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 director Michael Curtiz had instructed him to remove the safety feature in order to make the action "more exciting". Flynn reportedly climbed up a gantry where Curtiz was standing next to the camera, took him by the throat and asked him if he found that "exciting enough".
According to TCM host Robert Osborne, the film was so successful that a sequel was commissioned. However, the US 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.
Errol Flynn was not happy when Michael Curtiz was assigned to the film, as he didn't care for Curtiz's dictatorial methods and the two clashed often while filming The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), especially over what he--an avid horseman--saw as Curtiz's indifference to the injuries and deaths of many of the horses used in the film.
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.
Errol Flynn had some of his own design ideas, notably complaints about the fringed wig designed for his character. After a convincing note from Flynn to Hal B. Wallis back at the studio, the wig was redesigned according to the actor's needs and suggestions. Reshooting was unnecessary since up to that point, the offending hairpiece had only been photographed under a hat.
James Cagney was the studio's original choice for Robin Hood. However, when Cagney walked off set, the film's producer Hal B. Wallis made the decision to cast Errol Flynn, against the studio's wishes. It was also Wallis's 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.
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. The oak was felled by lightning in 1979, and only then was it discovered that it was actually two oak trees, estimated to be 125 years old, that had fused together over time.
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).
Swordmaster Fred Cavens, who staged the duels in Captain Blood (1935), was assigned to make the fight scenes exciting. Cavens believed the duels should be magnified and exaggerated for effect. His approach was to create a routine that was choreographed like a dance, with counts and phrases. Basil Rathbone was already an impressive fencer, so Errol Flynn trained with Cavens, though many sources say Flynn was less than dedicated to the task and relied more on his innate athletic ability. In this area, liberties were also taken with history. Although broadswords that would have been typical for the era were used (but designed as lighter and more manageable replicas), the fight scenes incorporated fencing techniques that would not be developed until decades later. Medieval swordplay involved a lot more hacking than finessed lunges and parries.
In his biography "In and Out of Character", Basil Rathbone confesses that Errol Flynn was lazy on the set and much too confident about himself. He also says that he and Flynn were good companions, but not friends. Their relationship was cool and much enjoyable. Flynn was very fond of Rathbone.
Maid Marian is not from an original Robin Hood ballad but a French romantic ballad, "Jeau Robin et Marian" ("Play of Robin and Marian"). Robin was not a former nobleman but a shepherd, and Marian was a shepherdess whom he loved.
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.
All of the bows and arrows used in the film were hand-made by expert fletcher and archer James Duff of Jersey City, NJ. Duff was an immigrant from Scotland and author of a book of poetry, "Bows and Arrows" (1927).
Alan Hale appears as Little John in this film, and also played the role in Robin Hood (1922) with Douglas Fairbanks. He reprised the role again in Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950), 28 years after his performance in the Fairbanks film, which was probably the longest period for any actor to appear in the same major role in film history until Sylvester Stallone eclipsed it with Rocky Balboa (42 years and counting).
For the film's initial release in May 1938, an unusually elaborate, eight-minute, full-color trailer was produced, which unfortunately does not survive in the Warner vault. Only the reissue trailer (1948) is available now.
Originally budgeted at $1.6 million, the budget ballooned to $2 million, the most expensive Warners film up to that time. However, it turned out to be the studio's biggest money-maker of 1939, making back far in excess of its cost.
One of the first steps in production was to send the cast, crew and some extremely expensive Technicolor cameras north to Chico, CA, in late 1937 to do location work for what were to be the Sherwood Forest scenes. Studio production manager Tenny Wright questioned the decision. Since it was already early autumn and the northern California rainy season would be starting soon, Wright didn't see why the work couldn't be done close to home in the Lake Sherwood area near Los Angeles, which got its name after being used as the location for Robin Hood (1922). However, the studio decided to stick by the decision, and the shoot did indeed encounter considerable bad weather, stretching the location time to six weeks. Adding to the expense was the need to bring in prop rocks and tree trunks to augment the natural environment. Because much of the foliage was already turning fall colors, it had to be spray-painted green.
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, CA, 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.
With principal photography completed, producer Hal B. Wallis made extensive and detailed editing notes, with particular attention paid to sound. One element of that aspect was the film's score. The original idea of using contract composer Max Steiner was thrown out in favor of hiring Erich Wolfgang Korngold, an Austrian-born former child prodigy who had become a critically acclaimed composer of operas and orchestral music.
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.
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.
Errol Flynn enjoyed working with the sophisticated and easy-going William Keighley but despised the temperamental and demanding Michael Curtiz. Problems between the two were reportedly exacerbated by Flynn's casual approach to production schedules and scene preparation, as well as his reputed bad memory for dialogue.
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.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold was excited about the prospects of working on the film and had even worked out possible themes and passages in his head as he made the crossing from Austria to Hollywood. However, when he saw the completed film he got cold feet, pleading with producer Hal B. Wallis to release him from his contract on the grounds that "I am a musician of the heart, of passions and psychology; I am not a musical illustrator for a 90% action picture." Wallis refused.
German audiences will wait in vain for the notorious lines "You speak treason!", followed by "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.
William Keighley immediately ran afoul of Hal B. Wallis and production executives, as well as the writers, with his insistence on starting the film with a splashy jousting tournament. Opponents of the idea felt that it would set the picture seriously off balance by placing the biggest scene at the beginning, and that the story could hold up quite well on its own without it. Studio production manager Tenny Wright suggested to Wallis that they let Keighley go off to Chico thinking the tournament scene would be used, then reject it toward the end of production.
When composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for this film, it was the first time that the award was given to the composer. Previously, the award was given to the head of the studio's music department, rather than the composer.
The centerpiece of the film was a full-scale, historically accurate replica of Nottingham Castle as it appeared in the 1100's. The set costed nearly a third of the movie's 2 million dollars budget at remained, until replica of the Roman Forum in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), as the largest, most expensive and detailed movie set ever built.
Sam Jaffe: 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.
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.
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.
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 also scrapped. 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.