Robin And Marian (DVD)

Robin And Marian (DVD)

Besmirched by Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists, and other dubious characters, the term "revisionist history" is now past the point of rescue, but it used to simply mean seeing history from a different angle rather than altering it. In American film, revisionist histories had their heartiest outgrowth in the Western genre. A product of the 1960s' ingrained distrust of received wisdom, films like Monte Hellman's Ride In The Whirlwind, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, and, most consciously, Arthur Penn's Little Big Man all presented aspects of the American West left untouched by the matinee shootouts of their filmmakers' youth. England has different origin myths, of course, but the same instincts that led to those films drive Richard Lester's Robin And Marian, in which a middle-aged Robin Hood (Sean Connery) returns to Sherwood Forest after spending 20 years fighting in the Crusades alongside Richard The Lionhearted (Richard Harris). An undeserved failure in 1976, Robin And Marian has been given a dignified, if frill-free, revival on DVD. As the film opens, Harris has been driven mad, or perhaps just bad, by too many conquests and too much power. After massacring a castleful of women and children—in search of a treasure that probably doesn't exist—Harris dies, providing Connery and his loyal sidekick Little John (Nicol Williamson) with a long-delayed excuse to go home. In their absence, they have become larger than life, the subject of folk songs and tall tales. Connery is flattered, in spite of the stories' tenuous relationship to the truth, and the issue of how he and his merry men fit into their own myth drives both the characters and the film itself. As Connery's travels reunite him with Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn), now a nun still smarting from her lover's abandonment two decades prior, and the Sheriff Of Nottingham (Robert Shaw), word of his return spreads, and followers gather for one more stand against the tyrannical powers that be. Working from a script by Lion In Winter playwright James Goldman, Lester (A Hard Day's Night, The Three Musketeers) weaves his talent for physical comedy into the work's larger themes. In an early rescue scene, what would have been a quick dash over a castle wall for the heroes in bygone days turns into an excruciating climb that leaves them panting for their lives at the end. But Robin And Marian would merely be an exercise in theory if the actors didn't make it breathe. Their scenes together a combination of easy humor and wistful grace notes, Connery and Hepburn find an easy rapport, playing something between legendary lovers and an old married couple. Occasionally, long stretches of Goldman's dialogue get in Lester's way: At heart, he's a visual director, better at conveying abuses of power (through a brief bit in which a nobleman steals a peasant's egg as she waits to pay tribute) than descriptions of oppression. In the end, however, Lester wins the tug of war, creating a melancholy atmosphere of last chances, and finding that even a tarnished legend can have nobility.

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