Robin Hood on Arte: when Errol Flynn strangled his director

A look back at the tensions during the filming of the cinema classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn.

In the mid-1930s, it was the Great Depression in the United States. The economy is at its lowest and the unemployment rate is exploding. Cinema is no longer necessarily the successful medium it used to be, and we have to bring viewers back to theaters.

At Warner, an idea germinates in the head of the studio head Jack Warner: we need an adventure film for the general public and big show and as long as we do, which is free of rights and his choice is Robin Hood .

A movie that almost didn’t happen

The idea is to hire James Cagney for a film called The Adventures of Robin Hood. Except that the actor is not satisfied with his contract with Warner, judging that he does not receive enough money on the successes he shoots for the studio, in particular gangster films. He took advantage of an error by Warner, broke his contract in 1934, and left to work independently (he returned to Warner in 1938).

Warner Bros.

Errol Flynn

Scalded by the incident, Jack Warner abandoned the Robin Hood project, which remained in the cards for three years. It was producer Hal B. Wallis who first thought of Errol Flynn to replace him in this adaptation of the Robin Hood legend. Warner is reluctant, but according to legend, after seeing Captain Blood and the actor’s acrobatics, he is convinced to try the adventure.

The director is fired

The realization is entrusted to William Keighley and that’s good, because he directed Flynn in The Prince and the pauper the previous year. The two men get along well and their collaboration was a success, so everything is in place to try to reproduce the feat. Except that after having received the first images of filming, the studio finds that the action is severely lacking in “pep”.


Warner Bros.

Errol Flynn does his own stunts

Errol Flynn comes out of his hinges

Keighley is fired and finds himself without work, replaced at short notice by Michael Curtiz, who had turned Flynn in Captain Blood then The Charge of the Light Brigade. Except that on the set, the two men do not get along. Flynn is resistant to the sword training sessions and the angry temper of Curtiz, and the director does not appreciate the lack of professionalism of the actor, who does not respect the shooting schedule and misses rehearsals.

I’m going to give it to him, realism!

The height of these tensions comes when Curtiz, to add realism, has the protective tips of the swords removed and Flynn is cut while filming a fight scene. Furious, Flynn rushes at his director to strangle him, shouting: “I’m going to give it some realism!”

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Warner Bros.

Obviously, things will calm down and filming will resume. Moreover, brought together by the studio to capitalize on the physical talent of Flynn and the veracity of the action dear to Curtiz, the two men will work together on numerous occasions after Robin Hood.

But an absolute classic

Because of the multiple delays and the change of director during filming, the film exceeded its initial budget of 33 million dollars (adjusted for inflation) to reach 41 million! Fortunately, The Adventures of Robin Hood was a huge success which garnered 83.8 million when it was released in 1938, yet a complicated year for the American box office. This nice success will not prevent the Warner from being in deficit that year.

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Warner Bros.

These many problems will not detract from the finished product of its undeniable quality which makes it one of the greatest adventure films ever made, with Errol Flynn performing all his stunts himself and such a striking adaptation of Robin Hood that she will be referenced in parodies like Sacred Robin Hood (1993) or revisits of the myth like Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991).

Robin Hood on Arte: when Errol Flynn strangled his director