Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Robin, Zorro, Batman

More crap from my dead Patreon, a bunch of very-rapidly-written comments on films.

Disneys Robin Hood

A strange thing seeing this film is that as I watched I realised we had it on VHS when I was very young and at that age I watched the shit out of this film.

I knew I had seen it before but as I observed I understood that I was deeply, insanely familiar with every single element of the film, I even recognised the line of animation on Sir Hiss (he's drawn a little ragged with pencil strokes shooting off his curves as if he were covered with fur, I can't tell if this is a deliberate aesthetic choice, a mistake or a corner-cutting thing like a lot else in this film).

Anyway, TLDR; animation-wise; Eh. Character animation is charming and little of it is actively bad but staging and general visuals clearly could have been addressed with more attention.

Voices; wonderful.

Story; solid.

As part of the Robin Hood Legendarium; respectable.

Its introduced with Alan-a-Dale as a Rooster Balladeer, and he tells us this is the animal version of the story, which they tell themselves.

The narrator-in-story and the explicit callout to the balladic nature of the thing was something I thought worked really well and fit with the whole Robin Hood thing. I could have done with more of that.

The Robin-Little John relationship is great and the intro starts perfectly with this segue from the sung to the acted to full-drama. You could do that a lot more and use sung narrative sections more thoroughly to move through the 'text' (fuck you Derrada).

Another element is, becasue its a kids film, Robin is kinder than in many others and we follow the children about acting out 'the adventures' of Robin Hood from their perspective. So its described as a story, and the legendary quality of the story is re-described from a childs point of view from inside the tale.

And at one point friar tuck tells Robin and Little John "One day you will be seen as great heroes", and part of  the film is a kind of reputational attack on Prince John, it even gets a song, "The Phoney King of England", so this kind of imagined justice-across-time in which Disney and other balladeers are delivering what the characters really deserve in the eyes of history, valour and greatness for Robin, and eternal shame for John, so the story itself becomes and agent of justice, is interesting.

It only striked (strook?) me now how rarely you see Robin alone in any filmed version. He always has a BFF or group to talk to and perform for. I suppose this must be true of many characters but the Robin & Pal walking through the forest theme is a strong one in the lighter and more hopeful versions.

Huge props to the voice casting and the Voice acting. Story takes place in a kind of nebulous accent-world split between English voice actors and southern-states U.S. voices and they mix together really well.

Peter Ustinov and Terry Thomas as Prince John and Sir Hiss are fucking GREAT. I had so much fun with those characters and the vocal performances were riiiippe peaches to pluck.

John is really into gooold, and has a mother fixation, which is a trip because in the Ridley Scott Hood his mother is Elenor of Aqintane, who is an aging badass in that film, so that's a weird relationship repetition.

Phil Harris as Little John is maybe the grooviest merry man ever and comes out with some wild lines "Begone long one", "My esteemed royal sovereign of the realm, the head man himself.. you're beeaaautiffuulll"

And these are maybe the merriest merry men since the Flynn version.

It's also fully about taxes and poverty since being too into gold is one of the few dark traits you can safely give a Disney villain without it getting too psychological.

Anyway, I love this film and I have no idea if its because its actually good or if it just burned itself so deep into my child brain that it created, in-vitro, the Robin Hood obsession I am currently acting out, thereby leading me back, Ouroboros-fashion, to the point at which it began.

Robin and Marion

Sean Connory is really brown in this film.

He's pretty brown the rest of the time but you don't really process it until you see it here.

This is a really good film which I absolutely did not_understand when I saw it as a child on T.V. Its maybe the only Robin Hood film I know of that addresses the sad coda to the legend in which everyone seems much more human. And this film is only about that time, its a pure elegy.

In some ways its a weird mirror to Ridley Scotts version. They both start at the siege in France at which Richard was killed and make Robin one of his men. They both have Robin pissing off Richard, being sentenced to death and then being saved by his death, and the both have Robin being pissed off at the stuff he did in the Crusades. This film and the Scott versions are the only ones in which Robin directly describes the massacres he took part in.

They both have magnificent feral kings. Richard Harris's King Richard might just have the edge over Danny Hustons. Here he has a close, nightmarish shadow-friendship with Robin that strongly indicates some depth of mutual feeling and the slow spiralling into horror that took place over it. Richard really has to kill Robin because he is a mirror to the kind of man he used to be, or could have been, before he went full Deus Vult. Robin is too good a man to be around him now and his presence is agony.

Richard dies in Robins arms and then its back off to Sherwood.

Medieval Combat - You can tell a lot about the moral aesthetic of a history film in the first few moments of its depiction of combat. Medieval stuff ranges from pseudo-modern action movie stuff like Ironclad and GoT, to painterly, like the Ridley Hood and the Cromwell film, to Gilliam/T.H.White, where everyone looks like a bit of a tit.

Robin and Marion is somewhere between the painterly and Gilliam. The first shot is of two men in bucket helms trying to dig a heavy stone out of sand and load it in a Trebuchet. Their big helmets bang together. The film makes quite a bit of mileage out of big helmets and difficult armour. Its not quite comedic but it does take advantage of them to de-glamorise its less liked and less primary characters. Scale male spikes and pricks like the real thing, big helms swallow the face.

(I think this is the closest that most films come to how it would be to actually watch medieval combat, simultaneously Giliam-esqu ridiculous but also intensely violent and serious and somewhat cool.)

Robin, Marion and the Sheriff all get to look a little cooler, but they hold reasonably close to a pseudo-medieval aesthetic.

There's almost no King John. He's Derek Jacobi in this and has one scene. He's pretty good. Also he has a pre-teen wife who he's eager to bone. What the hell was up with the 70's and Ebophilia, damn there's a lot of it in that decade.

The main villain is the Sheriff, though the least likeable element is the Norman Lord sent to mess with the Sheriff and make sure he gets Robin Hood.

I'm discounting the Alan Rickman version when I say this, because aesthetically and behaviourally, I think he was definitely playing 'Prince John' even though he was technically the Sheriff. But I think this is the only version I have seen where Nottingham is the main antagonist and the fuller, deeper character of the opposing side.

Robert Shaw just does a really amazing job portraying this careful, calm, meticulous and deeply tired and pissed-off beyond pissed-off state functionary. He has the mixture of coldness, competence and tacit honour and empathy that I tend to like in a character a great deal.

His Sheriff is educated and can read and write, which is why he's been passed over for advancement by the Norman Aristocracy. The class (and, at this time, nearly quasi-race/ethnicity) differences are something that only really comes up in Walter Scott.

This is a guy who is very good at is job, is trapped in the same role he has always been in, not really kind, but not evil or abusive either, has some respect for his men, doesn't like fucking up, gives an impression of deep inner tiredness, like he has played this level on the video game many times and seen how it goes. He's continually low-level irritated with the Norman aristocrat he's saddled with and is completely aware that he can't beat Robin Hood tactically, the only way to do it is psychologically.

There are lots and lots of scenes of people running about doing adventure stuff and Shaws Sheriff just calmly watching to see how things will go. A surprising scene after Robin carves his way out of a trap, killing his guards, he quickly does ruthless triage on the wounded, "you can save this one, these two are gone", then kneels by the corpse of his soldier "I should have taught you better".

The tactical running-around part of the plot is brought to an end by the Sheriff essentially bating Robins ego and narcissism. These are his weaknesses in every story.

Robin rides out to fight him, unwisely, and they have a very pseudo-accurate Mallorian knights duel. When you have two guys with chainmail and straight-edged blades, on foot, they do indeed, as Mallory says 'trace and traverse near two hour'. There is a huge amount of slashing and minor wounds inflicted until one gets sloppy due to fatigue and the other goes for a foign, a piercing blow, which seems to be pretty much the only way to end one of these things.

(Oh and all of this is filmed in France or Spain or somewhere, which, does it fuck look anything like the U.K. but it definitely does look medieval, with all the buildings and roads etc)

That's the guy stuff over with, but this is one of the few Robin films thats rather ambivalent about guy stuff.

Even right from the start there are strong themes of violence being pointless, stupid, ridiculous and vile. Robin and Richard break up because Richard wants a castle stormed to get the treasure he thinks is inside. Robin won't do it as its only women and old men inside and he thinks there is no treasure. (There isn't, its a rock buried in a Turnip field).

Richard dies to a single arrow, as in history.

The whole thing about re-awakening the old feud and battle between Robin and the Sheriff is simultaneously kind a cool but underneath it both men know that its pointless and self-destructive. It's just that neither of them really wants a way out. They lack whatever it is that lets you imagine another life.

The relationship with Marion is the core of the film, which, typical for me, I didn't bring up until now.

The tenderness and sadness and joy of the relationship between Robin and Marion is really the heart of the film and makes it the most grown-up Robin Hood film (so far at least). These are two people who were passionately into each other as near-teenagers, and since then, as far as we can see, their emotions have been in some sense, on-hold.

Or they literally became different people and lived different entire lives and are now back in contact with only the memory  of a very distant love between them and neither of them really know if the memory is real or if they would still feel that way about the person they find. But they do.

So its lovely but its also tragic and horrific. When Robin basically ran out on Marion back in the day she ended up trying to off herself, screwed that up and ended up in a Nunnery.

It's very clear, and only becomes more clear as the story goes on, that Marion really, really _really_ lived Robin and that he seriously fucked her up in a variety of ways, without ever really realising, and especially when he fucked off to the crusades. When he comes back he 'saves' her, by force, from the Sheriff.

It's not really clear that him saving her is materially much better than what would have happened to her anyway. But they are back together now and all the old emotions boil up to the surface.

And its beautiful but also terrible because a mixture of the socio-political situation and Robins ingrained personality means he can only really do one thing - fight injustice, regardless of whether its practical or not, regardless of whether he can win or not. Its a mixture of genuine idealism and decency and some narcissism and hunger for death and violence. He's just going to keep doing it, no matter how old he gets. And Marion knows this, and knows this will slowly take him to pieces both psychically and probably morally as well, and she is much more aware of time than he is and unable to live in his fiercely maintained delusion of youth.

So in the last scene, after Robin has been utterly sliced to shit by the Sheriff, and as the small force of people he put together in the Greenwood is being cut to pieces by armoured men at arms, Marion quickly and efficiently poisons both of them.

And the final part is Robins rage against his betrayal, followed by understanding and acceptance, and then the Last Arrow.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Watched this over two nights finishing last night.

The 90's were a warm time. Thinking about it, its surprising how much there was in there about families and family bonds.

Robin broke up with his dad and comes back to find him dead, is pretty hung up about it - fam.

Robin promised his childhood friend and now war buddy and also p.o.w that he will look after his sister, Maid Marain - friend.

Meets Morgan Freeman in prison, & then escapes with him - new friend.

Oh, Morgan Freeman was in love with a woman who is now dead, I suspect, another thing I didn't notice as a child is that Morgan Freeman family are dead and that is why he wont dishonour them by breaking his oath and why hes willing to go of to the edge of the world with Robin.

Old Duncan who helped raise Robin and then watched his dad die, got blinded and is upset - famly/retainer.

Marion is King Richards cousin - family.

Little John brings his family along and they are main characters, we meet his Son first, and his wife has a meaningful speaking & acting role later.

Morgan Freeman helps deliver Little Johns baby son after a dangerous pregnancy and so teaches Friar Tuck not to be racist - family/friendship.

There's no King John in this, but Alan Rickman fills the role, like, to a fucking intense degree. He's probably the most 'Prince John' character ever on screen, more even than Commodus from Gladiator. Anyway, Guy of Gisbourne is his cousin and gets referred to as 'Cuz' all the time. - Family.

Alan Rickman outright tells a little girl he never knew his parents and had a terrible childhood in a scene which as an adult I think might have the slight inference of rape about it, anyway - Negafamily.

Alan Rickman has a Crone witch who acts as a kind of evil loco Parantis, she refers to his blood as 'our' I think - evil family.

Will Scarlett, who hates Robin, turns out to be his half-brother, Robin destroyed *his* family as, being a 12 year old he didn't like his dad banging a peasant after his mum died, but Robin accepting Will and being happy he has a brother is a big deal in the film - family.

Ends on the wedding, not the sad epilogue, and fucking SEAN CONNERY comes back for one scene with the big Water Crane Richard Reveal, even though he hasn't been that much of a presence in the story, and it still works? He gives Marion away in the wedding as a kind of superdad.

I'm wondering if I've missed any.

Oh yeah there's a really intense near-rape scene in the end of the film which holy fuck you would not get today. It plays pretty good though. Another thing I didn't notice is there is a weird joke there where Alan Rickman is in the middle of trying to rape Marion and his crone makes him stop for a second so she can put a pillow under Marions head.

Oh I think I kinda developed a crush on the Witch through my watching of this.

That's, how many?

Morgan Freemans dead family.
The Royal Family, with Marion in, that Nottingham is trying to rape his way into.
The Locksley family who are all ded but for Robin, but hey! He has a brother!
Nottinghams dead evil or witchy negafamily (oh, he kills his cousin in this).
The Little family.

So there are four to five family structures interacting in this film.

Alan Rickmans performance and Kevin Costners performance are both really interesting, in different ways.

This is maybe one of the all time great Rickmans, every single tone and moment is just perfect, almost everything he does is funny and at the same time he actually feels dangerous, despite the fact that through almost all of the film all he does is lose.

Kevin Costner - this is some wierd shit. like, he's almost terrible and its near distracting and you could build a very strong argument that the film is good in spite of him. His tonality is all over the place and he's really not charismatic at all.

Or is he? You still want to watch him after all. He does feel like the star of the film, even if not a very bright star. It's strange.

Absolutely everyone else is fucking golden in this. All of the minor characters are on point, except for one guard who says "A leper, what?" but that's the only really dud performative note in the film, and whatever Kevin is doing of course.

Unsung hero - Micheal Wincott as Guy of Gisbourne, someone who's whole job is to go back and forth between Kevin Costner and Alan Rickman and make them both feel like dangerous badasses until Alan kills him. He does it brilliantly.


It's not about taxation. It's not about Prince John. People are plotting against King Richard but only really comes out towards the end.

So why is Nottingham so bad?

He literally worships THE DEVIL. And hangs out with people dressed as the KKK/Death Eaters and has a fucking WITCH. The end scene even has an upside down crucifix and a pentangle. That's how you get a Middle American audience on-side right away, the baddys are DEVIL WORSHIPPERS (and also cruel to the poor plus freedom and stuff).


The Robin/Azeem relationship, and the way it was acted, works really really well.

It doesn't necessarily make much sense, but it works on the hearts of the Audience, and Robin Hood is a commoners ballad so ok.

Marion dressing like a man and fighting is in at least one of the historical ballads. In this, Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio is really good. Since she is allowed to be both brave and afraid, she feels more human than most of the main cast. She also gets to kill a guy with a chicken on a stick.

Man its gotta be awkward when Richard sets eyes on Azeem at the end.

One person is directly racist/prejudiced in the film and they learn their lesson over one scene.


Despite me, and other reviewers being snide about it in the past, most of the things that don't make sense about this also don't make sense in the ballads. Here Robin goes from the cliffs of Dover to Hadrians wall to sherwood forest in a day, but the ballad robin had some late-series game of thrones teleport shit going on and would pop up wherever also.

Nottingham having a time machine to fetch Pagan celts from, the age of migration? They would be christian. Pre-roman britian? Ok. And then unleashing them on Robin doesn't seem that awful.

Azeem can auto-generate barrels upon barrels of gunpowder in a forest in a handful of hours, in middle ages britian. Likewise you can forge swords in the forest without too much trouble, you just need a montage.

This was a good film, and a very warm film. There are questions here about what 'good' is, because this film has a lot of dumb elements which stick out and you can't help but think they are gauche. But if you look at it, there are a really large number of well made but dimly sensed things operating under the surface, like the family stuff I wouldn't have noticed unless I had sat down and thought about it, and the collapsing of space and time into legendary space and time as the film goes on is arguably 'stupid' as it moves away from pseudo-reality and so doesn't make sense. But it WORKS, and the film flows. And for all the weird fucking accents and shit the performances all work and are allowed to work. So I think this is actually a very well made film which also happens to be gauche. And all the warping of history and circumstance is actually pretty standard and traditional for the Robin Hood canon.

Americans are always irritating when they say things should have 'heart' because it sounds basic as shit, but in art even feeling is a made thing, its just made invisibly, and warmth is a low-status feeling which is actually hard to examine because it is felt dully and comes from the body, but if you take time to regard it, warmth has skill and thought behind it, as well as life and vigour, so when we say something is 'fun' we should probably show it more respect because most things aren't.

Robin Hood 2010 by Wiggly Scott

I'm 90 per cent sure that Ridley Scott is into some serious woo-woo.

Every frame of this film looks like fucking visual poetry, like raw fucking cinema jammed into your eyeballs. You could screenshot at literally any moment and send it like a postcard.

Its a baaaaaaad story. Its about three stories and one of them is about Masons trying to save the world. It's trying to be pseudohistory, and it looks fucking amazing, if you send Ridley Scott in a time machine to the 12th century or whenever and let him make everyone get into rows so they made a nice shot, it looks like that.

But its dumb as a pig underneath and the fact that its trying to be a gormet burger movie really, and slowly, hurts it because the machinery underneath is silly.

Russel Crowe is a super tuff-but-honourable man of the earth who just works at a job murdering people. Danny Huston is a great king Richard, they are in France killing people.

The kings and nobility in this are largely really good. They feel of the time and embedded into the world, like, they often havent shaved and are clearly trapsing around generally pissed off with each other. But they have a kind if feral regality that comes through in the acting and the mis-en-scene. Hustons Lionheart is like this, the French king has it too and then Prince/King John has it. It's that mid point between age of migration nutter-with-a-sword and Luis the 14th prancing about Court Kings, they feel like they could maybe deck you but they feel royal.

Robin proves his honesty in an ill-advised way, not only is he the only murderer with a heart of gold there but he feels super bad about the crusades. So mark two for that trope.

Richard dies! Pretty fast, so that's a MAJOR element of most RHood stories just gone.

And then its politics.

Like every other RHood film was legendary, this one, like the Phantom Menace, is genuinely about war and taxation, and premature nationalism, and democracy and the masons?

So the first film is Robin finding the body of posh Robert Locksley and agreeing to take his sword home to his dad who he had a bad relationship with (fathers & sons, strike 1 for that), and then he goes back to Nottingham and fakes being Robert with consent so Maid Marion his wife doesn't have to lose the castle.

Thats one story.

Then there's Prince (now King) John being a tit.

And evil french king guy hires Mark Strong to betray eng-er-land so the French can invade.

But King John is useless, Richard was a warmonging murdering idiot, soooo, would it really be that bad if the French King invaded?

In this yes because his main guy is played by Mark Strong and all his dudes are super rapey and purposlessly evil so you know the French are baddys.

And then at the end Robin Hood, who's not even pretending to be Locksley any more, is allowed to lead a whole army and fight the French and kills Mark strong with a arrow and cinematography.

(Cate Blanchett is a great actress and I like seeing her on screen doing all kinds of stuff but there are two things I think I never feel looking at her, one is any sexual tension between her and anyone else on screen, like I never get that 'oohhhhh, they gonna fuccck' feeling. *I* had that feeling, looking at Hela in Ragnorock, but that was between me and the character. The other is any real sense that she is in danger. Blanchetts seems, somehow invulnerable? There are two 'threatening marion' scenes, one light peril and one super-rapy, but I got no sense in either of them that anything bad might actually happen to Cate. I mean what are they gonna do to her? She'll just knock them out right?)

And *then*, there's the shit where Robin Hoods dad was like a proto-mason? Like a reformer of some kind who thought kings needed permission to rule? And robin saw him die and had trauma, and Robert Locksleys dad max von sydow, and William Hurt, playing William Marshall (maybe the only actual good guy in that real history - PERFECT KNIGHT BOOOIII) were his bff's.

And Robin, by chance, ends up meeting up with these people, and pretending to be Robert for them. And it turns out he gets his suppressed memories back. And they are all part of this secret political movement, who are basically the masons, or like, chartists? And this is like a freedom thing? And they make King John sign Magna Carta for freedom and to beat the french and this is the fulfilment of Robins dads dream?

That is some wieeerd shit. It might be ok in a more bullshitty film, like mel gibson shouting Freeeeedooooom! But this at least looks like real history, the film takes quite a bit of effort to make us feel like we are there. And I like Magna Carta, its pretty great, but its not the declaration of independence or the rights of man or anything. The politics of that time are really nothing like those of ours. And all the English nationalism, I mean most of these people would be different breeds of franco-norman speaking french amongst each other no matter where they were.

So, yeah, Ridley Scott is probably a Mason?

And then there is the Greenwood where Cate Blanchett is doing social work with some feral orphans who wear these really creepy green-man masks.

Oh and thers Robins men, his war buddies who are the merry men, there is a lot of that.

There is one greenwood scene where Robin does a robbery, it feels like Ridley put it in because he felt like he had to, but its kinda clogging up the film(s) he wanted to make which were about Cate Blanchett, 12tch century military stuff and masons conspiring to save the world.

I'm pretty sure he actually believes some form of the Von Danekin stuff from the new Alien movies too.

Its strange how he can be simultaneously highly skilled and intelligent but also kinda fucked in the head. I think his wierd history and politics ideas are part of the reason his more recent films are, really well made and incredibly CINEMA, but also dumb? They have a point to make and the point is usually wrong.

Oscar Isaac has great fun being Prince/King John, he has all the funny lines and, maybe the best actual beard of any John. And again we have the peculiar aspect of the character, repeated in every version, that he is kinda craven and manipulative, but not a coward, he will actually fight when it comes down to it, and even seems to enjoy it.

And he is the first Hottt John I have seen (unless you are into Rickman), he got that bod goin on! And has loads of scenes where he and Lea Seydoux are being perved up and its pretty great.

Max Von Sydow is great to be around, even Mark Addy is good. The Sherriff is a nonentity in this.

Cate gets her marion dressing as a man to fight scene, but she almost doesn't need it? There's not great cinematic inversion or feeling of 'whooo, marion can fight' because its Cate and you largely felt she could fuck someone up already.

Mark Strong gets a lot out of being bald and evil. His baldness is a highlight and he is extremely evil. I didn't really feel any depth of connection between the adversarial relationship between him and robin. Like most things in the film he is just there, looking great. Like a table with a bunch of random but beautiful objects on it.

Its strange what quality is in a story. If you measured this purely by its parts, it would be the best RObin hood film evar. There are no individually duff notes. Everything done is done beautifully and with skill. It's visual poetry. But its dumb as a post and there' barely any story there.

Compare to Prince of Thieves which is full of questionable bits but fucking hits you with story and feeling and every scene connects and flows, meaning piling up into the next, even though the details are dumb.

The Mark of Zorro

1940 I think, with Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone

I also loved this movie.

I found the missing link between Robin Hood and Batman. (This is very nearly a B&W remake of the technicolour Flynn Robin Hood from two years earlier).

Robin Hood Elements

EVIL TAXATION - baddy is mainly into over-taxing peasants and hero is against this.

Round and Long - Craven round-faced scheming villain backed by Basil Rathbone playing his tall, long-faced super-tough and macho nearly-as-good-as-the-hero lancer.

Basil Rathbone! Well, he was only in the Flynn Hood, but he is utterly wonderful here. His fencing scene with Tyrone Power is fucking legendary. The movement is so much better than anything seen in any recent film.


Brief interruption on movement in 40's and 50's film.

- Camera stays back & moves minimally. You see the *entirety of the body*, including the vital shifting of the weight through the feet.

- Both actors can really fucking move, as in they can perform those actions in real life. This is utterly different to the art of disguise practised in most other cinema.

- Its really more like Hong Kong 90's cinema in the way it addresses movement.

- They both feel incredibly lithe and active even in scenes when they are not doing physical stuff.

There is a dance scene in the film which is exactly as good.

Ok back to more Robin Hood/Zorro similarities

Hero is a glam son of the nobility helping out the peasants.

Friar Tuck figure, here is, well pretty much exactly the same guy only spanish, I think he may even be played by the same person.

Simultaneous restoration of order and of social justice. Hey, you know those two things humans like most, stability and equity? Well it turns out you can have them both *at the same time* with no complications! In Robin Hood this is accomplished by the distant King Richard who represents both at the same time, and in Zorro it is Zorro's dad, the old *good* governor who got kicked out.

Batman Elements

Instead of wearing green with an open face, the hero has a masked, all-black attire which he dons to battle the forces of oppression. There is no Greenwood in Zorro so instead, the Greenwood disappears inside the personality of the character.

Like Batman, Zorro disguises himself, not so much by the indecipherability of his alter-ego, but by changing the perception of his real self. In society he acts the vain, femme, ridiculous fop, while *in reality*, a secret we, the audience are in on, he is the super tough and extremely heroic and brave (also principalled) masked adventurer.

The Scarlet Pimpernel did this, and I think there may have been people before that.

So we get that strange energy produced by the heroic figure not living up to his social role in the sight of the world by having a secret power and hidden nobility (but no-one must know!). Here Zorros's dad thinks he is a vain flibbergibbet and is totally disappointed in him, until the last act when boom, he reveals his true heroic self.

Tyrone Power looks like he is really enjoying being a ridiculous fop in this film and it shows.

Batman has a super-fast black car that gets him in and out of patrolled urban centres quickly and easily, outrunning the pursuing forces of corrupt order in the night. Zorro has a super-fast black horse that does the same thing.

They have a Special Sign. Batmans is used to summon him, Zorro's is something he leaves behind.

Purely Zorro Stuff

Neither Batman or Robin Hood make sword fighting their Main Thing. Robin does sword fight a lot in the ballads and at the end of many of the films but its not exactly a signature weapon.

Zorro is a main excellent fencing dude, its the thing he does best and the thing he always does. His special sign is made from the slashing of a blades tip.

Class Stuff - Robin and Batman are both distaff members of the ruling class but also pretty alienated from it. Zorro, in this film at least, is much more a fully integrated member of the ruling group. We see him first off in spain, hanging with other toffs, then at home he wears magnificent clothes (in his persona as a fop, but also just generally) amidst poverty. He hangs out with his posh family and meets with other poshos.

The end scene is something unlike either Batman or Robin Hood. All the landowners are summoned to see Zorro hang, the peons are protesting outside the compound at the same time. Zorro breaks out and reveals himself to his dad and the other landowners.

Then the rich and the poor effectively team up in a big riot to kick out the bad, corrupt ruler and his troops. Which I don't think has ever happened in real life, and was fucking nuts, but was also quite nice.

The clothes are fucking Maaaaagnificent. Maybe not as good as hollywood technicolor feudal english costumes, but really fancy as shit.

Zorro is also Catholic and Latinoooooooo. Compared to the pre-reformation Robin and the extremely waspy batman. Both of whom are right in the centre of anglo normative masculinity.

Now, this is a positive-to-Latinos film from 1940 in which all the Latinos are played by Anglos, (including the most english mexican ever in Basil Rathbone), so basically your tolerance or opinion may vary. But *relative to its age* and its intended audience and the social circumstances around it the spirit of the thing is an open one. So if you don't like the strange chocolate box version of Latino historical culture then fine but that dance scene is still fucking amazing and the bit with everyone singing in the church with not-friar-tuck is really cool.

The Burton Batman

I got to see this at the Cinema for anniversary thing. There were not many people in there.

The Gotham sets they built for this were fucking beautiful Maybe the most Gothamest Gotham you ever did see.

It just feels really different to CGI, everything has this dirty tactility. Nearly but not-quite comic-booky.

Man Micheal Keaton is a strange Batman. We only really get this after seeing a shitload of other Batmen and seeing how a bunch of different people do it, but what on earth is Keaton doing. He's maybe the most normal Batman, he's like a guy who just happens to be Batman on the side but mainly is a normal guy.

The scene where he nearly but not quite tells Kim Basinger that he's Batman is really sweet.

He is also the most alarmingly static Batman in terms of movement. Keaton is not really an action hero, especially not by modern standards and that suit won't flex *at all* so a lot of Batmans fight scenes are other people moving and him not doing much, or only doing one thing. Which actually isn't that bad an idea for a fighty hero. There are a whole bunch of (ok, two) scenes where a kung fu henchman is introduced and does some wild expressive theatrical kung fu moves and Batman just punches him, or has a wierd wrist extendy thing that hits him in the nuts. It's like the film is making fun of the idea of movement a little.

You can do a *lot* with mildly dutched angles, shadows, smoke and deep focus. A lot of the best shots in this are more visible in the Cinema than they were on VHS or television and they are pretty strong and pretty simple. Often these mildly expressionist conversations with one person in the foreground and another in the background.

There's not actually that much Batman/Bruce Wayne in this. He's really the mystery being investigated by Kim Basenger and reporter guy. In terms of screen time I think its about a third Joker, a third Batman and a third Kim Basinger, which if you did in in a modern version people would say 'more batman' but really Kim Basenger is actually really good  I think in this film, more than I noticed when I saw it back in the day.

Jack Nicolson is much more of a "star" of the show and his Joker is pretty different to a lot of other versions.

He's like a real guy, with a name and a history, and not just a force of chaos. Here he's Jack Napier, hyperviolent mob enforcer who gets betrayed and takes revenge but also goes mad into the bargain.

He's  more directly interested in art and that feels like Nicholson touch. I get the sense for a lot of this that Jack Nicholson is just playing a dark-side Jack Nicholson. He's also much more directly sexual in this, he gets betrayed over banging Jerry Hall, has an unnerving sub-plot with her and his entire interest in Kim Basinger is 90% trying to bone her and 10% Batman. There is a scene in which a mutilated Jerry Hall wears a porcelain mask which scared me as a kid and did a little bit again this time, though when you look at what is actually shown, its very little.

Its wierd when you see the joker who mutilates his girlfriends face and makes her wear a porcelain mask, walk into a gallery and start defacing art after killing nearly everyone there, and then sleazes onto kim basinger in a really rapey way, and you think "damn, I used to work with that guy".

There are lots of weird games with Jokers makeup - he's stained clown-white for real and wears human coloured makeup to blend in, which comes off in dark and amusing ways. Its a much more cinematically interesting version than the Ledger thing where the makeup goes on top of the face.

Also, Joker has waaay more comic-book toys than I've seen in any other film version. I guess Chris Nolan was really *not* impressed with the idea of a flower that shoots corrosive acid or a shock buzzer that really kills people.

And he doesn't really have much of a grand pseudo-philosophical point to make, he just likes murdering people and has fun doing it, and likes being famous, and really hates Batman.

I saw an interview where someone asked Raphe Finnes about what you need to do to play Voldemort;

"You just need to really hate Harry Potter."


  1. Criminitly, Trigger!

    Disney Robin Hood is the closest thing I can think of to non-grimdark OSR adventuring and my suspicion is it lit that spark for many in their youth.

  2. "...kills Mark strong with a arrow and cinematography"
    I love that line.

  3. Side note, Disney's Robin Hood used the same character design and possible some of the same actual animation as Bedknobs & Broomsticks. I don't know which came first but they were into saving money during that period so it's possible the lines you saw on Sir Hiss are sloppiness or something related to over-handling the animation cells.

    1. There are bits of Snow White in there too, as I recall.

    2. And jungle book - little John is just redrawn baloo after all. I think aristocats is used in a party scene as well

  4. Have you got an opinion on Howard Pyle's Robin Hood, the 1893 book with the lovely ink illustrations?

  5. Most of these are among my favourite Robin Hoods, except for Ridley Scott's one, because I managed about five minutes of that before giving up. You're spot on about Scott's strength as a visual stylist though; even if his films are dreck they look good. Prometheus is garbage but my gosh it's beautiful at times.

    The Disney one is great fun and as you say, full of character and personality; it's a bit cheap and cheerful as it was made during a fallow period for the studio -- I assume you know about the recycled animation? -- but somehow it still works, mainly through charm.

    I'm quite fond of the Costner film too. It's ridiculous but again it works. It's interesting that First Knight, the equivalent ridiculous King Arthur film, is terrible. I'm not sure what the difference is.

    In some versions of Batman's origin -- but not Tim Burton's, alas -- the Waynes are on their way back from The Mark of Zorro when they are shot.

    It's interesting that you find Keaton to be normal as I think what sets him apart is that he's the only Bruce Wayne we've seen who comes across as unhinged. Some of that is a bit on-the-nose, like the sleeping upside down, but there's a lot of more subtle weirdness throughout Keaton's performance too.

    Did the version you saw have the "Is it Halloween?" scene?

    1. The Costner Robin Hood has strong bones in its story.

      This version did't have the 'halloween' part I'm afraid.

      I didn't really get what Keaton was doing with the role. He seemed odd to me, but not unhinged. There's one scene where he 'freaks out' but its pretty clear he's play acting. I think from looking at the emotional tonality of his performance, its really not clear to me why this guy dresses like a Bat.

  6. I've seen a bunch of Zorro movies/tv shows, but the one I liked best and the one I recommend is the Italian Zorro movie from 1975. Aside from the cool theme song, that version has Diego de la Vega as a war veteran who takes the place of his assassinated friend, the new governor of New Aragon. So, not only is he pretending to be a fop while secretly being Zorro, he's not even really who he says he is. There's something I kind of love about villains discovering they have completely misunderstood everything happening around them.

    Zorro stories have been around since the early 1900s, I believe. There's even some silent Zorro movies with Douglas Fairbanks. Can't recall if I've seen those. But the source of almost every superhero seems to be either Zorro or John Carter or a mixture of the two.

  7. Speaking of William Marshal:


  8. So interesting the timing of this post...I've been showing a lot of this stuff to my kids recently (though I've included the Flynn Hood and Banderas Zorro). Like you, I had a copy of the Disney Hood on VHS (taped off TV) that I must have watched 50 times. Also had the Costner version and watched it far more (which is weird and sad but too long a story to go into).

    The only one of these I haven't seen is the latest Ridley Scott, and am sooo glad I haven't. What is it with Mark Strong that every film he's in has some sort of goofy woo-woo conspiracy shit going on, whether you're talking Sherlock Holmes or The Kingsmen or whatever?

    Anyway, thanks for this post...good analysis.

  9. This has made me want to watch the Ridley Scott Robin Hood much more than any given trailer did.

    Thinking on this article, my mind went something in the following direction: We have the High Medieval Robin Hood, the early 19th century Zorro, the 20th century Batman. I'm going by time period the character is set in, not when they were written.

    The Scarlet Pimpernel gets the late 18th century fops, flintlocks and French Revolution slot.
    If you squint, you could fit Natty Bumppo/Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans in as well. (As I recall the 1992 film, it emphasised the differences between American colonists and the British authorities in a way calculated to remind the viewer that the War of Independence is round the corner).

    The Anglo-sphere 19th century masked hero is the Lone Ranger. Who also had a strange recent cinema remake.

    The various mid-20th century pirate films deserve a mention. The 1935 Captain Blood's interaction with Royal authority seems comparable to what you've been discussing above.

    I can't really place anything for the Early Modern period. Hypothetically, the notion of Robin Hood vs Henry VIII has a certain charm but I've no idea where you would start.

    To zoom in briefly: we can identify various Robin Hood types crossing up across the Anglo-sphere. Britain and North America seem obvious. I can't really place one for Australia - Ned Kelly is there but, as a real person, get too much of the ambiguity and squalor of crime. I've even less of an idea for New Zealand English-speaking South Africa.

    Maybe Hereward the Wake is a good pre-Plantagenet Robin Hood, but I'm still to read the Charles Kingsley novel.

    All rather incoherent, I fear.