During one fight sequence, Errol Flynn was jabbed by an actor who was using an unprotected sword - he asked him why he didn't have a guard on the point. The other player apologized and explained that the director, Michael Curtiz, had instructed him to remove the safety feature in order to make the action "more exciting". Errol Flynn reportedly climbed up a gantry where Michael Curtiz was standing next to the camera, took him by the throat and asked him if he found that "exciting enough".
Erich Wolfgang Korngold was invited by Warner Brothers to come from his native Austria to Hollywood to see the film with a view to scoring it. He initially turned down the chance as he felt that his musical style was ill-suited for adventure spectaculars. However, while in Hollywood, he learned that the Nazis were about to invade Austria and, feeling he had to secure a source of revenue in the United States, he accepted the assignment. He would go on to win the Oscar. For the rest of his life, Korngold, grateful of how this successful assignment allowed him to stay in America and safe from the Nazis' murderous persecution would playfully quip, "Robin Hood saved my life."
Howard Hill, who is listed in the credits as "Captain of Archers", also played "Elwyn the Welshman" in the archery contest. Hill actually made the shot where we see one arrow split another and he did all the shots which required hitting human targets. He also worked closely with the sound department to produce the distinctive arrow sounds by using specially made arrows.
The Sir Joseph Hooker Oak (called the Gallows Oak in the film) where Robin Hood forms his outlaw band was supposedly the largest living oak tree in the world at the time of filming in 1937. The rock that Errol Flynn stands on in front of the tree is a prop.
Maid Marion is never referred to by that name in this film. She is referred to as "Lady Marion Fitzwalter" twice, once in the banquet scene and the second time by Sir Guy just before she hands the Golden Arrow to Robin Hood.
William Keighley had directed Errol Flynn the year before in The Prince and the Pauper (1937), which had turned out well for Warner Brothers. The studio had high hopes for this second teaming, but upon viewing the dailies coming in from the location shoot in Chico, California, they found the action scenes to be lacking in vigor and excitement. Michael Curtiz, who had effectively made Flynn a star with his agile handling of the actor in Captain Blood (1935) and cemented his reputation as a swashbuckling hero in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), was brought in to complete the picture. Consequently when Keighley returned to Hollywood from Chico, he found himself out of a job. Ironically, Keighley and Flynn got along quite well, but Curtiz and Flynn despised each other.
At the time Olivia de Havilland rode the palomino, its registered name was "Golden Cloud" and was owned by Hudkins Stables, an outfit that leased horses and Western equipment for films. Roy Rogers bought "Golden Cloud" for $2,500. Character actor Smiley Burnette, who was Rogers' sidekick in his early movies, suggested the name of Trigger, as the horse was "quick-on-the-trigger". Rogers rode Trigger in his first starring Western, Under Western Stars (1938).
In an effort to assuage the Production Code Administration, aka the Breen Office - which was the official censorship authority at the time and was coming down especially hard on Warner Bros.' popular gangster films - the studio gave the go-ahead for this project, figuring that a harmless historical tale wouldn't cause them to run afoul of the censors.
Maid Marian is from not an original Robin Hood ballad, but from the French romantic ballad "Jeau Robin et Marian" (Play of Robin and Marian). Robin was not Robin Hood but a shepherd, and Marian was a shepherdess whom he loved.
Originally budgeted at $1.6 million, the budget eventually ballooned to $2 million, the most expensive Warners film to date, but it turned out to be the studio's biggest money-maker in 1939, making back far in excess of its cost.
According to TCM host Robert Osborne, the film was so successful that a sequel was commissioned. However, the U.S. government wanted to restrict the amount of money invested in filmmaking at that point in anticipation of joining World War II, so it was delayed. By 1945, when the war was over, the project was scrapped because Olivia de Havilland and Claude Rains were no longer employed at Warner Bros.
James Cagney was the studio's original choice for Robin Hood. But when Cagney walked off set, the film's producer Hal B. Wallis made the decision to cast Errol Flynn, against Warner Bros' wishes. It was also Wallis' decision to keep Maid Marian, when the original scriptwriter wanted to dump her character. Wallis felt Marian was an indispensable fixture of a Robin Hood adventure.
All of the bows and arrows used in the film were hand-made by expert fletcher and archer James Duff of Jersey City, New Jersey. Mr. Duff was an immigrant from Scotland, and author of the book of poetry, 'Bows and Arrows' from 1927.
The studio files/records for this film are archived at the USC Cinema Television Library. Interoffice memos clearly indicate that Olivia de Havilland was not the first choice for the role of Marion. The original actress, whose name is blacked out in each of documents, became pregnant out of wedlock, and could no longer accept the role.
Although this movie carries the VITAPHONE trademark, in fact, the sound was looped onto the film by a sound-on-film process. This was the result of Warner Brothers having to carry the trademark of the obsolete process until it expired.
For the film's initial release in May 1938, an unusually elaborate, 8 minute full color trailer was produced, which unfortunately does not survive in the Warner vault. Only the reissue trailer (1948) is available now.
On May 11, 1938, a special live radio broadcast of an extended selection of the important parts of the music score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold was presented by NBC coast to coast, with Basil Rathbone (who played Sir Guy of Gisbourne in the film) narrating the story and the composer himself conducting the Warner Brothers Studio Orchestra. This was the first time that a film score was performed in this way on radio, an unusual accolade for Korngold's remarkable score. Plans to release the broadcast on gramophone records were unfortunately abandoned, for reasons that are unclear. Private copies were made, of which only three are known to survive. An edited version of the broadcast has been issued on LP and CD.
Alan Hale appears as Little John in this film having earlier played the role in Robin Hood (1922) then reprises the role again in Rogues of Sherwood Forest in 1950, 28 years after his performance in the Fairbanks film, which is probably the longest period for any actor to appear in the same major role in film history.
German audiences will wait in vain for the notorious lines "You speak treason!" - "Fluently." In the German version, it is dubbed as "Ihr sprecht unbedacht!" - "Weiß ich." ("You speak before you think!" - "I know.") Probably they chose this quip (clever in its own right, but in a different vein than the original) because a more faithful translation would have lost the play on words completely.
Warner Bros. owned the rights to the original "Robin Hood" operetta, while MGM announced its intention to film a Robin Hood movie at the same time, based on the operetta, with Nelson Eddy as Robin and Jeanette MacDonald as Maid Marian. Warner Bros agreed, providing it could film a movie called "The Adventures of Robin Hood" with James Cagney as Robin. The MGM film was eventually abandoned.
In the montage scene in which Robin's men spread word of the meeting at the Gallows Oak, the first serf who passes the message through the market place (wearing a hat and gray beard) appears to be the noted character actor in an uncredited cameo.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Heavily padded stunt players and actors were paid $150 per arrow for being shot by professional archer Howard Hill, who also played the captain of the archers, whom Robin Hood defeats in the tournament by splitting his own arrow. Splitting the arrow was Hill's feat, too, done in one take with no trick photography.
Although it is said that the tournament winning arrow shoots the other arrow in two, in fact when the arrow shot by Howard Hill strikes the arrow embedded in the target, it splits the arrow into three pieces. It sounds better to split something in half or in two, but the details in the movie are real and not just a saying.
The theatrical trailer contains footage of Robin and Marian kissing on horseback. This footage is from the deleted final scene of the film, immediately following the closing of the great doors, where the film now ends.
The ending that exists now in the film is not the one that was originally written. In the original ending, King Richard and his forces help battle Prince John's and Guy of Gisburne's forces outside the castle - this ending was scrapped because it was too expensive to film. In the back-up ending, Prince John and Guy of Gisbourne's forces chased Robin Hood's and King Richard's forces into Sherwood forest and the climax took place there. This second ending was really never satisfactory, and was scrapped too. Finally, a third ending was written, in which the climactic battle takes place inside the Castle of Nottingham. Now King Richard's forces could be pared down to a handful of faithful retainers, and the new ending proved to be less expensive to shoot. To prepare the audience for the new ending, the abbot's scenes were given to the Bishop of the Black Canons.
A scene was filmed that was to have taken place before the scene where Will Scarlet comes riding into the forest clearing with Much the Miller's Son on his saddle. This was the scene where King Richard challenges Friar Tuck to a fistfight and wins, after which Robin himself agrees to fight King Richard. The scene was deleted from the final version of the film, making it appear that King Richard and Robin are about to fight for no reason.