Released in 1938, The Adventures Of Robin Hood came three years after Errol Flynn’s instantly-star-making, leading-man debut Captain Blood and four years before 1942 statutory rape accusations initiated the actor’s extended decline as a commercially valued player. The title The Last Of Robin Hood uses the outlaw’s name as an associative stand-in for Flynn’s own, which is fair enough: Hollywood’s prototypical swashbuckler was and is most associated with that early peak. Introductory expository reporter voice-over—clearly and clumsily designed to orient viewers who’ve never heard of Flynn—labels him a “matinee idol,” “movie star,” and “notorious ladies’ man.” It’s the latter tag that has the film’s full attention.
Writing-directing duo Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (The Fluffer, Quinceañera) provide little POV on Flynn other than what’s expected: He was a lovably impulse-driven rogue of questionable judgment, and that’s that. It’s no surprise that Kevin Kline takes the Flynn part and plunges into perpetual ham mode. First seen peering, rather pathetically, through venetian blinds at chorus line extra Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) crossing the studio lot, Flynn is a spent force personally and professionally. A slave to the habit of always being “on,” Flynn whips out chat-up lines (“You are a cheeky little wood nymph, aren’t you?”), while the actor playing him strenuously projects “larger than life” without ever getting past the rote impersonation stage (or being given the material to do so).
Glatzer and Westmoreland are more interested in Beverly, whose affair with Flynn began when she was 15 but passing as 18 for show business purposes. The movie attempts to build dramatic friction as the gap grows between a sincerely lovelorn daughter and her self-deceiving, transparently avaricious mother, Florence (Susan Sarandon). Aadland and Flynn’s relationship—ongoing from 1957 until Flynn’s death in 1959—was capitalized on without Aadland’s consent by Florence, who wrote up their saga in the 1961 book The Big Love, incurring her daughter’s understandable anger.
On the sliding scale of low expectations associated with the “I (may or may not have) slept with a famous person” biopic genre, Robin Hood is more smoothly professional and tolerable than the lowly likes of My Week With Marilyn or the JFK-adultery-soap opera An American Affair. Making do with budget-necessitated production design constrictions (necessitating some dodgy rear-projection work for car rides), its lurching narrative accrues passing interest from Flynn’s odd activities in his final years (including producing revolutionary-minded curio Cuban Rebel Girls). It also necessitates some of the usual clunky dialogue required to quickly introduce cameo appearances. (A lowlight, from Flynn to a potential director, after a meeting about making Lolita doesn’t go well: “I think you ought to rethink this, Kubrick.”) But the film wants to be primarily about Beverly and Florence, how myths and mistruths characterize personal memory and how that in turn is reshaped by the press (as too easy a target as ever). Robin Hood systematically undercuts rapacious Florence, often quickly showing “what really happened” right after her delusory narration of events. But in the end it seems to want the same thing she does: to recount “a love story that will stand the test of time” to profitable ends.