How does one start a commentary on such a perfect specimen of film making? Is this exaggeration. I think not.
Every aspect and element of the movie is absolutely top of the line in the cinematic Arts & Sciences. Once again, where to start? Casting is so important. Who could find a better line up of Actors than this. Starting with Errol Flynn. Never was there a better screen Robin Hood; not Douglas Fairbanks, not Richard Green, not even Kevin Costner. Mr. Flynn was sure a handful for the studio in real life and a lot of this surely rubbed of on his screen persona. Added to a great Athletic ability, probably a natural athlete.* Next, we have delicately, beautiful Olivia de Havilland who brings not only her feminine pulchritude to the movie, but also an innate sense of class and intelligence too. Her Lady Marion was much more than a helpless female. Was she a damsel in distress? Oh, most surely she was that, but not a screaming, whiny helpless girl.
Basil Rathbone (Sir Guy of Gisbourne) was perhaps the best villain in the business. Next to his characterization of Sherlock Holmes in all those films (and some Radio & TV work as well), as well as being a top fencer. Ironic it is that this master swordsman lost so many screen duels with the likes of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power (THE MARK OF ZORRO).
Claude Rains as Prince John gave th story a somewhat foppish, prim and prissy version of a Bad Monarch, which this future King John surely was. His type of person could never do some of the assignations and executions that he ordered, but saw no difficulty or remorse in ordering underlings to do so.
The rest of the cast reads like a who's who of British Actors in Hollywood or a role call of regular Warner Brothers players. Just consider the following: Melville Cooper (Sheriff of Nottingham) Una O'Conner , Alan Hale (Little John**), Eugene Palette (Friar Tuck), Patric Knowles (Will Scarlet) and so on and so forth, en ad infinitum! To these talents add the great sets and the forest of the Pacific Northwest. They had such great Castles, Towns and Tournament Fields. And how could simple B & W film do any justice to the beautifully tailored, multi hued costuming. This is Technicolor Work at its very best! Please let's not go any further without remembering our sense of hearing, or namely the musical score. The theme (Overture) and the incidental music by Erich Wolfgang Kornkold is at once classical, exciting and multi-faceted. It plays no small role in moving the story along as well as underscoring action, danger, solemnity and even humorous moments. It belongs right up there with compositions by some of the guys like Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikowsky, Chopin, Rossini, etc. (you get the idea!).
A well written, tight, intelligent script was the foundation for this once in a lifetime true work of Art. When a fine script meets able talent in the Director's chair the two elements act to make the final product even better and better and better.............
* Errol Flynn was a member of the 1928 0r 1932 Australian Olympic Boxing team, a talent that no doubt, made him a candidate for the Lead in GENTLEMAN JIM four years later.
** Alan Hale, an all purpose supporting player who portrayed a tremendously wide variety of types. From Mongol Chieftan Kaidu in MARCO POLO to James Cagney's Father in THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE. He must have really liked portraying Little John, for he was the Big Quarter Staff Man in Douglas Fairbanks' silent screen ROBIN HOOD(1922),a role he re prised not only for this picture but also for ROGUES OF SHERWOOD FORSET (1950).