematography beautifully captures the squalor of life in the medieval age. "Robin and Marian" is a bittersweet adult love story for discriminating viewers of all ages.
Oh what a wonderful idea. A new telling of the Robin Hood legend with his merry men, Maid Marion, and the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham thrown in. The twist was that the characters were all older and starting to slow down and realize their youthful adventures were long past them. The core of the story is the bittersweet love story between the title characters.
The true core of the film and what makes it so special is the casting. Sean Connery plays Robin Hood as the hero we all know who is slowing down despite his attempts to keep going. Audrey Hepburn is perfect as Marian. She reminds us of her eternal beauty and how truly a good actress she was. This was her first theatrical film in 9 years and it's a shame she was so little seen in that time. Actually, she was little seen after that appearing only in a few more films and none that were very memorable. Nicol Williamson plays Robin's ever faithful right hand man still trying to fight the good fight and always remaining by Robin's side. And Robert Shaw plays the Sheriff in a role he was born to play. The final swordfight between him and Robin is a highlight.
Then we come to the ending. I won't give it away save to say that it's a good, albeit, very bittersweet ending. The point comes across in a way that Shakespeare may have written.
It's a sweet and sometimes exciting film that is most underrated and deserves to be seen.
One needs to say straight off the bat that if one wants lots of typical Robin Hood swashbuckling then one is better off seeing the Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner or one of the countless lesser films of Robin Hood. There is not much action here. However, the shortage of action is really quite appropriate to this particular film, which can be seen as a sequel to almost any other version you've seen. 'The Last Days Of Robin Hood' would have been as good a title as the one we have.
This being a Richard Lester film, there are plenty of humorous touches. Here, they seem somewhat out of place,as the general tone of the film is bittersweet. We have a Robin Hood who is aging and aware of it, yet still has to fill the role of a legendary hero. The film portrays even better than El Cid the passing of somebody into legend, and a sense of destiny- it's more important that Robin fulfill his than opt out and not have the risk of things ending sadly. Sean Connery never did change that accent, but he could be a superb actor at times, as indeed he is here. The supporting cast is a virtual Who's Who of fine British character actors of the time, but Robert Shaw stands out as the most menacing Sheriff Of Nottingham on film.
There is much in this film that is immensely touching, especially when Robin and Marian start resuming their romance which supposedly ended 18 years previously. David Watkin's gorgeous photography of the countryside is essential in giving the film it's autumnal quality. Despite the overly lengthy build up to it, the final Robin/Sheriff duel is well worth the wait, a really realistic, convincing brawl. The film is aided immensely by John Barry's music- his main theme is beautiful and deserves to be ranked among the more famous themes this great composer has written. One could easily find a more exciting and even more entertaining Robin Hood film than this, but probably not a more touching one.
The little things in this wonderful movie send the messages we need to hear. The idiotic King Richard destroying the castle for a worthless piece of stone, and then like any King, ordering the messengers, Robin and John, to be executed.
This folly repeats itself at the end, when Robin takes the Sheriff and his aides at their word that their duel will decide the day, but with Nottingham dead and Robin mortally wounded, we see Robin's peasants being chased and slaughtered.
Lester is one of the few directors that shows how exhausting fighting with swords can be. Here the final duel to death bears resemblance to that between Michael York and Christopher Lee in 4 Musketeers.
Lester and the camera catch the crow's feet in Marian's eyes as she rekindles the flame. This is so touching. And he does the impossible by letting us have a certain sympathy and respect for Nottingham, a man with a pompous idiot for a king.
Who else but Goldman would have Little John lamenting that it is always Robin that gets the girl. His scene with Marian when she tries to convince him to stop Robin from the final fight is almost as painful as the last meeting of Marian and Robin, and how Little John defends the two. What a boon friend he is.
Everyone has noted that Goldman also wrote Lion in Winter, but all fans of "Robin" should find his "They Might Be Giants", which is another look at a legend,Sherlock Holmes, and mature love.
Critics don't always get it right. I recall Newsweek's rewriting his review of Bonnie and Clyde, and I wonder if she were alive today if Pauline Kael would do this same for this wonderful film.