Tuesday, May 2

Good 70s Films: Robin and Marian

1976 Romance Adventure
From Columbia Pictures
Directed by Richard Lester

Sean Connery
Audrey Hepburn
Robert Shaw
Nicol Williamson
Denholm Elliott
Ian Holm
Richard Harris

I found nothing wrong with this film, except, perhaps, like Darling Lili, it was made in the wrong decade. With all the strife and uneasiness of the 70s and with filmmaking turning a corner to the degree it had, who would have thought anyone would make another film about Robin Hood and make him older, more tired and focused on his love life? 

Well, there were two completely valid reasons why this happened in the decade it did... Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. One could perhaps question why we needed another tale of these merrymakers of Sherwood Forest.  Didn't we get enough of it from Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn? Well, apparently not because years after Robin and Marian, we still had some other versions starring, among others, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe.

Most versions of the fabled story have much comedy in them and while there is some here as well, it's not often and not played as broadly as some of the others.  What allows this version to stand apart from all others is that age difference.  And with that seems to come wisdom and tenderness and such a loving nature in the characters.

This is the only movie to costar these two screen legends.  If you like them both-- and c'mon, who doesn't?-- this is one's only chance to see them together.  Nearly all of her scenes are with him and it is glorious to watch them work together.  Part of that fun comes from the fact that these are two very different types of talented actors and people. If one ever wondered how they would pull this all off, one only needs to watch them to see that they do.

My thought at hearing of the casting was... isn't he just a little too rowdy for her delicate sensibilities?  (Just think, not only did she have to contend with a wild man like Connery but she got Richard Harris and Robert Shaw... both ornery, boozing, former Connery costars thrown into the testy testosterone mix as well.)  I was so taken by their casting that I took a guess as to how it would all work out and I couldn't have been more mistaken.  We'll look more into that but first the story.

Writer James (The Lion in Winter and Nicholas and Alexandra) Goldman and director Richard (A Hard Day's Night and those Musketeers flicks) Lester were anxious to tell the story of the older, former lovers as a great romantic tale.  This would be after he returns from the Crusades and his time with Richard the Lion-hearted (Harris), some 20 years after last seeing Marian.  He finds his forest overgrown and fallen into messy hard times.  Before long he comes across his most trusted ally, Little John (Williamson), and soon they are off to see if they can find his former love.

Director Richard Lester and his stars

He comes across her living in an abbey.  I recall the Catholic Church as being in quite the uproar over Marian's behavior.  I am not out to defend the church, mind you, but I was surprised when she flings open a shutter dressed just like she was in The Nun's Story and the first thing she does is curse.  Oh my. Before I could catch my breath, she was off to the forest with Robin, laying about in the tall grasses, wimple long gone, her vows apparently forgotten.

Marian is at the heart of the unfolding story. The wicked Sheriff of Nottingham (Shaw) comes to take her away for some offense and Robin will have none of it and off they ride to hide in Sherwood Forest.  Ultimately, of course, the two men do meet up and have a battle royal.

I think the film ends as it should and here's a clue for you... the original title was The Death of Robin Hood.  How that happens I not only found surprising when I first saw it but in hindsight it is 
the most perfect ending.

It is a beautifully-filmed piece with David Watkin's cameras capturing Pamplona, Spain, in all its glory.  There are some wonderful aerial shots, a panoramic look at tents high on a cliff overlooking the sea, an engaging look at Robin's men, women and children preparing for battle in their forest hideaway.  Hepburn and Connery are perfection in their beautiful scenes by a stream, walking through the woods and leaning against a tree. 

John Barry's sweeping, romantic score does the film much justice but then I'd guess I've never heard a Barry movie score I didn't like.

The movie is certainly lifted up by a brilliant supporting cast. Shaw, Harris and Williamson are certainly three who faithfully give their all to any performance and all perform especially well as these blustery characters.

One reason Connery accepted the part was because the project would be filmed in Spain.  It was also his residence for many years (before moving to the Bahamas) and he alerted his agents that he would only work in Spain and in a few African countries. He had just had successful runs in The Wind and the Lion (Spain) and The Man Who Would Be King (Morocco) and he was looking to continue his successes.  He at first demurred but then decided that he thought he could do something interesting with the part of the old warrior.  Hearing about Hepburn's casting certainly made the deal all the sweeter for him.

And for us, too.  And the world.  We had been deprived of seeing this actress act in something new for nine long years... the last time was in 1967 for both Two for the Road and Wait Until Dark.  We were all pretty happy to get her back. 

Of all the things one could say about Audrey Hepburn, the one I like the most is that you could count her.  When she attempted something different, you could still count on her.  There's no Givenchy to gown her in this one.  You see a woman of her style tramping around in the woods, dirty-faced, in a cavegirl sack dress in nearly every scene... and it just brings a smile to your face.

To play an older Maid Marian, there she was... an older Audrey Hepburn. Nine years later the makeup was sparse, the facial lines were deeper and there was perhaps more melancholy in that lovely face than seen before.  Perhaps she, too, knew she would look the part of Marian and wondered if she could she handle it. Ultimately, like the rather centered individual she was, she took it all on.

The melancholia, something I think she always had, was driven of late by her second marriage to a psychiatrist who was very publicly cheating on her.  She disliked living in Rome and was always fearful one of her children would be kidnapped.  Needing to have more of a hands-on approach to her private life meant less time for her public life.

Still, she thought she needed to get out of town for awhile and when offered this part in Spain, where she could quickly return to Rome when she needed to, and this was the ticket.  It's just as likely that her young son who liked both Robin Hood and Sean Connery and would be along for the shoot cemented the deal.

She and her costar got along very well. There were those on the set who thought they nailed the romance of their characters. It is a great romantic film, too.  I have long thought of it as much as an adult version of Romeo and Juliet as Robin and Marian. Their scenes together, especially the closeups and the embraces, are achingly tender.  We have grown up with these two actors, just as we have with Robin and Marian, and we're all older.  It gave me pause. 

Hepburn wound up not having as much fun as she thought she would.  On a location such as that one, there's not much to do so most of the cast and crew get together for some laughs and refreshments, but not Hepburn.  She stayed with her retinue in their attached rooms or returned to Italy for most weekends.  She claimed that what she didn't like was the ruggedness and the hardship.  When had she ever done a film like this, really?  Maybe a little crazy on the set of The Unforgiven (1960) but not like this one and not at her age.  Coming back to a film like this was a jolt in that regard.

But the magic of this film is the loving scenes between its two stars.  Their pairing is absolutely magical... what a shame they couldn't have done more together. Watching them positively glow in their scenes together, it's hard to believe they weren't really in love. Robin and Marian, at least, have matured and are possessed of wisdom, mutual respect, grace, tender love and an ability to fully express themselves.  These are smart, tough people caught in an untenable situation.

If I had to give an edge to just one of them, it would have to be to Connery because I don't think he's ever been so tender and caring. Wondering how these two would relate, I thought of how bombastic he was in most of his roles that it would have to be her who would succumb to all that manstuff.  But here he was into the most tender performance he has perhaps ever delivered.  She was the lady who was roughing it and he was the roughneck who was leading with a tender heart.

You may have gathered this is one of my favorite screen pairings ever.  It is the reason for calling Robin and Marian a good 70s movie... and one with a great finale.

A lovely trailer...

Next posting:
A Bacall husband

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