Russell Crowe in 'Robin Hood'Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the English folk legend of Robin Hood. There have been several variations since its medieval origins, but the most popular tells the story of a young nobleman (and skilled archer) whose lands and title are snatched by bad Prince/King John and his cronies. Taking the name Robin Hood, he goes to Sherwood Forest and gathers a band of "merry men" who rebel against the tyrannical powers that be, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, until good King Richard the Lionhearted comes back from the Crusades and sets things straight.

The tale has been given many film treatments over the years and director Ridley Scott has now thrown his feathered cap in the ring with an action-packed epic ('Robin Hood,' out May 14) starring his main muse Russell Crowe, with Cate Blanchett as Lady Marion. Judging from previews -- and the fact that Crowe's playing him -- this Robin is a tougher, more seasoned outlaw than his predecessors and the movie features huge battle scenes on par with previous Scott/Crowe epic 'Gladiator.'

Let's take a look at some previous depictions of the legendary outlaw and see how he's transformed over the years: Russell Crowe in 'Robin Hood'Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the English folk legend of Robin Hood. There have been several variations since its medieval origins, but the most popular tells the story of a young nobleman (and skilled archer) whose lands and title are snatched by bad Prince/King John and his cronies. Taking the name Robin Hood, he goes to Sherwood Forest and gathers a band of "merry men" who rebel against the tyrannical powers that be, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, until good King Richard the Lionhearted comes back from the Crusades and sets things straight.

The tale has been given many film treatments over the years and director Ridley Scott has now thrown his feathered cap in the ring with an action-packed epic ('Robin Hood,' out May 14) starring his main muse Russell Crowe, with Cate Blanchett as Lady Marion. Judging from previews -- and the fact that Crowe's playing him -- this Robin is a tougher, more seasoned outlaw than his predecessors and the movie features huge battle scenes on par with previous Scott/Crowe epic 'Gladiator.'

Let's take a look at some previous depictions of the legendary outlaw and see how he's transformed over the years:

douglas fairbanks in 'robin rood'Douglas Fairbanks in 'Robin Hood' (1922)
The dashing, acrobatic Fairbanks was the silver screen's first big-budget Robin, and he literally throws himself into the role. Graceful and charismatic, Fairbanks is jaunty and good-humored as the disenfranchised nobleman-turned-warrior hero, lacking the edge that later characters would have. Similarly, the (silent) movie is bigger on spectacle than emotion -- the immense set with thousands of extras impressed the heck out of audiences back then, as did its sword fights, jousting scenes and stunts in general.



errol flynn in 'adventures of robin hood'Errol Flynn in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1938)
Flynn, arguably the greatest swashbuckler ever to grace the screen, was 28 when he made this movie and his sexy, charming -- and roguish -- Robin is still considered by many to be the definitive incarnation of the medieval hero. Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian), aside from being two of the most attractive actors of their day, have the necessary chemistry to pull off the movie's intensely romantic scenes. The supporting cast is equally strong (Alan Hale, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone) and the visuals, in relatively new Technicolor, are spectacular. The movie's a classic in every sense.



frank sinatra in 'robin and the 7 hoods'Frank Sinatra in 'Robin and the 7 Hoods' (1964)
Trust the Rat Pack to bring their inimitable irreverence to the RH legend (talk about your merry men). Set in 1928 Chicago, with guns replacing bows and arrows, this entertaining musical is only loosely based on the classic story, but it has several important elements: a corrupt sheriff and no-good racketeer (Peter Falk) team up to knock off the big boss; Robbo (Sinatra) refuses to relinquish his territory, gives money to an orphanage and later hooks up with the deceased boss's daughter Marian. Sure, it's not a very faithful homage, but Frank, Dean, Sammy --and Bing Crosby -- sing and dance up a storm and that's really what counts.



'Robin Hood''Robin Hood' (1973)
For many kids, this cheerful Disney musical, with animated animal characters, was their first exposure to Robin Hood and, following tradition, the charismatic fox (voiced by Brian Bedford) who plays the hero is a handsome, debonair lead (Marian is a good-looking fox, too, natch). Most of the story's main elements are there, but the movie's obviously not going for authenticity. (Tagline: Meet Robin Hood and his MERRY MENagerie!)




hepburn and connery in 'robin and marian'Sean Connery
in 'Robin and Marian' (1976)
Director Richard Lester took a very different (but faithful to legend) approach with a movie featuring a weary, middle-aged -- but still noble -- Robin, who comes back to Sherwood Forest with his faithful companion, Little John (Nicol Williamson), after 20 years abroad fighting in the Crusades. Renowned for his earlier deeds, he's once again enlisted to fight the tyrants in charge. As its title indicates, the movie is mainly a love story: Robin is reunited with Lady Marian (Audrey Hepburn), and they rekindle their romance despite the fact that she became a nun in his absence.



Kevin Costner in 'Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves'Kevin Costner in 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' (1991)
This modernized version boasted a muddy, de-glamorized look and a thoughtful, more socially responsible hero (Roger Ebert described Costner's Robin as "sort of a populist guerilla, Che Guevara with a bow and arrow"). It was also an enormous, some say overblown, Hollywood production. The story's fleshed out, with the hero returning from the Crusades to find his father dead and his home in the possession of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman at his hambone best). With his Moorish sidekick (Morgan Freeman) and band of fellow rebels, Costner's Robin is a kind of laconic, Americanized version of the legend, complete with a not-quite-English accent.



thurman and bergin in 'robin hood'Patrick Bergin in 'Robin Hood' (1991)
With Kevin Costner starring in the above-mentioned high-profile production, this competing project, helmed by John Irvin, wound up going straight to cable TV. Harder-edged and lower-key than 'Prince of Thieves,' complete with a grittier, no-nonsense Maid Marian (Uma Thurman), this film's considered one of the most historically accurate versions ever brought to screen. Bergin, sporting a heavy-duty 'stache, is a dark, moody -- yet charming -- Robin, befitting the movie's general tone.



Cary Elwes in 'Robin Hood: Men In tights'Cary Elwes in 'Robin Hood: Men in Tights' (1993)
Mel Brooks predictably takes all sorts of liberties with our hero and his milieu in this ultra-shticky lampoon, but Elwes, looking a bit like Errol Flynn, is perfect as the dashing Robin. He plays it relatively straight amid an impressive supporting cast that includes Dave Chappelle, Richard Lewis and Tracey Ullman. Classic Brooks touch: The character of Friar Tuck has become Rabbi Tuckman (played by Mel himself).



Other Noteworthy Interpretations: John Cleese's hilariously polite Robin Hood in Terry Gilliam's 'Time Bandits' (1981), the amorous Monsieur Hood (Vincent Cassel) and his singing/dancing merry men in 'Shrek' (2001), Keira Knightley as Robin's equally dashing daughter in Disney TV movie 'Princess of Thieves' (2001).



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