Blog Archives

Robin Hood Week Day 3: Sean Connery in Robin and Marian (1976)

Robin and MarianDirector: Richard Lester

Writer: James Goldman

Cast: Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn, Robert Shaw, Richard Harris, Nicol Williamson, Denholm Elliott, Kenneth Haigh, Ronnie Barker, Ian Holm, Veronica Quilligan, John Barrett, Esmond Knight

Plot: The aging Robin Hood (Sean Connery) has become one of King Richard’s (Richard Harris) most stalwart captains, leading Richard’s men to war in France. Robin and Little John (Nicol Williamson) lay siege to a castle, seeking a rumored treasure, but find only a single one-eyed man (Esmond Knight) guarding a few poor citizens. Richard orders Robin to storm the castle for the treasure, but Robin refuses and is arrested. The one-eyed man throws an arrow at Richard, wounding him in the neck. Richard has the castle destroyed. Dying from his wound, he summons Robin. He tries to draw his sword and slay Robin, but lacks the strength and collapses. As Robin rushes to his side, Richard pardons him before dying.

Robin and John return to England, where they’re assaulted by two old men. As they fight, they recognize Will Scarlet (Denholm Elliott) and Friar Tuck (Ronnie Barker). The friends reconnect, learning that Robin’s old adventures have become exaggerated and turned into legend, and now-King John (Ian Holm) has gone mad with power, with the people of England and even the Church turning against him. They take Robin to an Abbey where they find Marian (Audrey Hepburn), now a nun. As the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) arrives to arrest her for refusing the King’s order for all clergy to leave England, Robin “rescues” Marian against her will, and the Sheriff orders Robin’s arrest. In the forest, Marian abashes Robin for his part in the Crusades, and Robin confesses to the horrors he saw in war. When they return to the Abbey, they find the Sheriff has arrested all of the nuns but one.

Robin and John disguise themselves as peddlers and free the nuns, but are almost captured in the escape attempt, with Marian, Will and Tuck arriving to rescue the rescuers. Marian confesses to attempting suicide when Robin left, and the two almost kiss before Will signals them that a Sheriff’s posse approaches. After driving them off, Robin tells Marian all he wants now is a life with her in Sherwood. That night, as they relax in the woods, townspeople who saw them rescue the nuns arrive in the forest, wanting to join him to fight against King John.

King John sends out a force of 200 men to drive Robin from the forest. As they amass, Robin and his men watch, knowing they are hopelessly outnumbered. Marian tries to plead with him not to fight, but Robin insists he’s still the warrior he was in his youth. She swears to leave rather than watch him get slaughtered, and goes instead to Little John, hoping he can convince Robin not to fight. Although John agrees it is suicide, he refuses to speak against Robin, and vows to ride into battle with him.

Robin approaches the Sheriff with a proposal – a duel between the two of them. If Robin wins, the soldiers retreat; if the Sheriff wins, Robin’s men surrender. The Sheriff agrees. Both men are grievously wounded, with Robin taking a horrible slash to the side before finally killing the Sheriff. As he dies, the King’s men charge, and Little John slays their captain. John and Marian help Robin from the battlefield to the Abbey for treatment, while his men are scattered into the woods, with many captured or slain.

Lying in the Abbey, Marian gives Robin medicine and speaks of how – once well – he’ll lead his men into battle once again. When his limbs begin to go numb, he realizes Marian has poisoned him. When he asks her why, she processes her love for him – a love so deep that she cannot allow him to go on, knowing he would never be the warrior he was again. What’s more, she has taken the poison as well. Robin agrees that it’s better this way, and asks John for his bow. He fires an arrow into the air and asks they be buried together where it falls.

Thoughts: A few years before diluting Richard Donner’s Superman universe with a recut and reshot Superman II, Richard Lester put no less than James Bond and one of history’s most beautiful women in this odd rendition of the Robin Hood saga. From the beginning it’s clear this isn’t the Robin Hood most people are familiar with. This is a Robin who fought in the Crusades with Richard, something most movies don’t include. What’s more, this is a Richard who may have the name “Lionhearted,” but carries none of the patience or understanding one would expect from one of noble rank. Robin calls him a “bastard” in the opening scene, and as he’s presently ordering him to murder women and children over a non-existent treasure, it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.

Unlike the bold adventure most Robin Hood films become, Richard Lester’s version take a weird sort of anti-war stance, with Robin giving a monologue about watching King Richard order the slaughter of innocent Muslims after his single great victory of the Crusades. This isn’t the bold Robin Hood we’re used to, but a worn-down, tired man whose glory days are behind him… and what’s worse, he finds himself questioning if they were ever truly glorious to begin with.

Sean Connery is… well, he’s Sean Connery. Let’s be honest here, he’s always Sean Connery, whether he’s Sean Connery as a young Irishman, a dashing British secret agent, a Russian submarine commander or a whatever the crap he was supposed to be in Zardoz, he’s still Sean Connery. The miracle of that is that he almost always gets a role where “somebody like Sean Connery” is exactly what the movie calls for. Mid-70s Sean Connery is perfectly cast as the aging Robin Hood – still strong and undeniably charismatic, but at the same time, he’s beginning to get a little world-weary. Oh, he’ll still fight, and he’ll still kick your butt, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t getting a little bit tired of it. While Connery’s Robin is still willing to take up arms whenever necessary, it’s clear the only thing he really wants is to reclaim the love of Marian and settle down to a life he wishes he hadn’t sacrificed 20 years earlier.

Audrey Hepburn was 47 when this movie came out, and the line when she asks Robin if she’s “old and ugly” is still laughable. The woman had a grace and a poise her entire life that the greatest movie stars of all time couldn’t touch and the best of today can only dream about. Like Connery, she does a fine job of painting a woman who has grown tired with the world. She lost her dreams a long time ago, but she’s not so far gone that she can’t be convinced to take them up again. She vacillates between her heart and her vows several times, and always in an entirely convincing manner.

In this film, the villains are almost nonentities. The Sheriff and King John are the root of Robin’s problem, but he faces them almost as a matter of course, the way you face a force of nature. This could be the story of a stubborn old man intent on battling a hurricane or an earthquake for all the influence they have on the story. That’s nothing against Robert Shaw or Ian Holm, mind you, their performances are perfectly fine, but they aren’t given that much to do. Even Richard Harris as King Richard comes across as more of a personal obstacle for Robin than the ostensible villains of the piece. In truth, the real antagonist for Connery’s Robin Hood is age itself, the certainty of mortality and the inevitable approach of death.

It’s a cheerful movie, is what I’m saying.

I take that back, there is one bit that’s kind of funny… the duel between Robin and the Sheriff. If the goal of the scene was to thrill the audience, they failed, with the camera often set so far back it’s nigh impossible to tell who is who. If the goal is to depict a semi-realistic fight with very heavy broadswords and axes that look like a chore to swing around… well, Richard Lester, you succeeded, but in so doing you crafted one of the most mundane fight scenes in Sean Connery’s long and storied career. Even the sword fight in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet had more excitement than this one, and that’s not intended as a compliment.

The final scene of the film is really a grand one. The revelation that Marian deliberately poisons him is baffling, but instantly understandable when she makes her declaration of love. It’s a moving scene and both Connery and Hepburn nail it. The movie isn’t a masterpiece, but the finale makes it worthwhile. It’s not a standard version of Robin Hood at all, but it’s an impressive one, and one that serves as a bittersweet conclusion to the legend.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!


Mutants, Monsters, and Madmen Day 14: Wait Until Dark (1967)

wait-until-darkDirector: Terence Young

Writer: Robert Carrington, Jane-Howard Carrington, from the play by Frederick Knott

Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Samantha Jones, Efram Zimbalist Jr., Jack Weston, Julie Herrod

Plot:  Lisa (Samantha Jones) smuggles a doll filled with heroin into New York City, but hands off the doll to a man she met on the plane, Sam (Efram Zimbalist, Jr.), when she suspects she’s being followed. Sam comes home to his blind wife, Susy (Audrey Hepburn), and the two of them somehow misplace the doll, unaware of its contents. Lisa’s two partners, Mike Talman (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston) are met at Susy and Sam’s apartment by the man who intercepted Lisa at the airport, Harry Roat (Alan Arkin). Roat offers them a chance to help him find the doll, replacing Lisa, who he has killed for trying to “go into business” by herself. Susy arrives home, sensing the presence of people in her apartment but believing the crooks to be her neighbor’s daughter, Gloria (Julie Herrod), playing pranks on her because she has a crush on Sam. She leaves, and the men go about the business of disposing of Lisa’s body.

The next day, after Sam leaves for a business trip, Talman enters the apartment, posing as an old friend of Sam’s. Carlino and Roat get in on the con game, attempting to convince Susy that Sam has been unfaithful to her, and that his lover brought the doll to their home. Susy and Tallman search the apartment for the doll, Susy believing that if the police find it they’ll use it as evidence to charge Sam with murder. Later, Gloria appears with the doll, which she stole earlier. Gloria’s observations feed Susy’s suspicions, and they hide both the doll and Gloria when Carlino returns. Susy sends the crooks on a wild goose chase for the doll, and alone in the apartment, realizes they have cut the phone line and left her stranded, so she destroys all the light bulbs in the house, planning a final offensive. As Talman returns for the doll, Roat runs down Carlino with his car to get him out of the way, then returns and kills Talman, leaving him alone in the house with Susy. The final showdown between Susy and Roat, of course, takes place in the dark.

Thoughts: Audrey Hepburn was not only one of the most beautiful women God ever placed on this Earth, but also one of the most talented actresses. Her portrayal of blind Susy Hendrix is absolutely convincing, from the look in her eyes to the way she moves about without actually looking at what she’s doing. How many actors could pull that off so consistently without relying on the cheat of dark sunglasses to hide their eye movements?

I’ve done plenty of college and community theater, and it’s pretty easy to see this movie’s pedigree as an adaptation of a stage play. The plot is somewhat complicated, but is still mostly contained in the Hendrix apartment. Any scenes that take place beyond the apartment give only fleeting bits of information, things that were probably kept in the apartment itself when the story was told on stage. (With the possible exception of Carlino’s death scene – and even that could have easily been explained. I doubt the stage production includes someone getting run over by a car.) The rhythm of the dialogue, the expository nature of it, also feels much more like a stage play than a screenplay. There’s even a great moment where Gloria, acting as Susy’s secret weapon, quips that she wishes something like this would happen every day. In the context of the film, it’s kind of a ridiculous thing to say, but on stage I can see it helping the audience laugh and relieve a hint of tension just at the right moment.

That said, the writing really is magnificent. Frederick Knott’s original story and the screenplay by the Carringtons both paint Susy as a remarkable, resourceful woman. The criminals think her blindness will make her an easy mark, but she turns it around on them, first using her other senses to poke holes in their con game, and then turning it into a weapon in the brilliant climax.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t really a “scary” movie, not like the ghost and monster films on this list, not even like the serial killer shocker Psycho. But it’s undeniably thrilling. Part of it is Hepburn herself – she’s so universally charming and beloved that you can’t imagine anybody wanting to harm her. Part of it is the character – Susy is someone with real courage and intelligence, the sort of person you just want to see achieve a victory over the dark forces are plaguing her. The cool, calm way she faces Talman after the masquerade is exposed is completely gripping, the sort of thing that makes theatre audiences cheer with excitement. In the end, I only wish I could have seen this movie in the theaters when it first came out, when the managers shut off even the dimmest lights, bringing the audience into total blackness just when the lights go out for the bad guys.

The final scenes of this film are legendary. Susy kills the lights, then douses Roat in his own gasoline so he doesn’t dark strike a match. Plunging the screen (and theater) into darkness, Susy keeps him tapping her cane so she knows where he is, while at the same time holding him off with his own matches, the only light source. Roat gets the upper hand again when he opens the refrigerator door, but again, Susy’s blindness becomes a weapon. The musical doll tell her exactly where he is, the noisy, plastic gloves he’s wearing alert her to the fact that his hands are not currently holding a weapon. And when he drags her off to the bedroom, where again, the light is gone, it’s Susy who gets the upper hand. The finale does pull out what has since become a horror cliché – the presumed-dead villain who comes back in the last seconds – but in this early stage it’s still thrilling, and just this once, it leads to a spectacular finale.

Tomorrow it’s time to get supernatural again, with the godfather of modern zombie movies: Night of the Living Dead!