Here’s a treat for those listeners who remember the local band scene in Orlando and all the great concerts we used to have — this episode’s twin focus is on the upcoming Bryan Ferry appearances that were happening that week, as well as both concerts and a new seven-inch, four-track EP put together by a handful of great local bands.
Our pal Jim was on the show, bringing along the latest Bryan Ferry album (which we go all fanboy over) and news of his upcoming appearance, and the two of us cooked up plenty of familiar and obscure New Wave gems, a few rarities and dance mixes as well. We took a little time to spotlight the local band EP and our special guest Aaron of Thee Exotic Aarontones in the middle of the show, and we also have a special all-new “bonus track” at the end from NYC-based Rude Boy George, who do a killer ska cover of the Romantics’ “Talking in Your Sleep” with a guest vocalist from the English Beat!
You can listen to the episode below, download it from the web site or subscribe to it in iTunes for free. Let us know how you like it at firstname.lastname@example.org, and keep an ear out for part two of this shindig, coming soon!
Well here we are with a completely amazing episode from April of 1993 — its so good in fact that I’m having to split it up into two parts so you get the full glory!
Your old pal Chas had caught the Nash Vegas fever of Webb Wilder’s incredible root-rock-a-tronic southpaw music, and he pops up a couple of times in a show dominated by the great New Wave and Art Rock songs that weren’t the biggest hits but scored a lot of points.
You can listen to the episode below, download it from the web site or subscribe to it in iTunes for free. Let us know what you, the loving public, think at email@example.com, and keep an ear out for part two of this shindig, coming soon!
Here’s another all-new episode of Chas’ Crusty Old Wave, this time recorded on the 13th of May, 2013 live at WPRK. With our dear friend Phantom Third Channel behind the board, we once again took to the air to bring out the long-lost and beloved treasures of the New Wave era — but this time we did things a little differently.
Just to change things up, Phantom and I took turn playing the kind of music that normally plays on our show when I’m not taking over the place. Naturally I brought my early 80s-centric songs, and he brought his avant-garde selection of eclectic thrift-store finds, lost gems from bygone decades and enough oddball curveballs to win a baseball game. It made for an interesting mix that saw John Foxx followed by Robert Johnson, Captain Beefheart opening for Lesley Gore and Roky Erikson going head-to-head with Steeleye Span. This episode is a wild one, to be sure.
You can listen to the episode below, download it from the web site or subscribe to it in iTunes for free. Enjoy.
Annnnd here we are with another fun-filled episode of Chas’ Crusty Old Wave! This episode (#38) comes to us from the first of May, 1992 is serves not only as a two-hour testament to how great some of the music of the 80s was, but also to showcase a little of the wonderful cast of characters that I was privileged to work with on WPRK at Rollins College in the 90s.
This episode has some unusual selections. You’ll hear obscurities from Noel’s Cowards, Gina X Performance, Jerry Harrison, Landscape, and Seattle group Uncle Bonsai alongside album cuts from XTC, Adrian Belew, Falco, They Might Be Giants, the Rutles, the Pet Shop Boys, Adam Ant and many more. It’s a party in the basement, and you’re invited! Let’s kick it off with a little sauciness from Duran Duran, and listen out for a cut from Sesame Street. Yes, Sesame Street.
You can listen to the episode below, download it from the web site or subscribe to it in iTunes for free. Enjoy.
Here it is, the latest episode of Chas’ Crusty Old Wave, fresh out of the oven! It’s a humdinger as well if I do say so myself, with lots of killer tunes. Heck, any episode with both They Might Be Giants and Weird Al Yankovic is bound to be good, plus you throw in lots of original punk, an interview and music from Orlando band Potential Frenzy, some particularly brilliant but less-heard music from Bruce Woolley, Bill Nelson, Modern English, Joe Jackson, The Assembly, the Buzzcocks, Paul Collins’ Beat, and Georgia bands The Woggles and Hillbilly Frankenstein.
Oh wait, there’s more! How about a rare remix from Yazoo, some ska from the Toasters and Madness, and more great local music from The Hatebombs? And did I mention a bit from Monty Python? It’s all here, friends, in two hours of delightful fun.
Get your dancing shoes on — by the time Malcolm McLaren’s “Double Dutch” shows up, you’ll already be out of your chairs and dancing down the stairs! Enjoy.
A lot of people had kind of given up on David Bowie, presuming he’d retired from the business we call “show” after a heart scare during the “Reality” tour in 2004. Reality (2003) was his most recent album and it was, like the previous five or six albums before it, a mixed bag. Some good stuff, some not-so-good stuff, nothing as dire as Tonight (1984) or Never Let Me Down (1987) but no one record that was a mind-melting as Lodger (1979) or as thoroughly A-material as Scary Monsters (1980).
After the nadir of Never Let Me Down (which let everyone down) and the diverting-but-just-not-right Tin Machine experiment (1989-1991), Bowie seemed to start finding his way back to the 50s-influenced-but-artrock-filtered niche he excelled at. By the time he got to Hours (1999), he was back on track — though no longer the cutting edge of art-rock, more a follower. But he had regained his vision and spent much of the next eight years honing it with a great band and more enjoyable albums that contained at least enough fine songs to be worth the purchase.
Then, suddenly, in 2004 the lights went out. No more Bowie. A lot of us hung on for a long time, waiting for the return. After nearly a decade, all but the most die-hard had given up, wished Bowie well, and resigned themselves that Reality and perhaps a few more scraps like the iSelect compilation (2008, which had a few re-recorded parts for the version of the best song off Never Let Me Down, “Time Will Crawl”), Bowie was done. He had a new kid and a new wife, he’d certainly earned his legend status, leave him alone.
I never gave up. Every month or so I would hunt for new pictures of Bowie, any scrap to indicate what he was up to, how he was doing. There wasn’t much — it was more like nostalgically looking up photos of a long-dead friend. So on January 8th, 2013, I finally understood what it might feel like to Christians if Jesus returned. I felt my faith finally rewarded.
So, what of this Second Coming? Well, after listening to it (the deluxe version of the album) for a couple of weeks, and on the eve of its official release, here’s the bottom line: it’s great. It’s just like the cream of his last few albums, with almost all strong songs done in his 2000’s style. It’s like the 10 years hadn’t passed, though I do detect a slightly rougher voice than previously.
But the thing most of the other reviews I’ve seen of this record have completely missed is that this is not a dour or contemplative mope-fest from an aging rock star back from a death scare — not at all. This is Bowie having a great time doing something he obviously missed doing: putting together an album in the studio. Yes, there are a lot of mentions of death (and life) on this record — but no more so than, say, a Decemberists album. Our Bowie has a black-humour streak, people! How can you not have noticed this?
I’m sure David takes the ponderous reviews of his “looking back on his life and output in a reflective mood” or “a dance through his greatest albums” blather and has a good laugh … all the way to the bank. As I write this, The Next Day is #1 in 34 countries before its even in the shops. “Where Are We Now?” aside, this is a joyous record that revels in its own style and exudes friends having a good time singing about the end of the world. Why can’t some of these critics see the joy that’s written all over this record — or the obviously gleeful mischief in the way he announced it and has (lack of) publicized it? It’s a mystery to me — the video for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is a total knee-slapper. This is not an album made by a wistful recluse — he’s only 66 for heaven’s sake, not 86 with terminal cancer!
The album opens with a solid, kick-open-the-door thump that serves as notice that Bowie is back, and the opening number — the title track to the album — even goes so far as to tackle the long-time absence head-on, bellowing “Here I am, not quite dying” in the chorus. It’s a jammy, kicky anthem with a cocky, sleazy Bowie announcing proudly that he’s not interested in spending his golden years warbling sell-out remakes of the Great American Songbook, thank you very much. This is an energetic, balls-out rocker that I’ll bet Robert Palmer would have loved to have covered back in his Power Station days.
Quickly shifting gears, we suddenly find ourselves in a dark New York underground nightclub, full of honking saxophones and a crime scene/beat noir vibe. Vocal effects, verses in a (for Bowie) bluesy growl and a higher-key chorus, this song prowls around and lets us know we’re in for a ride. It’s followed by the slicker, but much more “typical” (for this period of Bowie’s career) number, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” which I liked a lot better listening to the album than when I first saw the video. Like a lot of Bowie’s material, this one grows on you — and could have been written for Iggy Pop (probably everything you need to know about the song right there).
The video is very amusing — Bowie and Tilda Swindon swanning suburban while their youthful doppelgangers do the rock-star routine and stalk them in their subconscious. Watching Bowie as the “empty nester” reminds you of what a great actor he is, and the song is a more direct stab at social commentary than we’ve seen (not counting “Where Are We Now?”) in quite a while. Again, great energy and the video shows off the great humour behind it.
This rollercoaster really starts to gain altitude, however, with “Love is Lost” — an ode to teenage angst delivered credibly without a hint of either cynicism or creepiness. This is us starting the clanky climb up the first hill — building some tension we know is going to get released later. A snarky line — “Your country’s new, your friends are new, your house and even your eyes are new, your maid is new, and your accent too — but your fear is as old as the world” — promises great things to come. The song itself tells the tale of a 22-year-old girl who thinks “is this all there is” at the height of her youth and beauty, like we all did after our first heartbreak — not able to see that there’s so much more ahead, instead seeing only decline and eventually death. The quick fading calls of “what have you done” make a brilliant ending.
This is followed by Bowie’s initial release “Where Are We Now?” — a red herring that is as out of place on this album as it was for a first song release. It set the stage for a lonely, wistful walk down memory lane — exactly what this album isn’t! It’s a stunningly beautiful piece, mind you — I absolutely love it, and it brought me to tears the first time I heard it after such a long wait.
It’s full of loss and resignation — but beautiful like a funeral in a cathedral. It’s built like a Roy Orbison song, an unconventional structure that builds to a climax and then adds a lovely denouement. The finale hits like a burst of sun on a cold, cloudy day. This is the final moment on that roller coaster before you plummet down, that catching of the breath, the height of anticipation — and it is a beautiful thing. A great song to accompany a good cry, and a genuine reflection on a world — and man — that’s changed so much since those days in Berlin.
“Valentine’s Day” is the plummet down that first giant hill — not the ultimate release, Bowie’s saving that for later — but as rootsy a Bowie song as he’s done in ages. It really pulls from his 50s-influenced style of songwriting, throws in a black tale of a crushed character and dresses the whole thing in teenage-angst drag, right down to his “Hunky Dory” (1971) voice. It’s that bit when the front of the roller coaster is over the edge, but the back end is still coming over the hill.
“If You Can See Me” is the full-on plummet, a welcome return to Earthling-esque drum ‘n’ bass laced with medieval metaphors and beat poetry. It’s even got a bit of vari-pitched “Laughing Gnome” vocal in spots (what the –??). Stripped of it’s jungle pretensions, the song isn’t that far from the sort of thing he was doing in Labyrinth or Absolute Beginners. If you liked Earthling (and I did), you’ll like this.
Act Two of this record begins with the lightweight and obvious radio single “I’d Rather Be High,” which will remind his long-term fans of Hours. A pitch-perfect blend of “contemporary retro,” with a lovely military-themed lyric. I could totally see John Foxx doing this number, influenced as he is (as Bowie is) with a good Beatles-esque turn of a chorus every now and then. “Brilliant and naked, just the way that lovers look” is such a great line.
And if that song fails to chart, there’s always Plan B — the encroaching-back-into-Let’s-Dance-territory “Boss of Me,” again with the honking saxes and a full complement of backup singers. It’s a bit crunchier than anything he did in the early 80s, but it’s definitely a mainstream number — complete with a killer mid-eight, a touch of Nile Rodgers, and a sprinkle of Thin White Duke. It’s a clever take on a love song, and continues the radio-friendly theme of this “side” of the album.
Which takes us to “Dancing Out in Space” — you can tell from that title that this is meant as helium-filled fun. No death, no military, no literary allusions. Hell, with some work this could almost be a B-52’s number, that’s how fluffy it is. But unlike his failed attempts way back when, today’s commercial-pimping Bowie is a lot smarter about this stuff. He’s catchy without being pablum or ordinary. It may rub some of his art-rock fans the wrong way, but it’s again very 50s influenced and, well, fun. Natural fun. Like a Ringo track on a Beatles album, you know?
He goes a lot darker with “How Does the Grass Grow” — the title and chorus of which are based on a chant from bayonetting soldiers — but the song is still relentlessly sunny and catching, framing the kill-call chorus with The Shadows’ “Apache” and plenty of ya-ya-yas. Despite the black tone, this is another song I can picture the Goblin King singing to his muppet-filled court. From the drums to the vocals, it’s all very 60s — this is probably Bowie’s idea of a dance number, and even has a faux-Fripp opening! One of my favourites on the album.
Putting all the cards on the radio table, we come to “You Will Set the World on Fire” — a perfect artifact from the 70s, with Bowie posing as the LA-sleazebag promoter promising some young starlet the moon and stars. “I can work the scene, babe, I can see the magazines” — this comes free with fantastic visuals in your mind of the ultimate rock movie, plus Bowie hits some impressively high notes here. It’s a total rave-up just this side of glam, with tons of energy. A perfect cross of his 70s and 80s work — and that works a lot better than you might think. Fabulous.
And now, the non-finale: the stunning, fragile, haunting “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die.” I know why this wasn’t the last song on the regular edition of the album — it’s too much of a sign-off, too emotional to be the last ringing chord, might have led to some suicides. Yeah, seriously.
It’s his signature Ziggy ballad all over again — Tim Curry is dying that he didn’t get to sing this in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. You can feel the searing spotlight, the ghost of Marc Bolan, and hear where the Nits get so much of their magic. This is the most purely glam thing since Bowie had Spiders for friends, featuring acoustic guitars to balance the sound flawlessly. This is perfect. Utterly perfect — it doesn’t get any better than this.
The regular edition of the album ends instead with “Heat,” a Scott Walker tribute. It’s a typical Bowie move to end the album on an enigmatic note. “Heat” is a lot like “The Electrician” and would have been comfortable on Outside, or maybe The Buddha of Suburbia. Brings the curtain right down.
The extended edition of the album adds three further tracks. The first, “So She” is another lightweight but catchy number that’s more synth-heavy than the rest of the record. It is neither great nor bad — pleasant and good, and a minute or so shorter than the average song running time up to this point. Reminds me of the group Komeda, but with Bowie vocals. To be frank, it’s a b-side. The second bonus track, “Plan,” is an instrumental and again is not unpleasant, but doesn’t take us anywhere and just kind of … lays there. An odd choice for an album track.
Luckily, the last bonus track redeems it all. A sound that recalls Scary Monsters beautifully, “I’ll Take You There” is another straight-ahead rave-up that rocks as hard as bands a third his age, just one more catchy, fabulous reminder that Bowie ain’t laying down just yet. You reach the end of the record recharged and ready for more. But another replay will have to do. This is an album that lives up to its hype, and hopefully marks the beginning of a new period of productivity. For 51 minutes, all is right with the world.
WPRK threw a party and invited me … and, by proxy, you … to a celebration of 20 years since the first episode of what would become Chas’ Crusty Old Wave. I returned to Florida for the first time in nearly two years, and we did not one but two two-hour shows featuring the music we all love so much — the red-headed stepkids of the 80s!
Today, three months after the event, we present the first of the two anniversary shows, hosted by Phantom Third Channel and myself. We get on terribly well and giggle like schoolgirls reading Tiger Beat magazine when we talk about music and bands and records and stuff, and this shows in our several extended conversation breaks — but don’t worry, there’s lots of great music there, with an emphasis on Brian Eno, David Bowie and Elvis Costello. A lot of the tunes on this episode slot neatly into that all-too-brief era between the fall of UK punk and the rise of commercial “alternative” music. For a bit there, before MTV and in a few cases even before punk rock, there was a period where Weird Was Good. We touch on a lot of that with things like the Stiff Records single You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties by Jona Lewie, or Bruce Woolley’s original take on Video Killed the Radio Star, or Bow Wow Wow’s call for sonic revolution, C30 C60 C90 Go!.
We also hit some songs that are sheer nostalgia for me personally, within and without the New Wave movement — such as Love and Loneliness the most over-produced record in the world, and Monochrome Set’s odd little B-I-D Spells Bid, one of the very few songs written by and about the lead singer of the band. There’s also some Ultravox from both “eras” of the band, some bona-fide classics like Gary Numan’s Me! I Disconnect From You and more. You can grab your copy from the website or directly from iTunes.
Written by: Steve Kloves (screenplay) Directed by: David Yates Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint Running time: 146 minutes
It’s a bad sign when your mind wanders during a film. It happened a couple of times during this one, which is not to say I didn’t like it. Overall, I liked it quite a lot — in part because after six of these films they finally figured out how to make Harry Potter movies, and in part because J.K. Rowling has nicked so many “bits” from other books and movies and just twisted them a little, and there’s nothing wrong with that generally speaking.
The first thing that broke my suspension of disbelief was a moment early on in the film when Harry meets Elphias Dodge, an old friend of Dumbledore’s. Nothing against David Ryall, who’s been in everything British TV can offer at one time or another, but I would have loved to have seen Tom Baker in that part — he’s much more the kind of mad character Dumbledore would hang out with.
Later, during the sequence in the Ministry of Magic, I remember thinking “ooh they should have let Terry Gilliam direct this one.” There were several moments like that.
But what really broke my concentration was the laid-on-thick parallels to The Lord of the Rings. Now, the whole series has at this point become a “Quest” tale so bits of other quest classics are of course going to show up, from Greek mythology to Doctor Who’s The Key to Time, but Rowling really doesn’t try to terribly hard to hide it.
I come at these movies not having read the books (yes, I’m the one guy who hasn’t read any of these books bar the first one!), so I judge them as movies. From that perspective, the series has been pretty uneven; after the first delightful one, they quickly got jumbled, hurried and senseless (particularly The Prisoner of Azkaban, which was a disgraceful mess). After a slight respite in the much-better Goblet of Fire, things returned to silly, overwrought and confusing in Order of the Phoenix, which I found totally forgettable and impossible to follow.
Much of the damage finally started being repaired in 2009’s The Half-Blood Prince, helmed by David Yates who took what Mike Newell started and ran with it, focusing like a laser on the actual story buried in the details and extracting it, much to the delight of anyone who hadn’t re-read the book the week before. HBP was clear, set up new events nicely, really let the young actors shine instead of being just an endless walk-through of notable old British veterans like the first five movies were, and as a result solved the pacing issue that had really hobbled all the films from #3 onwards.
Yates returned for this one, and the two-part nature of it might have been a crass marketing ploy but I for one am grateful; the slower pace makes this the first Harry Potter movie to have any appreciable amounts of silence in it. I found myself really enjoying the slower-paced scenes, such as Harry’s kiss with Ginny to remind you that they’re still a couple, and some of the later picture-postcard scenes do allow for some genuine thoughtful acting (rather than, say, re-acting to one of the many effects shots).
There is still a certain amount of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them with the by-now enormous guest cast (and remember, half of those characters have died in the films by this point!) and there are still some introductions of people who, as in so much of Rowling’s work, walk on and then are quickly killed or thrown out never to be seen again. I was disappointed we didn’t get more of the Dursleys, but at least this time they didn’t forget about having a few lighter scenes; the Seven Harrys will get a giggle out of many.
There’s a fair amount of sexual tension in the film, though for the life of me I can’t really see how the Ron-Hermione romance actually works so their on-screen actions feel kind of forced (and the “triangle” with Harry even more so), but the kids do pretty well with the material; this movie is much less a spotlight on Radcliffe as it is on Watson and Grint, the former proving herself what I have always suspected — a reincarnated Audrey Hepburn — while Grint struggles to look like he even belongs in this movie.
I don’t fault Grint so much as Rowling — Ron is just a blah character meant to balance the other two, and in the films he’s been a total third wheel since the first one and he knows it. Of the original young cast, I think Watson and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) have a real shot at having genuine long film careers if they care to. Felton isn’t given that much to do in this one but he’s quite obviously going to have a bigger role in the next one, and I found the whole dynamic of the Malfoy household much more interesting in DH1 than ever before, as the family — particularly Lucius, Draco’s father — was painted in such cartoonish strokes up until the last film (and speaking of him, what the holy hell happened to Jason Isaacs? He looks terrible in this movie, like he’s aged 10 years to everyone else’s two!).
There were still sequences that didn’t make much sense, or seem to add much to the plot, but it is the scenes of the heroic trio on the run that make up the entire second half of the film, and while a nice change from the Hogwarts-bound nature of the previous movies, went too far over the LOTR-homage cliff and felt circular in nature — apart from destroying the Horcrux, they don’t actually accomplish much, and what few clues they turn up felt very Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew-ish in nature. Finally, they end up in right where they didn’t want to be — and despite their escape, they lose Dobby (I was not sorry to see him go, I considered him the Jar-Jar of this series, but at least they gave him a very good send-off) and the villain seems to have won the day.
Despite not having read the books, I have a pretty fair idea of where this is going for the wrap-up, which characters will return and which ones will redeem themselves. Why? Because while Harry Potter’s saga is imaginative — and enjoyable for that — it is not terribly original. Anyone well-versed in the Hero’s Myth, Freytag’s model and the best adventure stories that have come before it can see the general path ahead. But have we enjoyed the journey?
Though it remains entirely too dependent on the source books to make much sense without them, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, like The Half-Blood Prince, at least tries to give us a coherent enough main plot to follow that we aren’t bothered too much about the details, and on that level it succeeds.
For once, I understood perfectly what the subject of the title of the film was all about, thanks mainly to a really standout bit of shadow-play homage animation to illustrate the tale of the Three Brothers, and even the racism/eugenics allegory was further explored without beating me over the head with it. It even tied back to the first movie, well there’s a nice reward for those who have grown confounded by Rowling’s tendency to throw tonnes of interesting stuff at us and then refer back to precious little of it ever again.
I have hope that the finale really will tie up at least some of the bigger loose ends and give us a satisfying conclusion. I have no doubt that Voldemort has fallen for the last of Dumbledore’s traps, that just as the brass ring is in his grasp his “family” will begin to defect, and that characters not seen in this movie (or for a while, if you get my drift) will return. Hell, I’m half-expecting Ghostly Alec Guinness — sorry, Ghostly Albus Dumbledore — to turn up at a crucial moment and tell Harry to use the Force.
Written by: Norman R. Raine & Seton I. Miller Directed by: Michael Curtiz & William Keighley Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia De Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains Running time: 102 minutes
The short version: this is an absolute classic of a movie, so good that I don’t even mind that a number of the cast are obvious Americans.
This is a beautifully-executed amalgamation of various legends of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men in Sherwood Forest, a story that has evolved greatly over time (and deviated from what scant details are verifiable) but has its roots in genuine tales of a legendary archer who addressed injustices via vigilante violence from at least the 14th century.
This version presents the now-standard portrait of Robin of Loxley as a dispossessed Saxon knight forced to become an outlaw when the Normal Prince John, conniving brother of King Richard I, attempts to seize the monarchy and subjugate the Saxons while King Richard is away at the Crusades.
Very little of this squares in any way with the actual legend (itself full of disputed details) — it’s off by a mere couple of centuries, a different king and lack of nobility for a start — but who the hell cares. The setting gives us a genuine historical backdrop (Prince John really did overthrow Richard’s regent William Longchamp in an attempt to seize the throne while Richard was held prisoner), a rich and clearly-drawn cast of characters, an injustice for Robin to fight and plenty of pageantry. The 12th century never looked as good as this, and despite all the detail inaccuracy, most people consider this the definitive version of the story which, despite many subsequent attempts, hasn’t been topped (or even equalled).
The key to this movie’s enduring success — it’s still very watchable and enjoyable some 72 years after it’s release — has a lot to do with the screenplay, which is beautifully peppered with comedy and drama in perfect proportion to the action, and structured very much along the patterns of Shakespeare’s plots.
The casting must also be mentioned, as time has proven most of the choices very wise. Errol Flynn (who was actually born in Australia) gives us a passable attempt at an aristocratic English accent, convincing us he’s a Saxon lord being discriminated against by the treacherous Prince John (just this side of camp portrayal by Claude Rains), the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne (the flawless Basil Rathbone), and the rather ineffectual and oafish Sherrif of Nottingham (a refreshingly different, Cowardly Lion-esque approach by Melville Cooper).
Strangely, however, the Merry Men are appear to mostly be made up of Americans. Excluding Robin and Will Scarlett, the main speaking roles amongst the outlaws are the frog-voiced Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette, a former silent-movie star who’s distinctive voice made him a comic actor in the talkies) and Little John (father of “Gilligan’s Island” skipper Alan Hale Jr.), the former of which is especially jarring in 12th-century Yorkshire.
Still, all is forgiven once the characters are introduced and the action begins, including a number of breath-taking stunts (remembering that there was no technology or safety standards in those days) set against a (California!) backdrop of perfectly gorgeous technicolour, still quite the novelty in 1938 but which has definitely helped preserve interest in this film.
Flynn comes off as the perfect heroic archetype; charming, sassy, bold, witty and noble. From his first encounter with Sir Guy and particularly in his latter bold appearance in the court of Prince John, his portrayal seems natural and self-assured, like he was born to play it — the fact that his interpretation stands as definitive to this day speaks loudly of how well the script was tailored to Flynn’s personality.
Poor Olivia De Havilland has to do all her acting using almost exclusively her eyes for most of the film, only ridding herself of her maiden headdress towards the end, but she proves up to the challenge and gives a surprisingly rich and nuanced performance, even when overshadowed by the much more (shall we say) theatrical stylings of messrs. Rains, Rathbone and Cooper.
Sharp-eyed or repeat viewings of the film can yield forth all manner of continuity goofs, embarrassingly rubber clubs and swords, strange plot points (Richard and his men just “show up” in Sherwood with no explanation of how they escaped or got there, right on cue) and so forth, but these sorts of things — which would be excoriated as sloppy in most films — are swept under the rug by the an audience swept away by the pageantry and action. Directors Curtiz and Keighley boldly stage complicated fight scenes and other set pieces with huge numbers of extras and rather complicated shots and by and large it all works stunningly well.
Like Captain Blood and other high-adventure films of the period, the filmmakers have no trouble balancing slower, character-rich moments with the fast-paced action, because at all times they remember to be servants to the overall story. The comedy is always delightfully light-hearted, the dramatic moments are credible (particularly thanks to De Havilland, such as the scene in the forest where she begins to be won over to Robin’s cause), and nothing feels out of place — even the entirely-invented romance between the hunter Much and Marion’s nurse Bess. Even the small moments and throwaway lines give the story more variety and depth — careful not to make Robin less than perfectly noble, giving the Merry Men sufficient backstory, avoiding painting the Normans as all-bad or the Saxons as all-good and so on.
The Axis of Evil, circa 1166.
If you only ever see one Robin Hood film in its entirety, this is the one to see (well, actually, you should watch Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights right after it). If you only watch one Errol Flynn movie in your life, this is the one to see. If you only watch one colour film from the late 1930s … okay yeah, that would be dumb because there were a number of fabulous colour movies from the late 30s, but this is definitely right up there with Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz.
Historical accuracy be damned, this is Hollywood legend-making at its finest and the source of so much influence over not just later Robin Hood movies, but adventure movies in general, that it should be a staple of film schools and periodic revivals, particularly at outdoor film fests. This is genuinely among my all-time favourite films — great historical fun that holds up so well it may well last another century as a beloved fable.