Film Review: The Last of Robin Hood

Serviceable vehicle for a salacious story.

Writer-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are best known for their work on “America’s Next Top Model,” a reality-TV show in which tears, spats, weepy admissions and, as time allows, the modeling of clothes are commonplace. Given the salacious subject of The Last of Robin Hood, Errol Flynn’s final love affair with an underage actress, the pair would seem well suited to the project. And yet, although Hood includes many earmarks of an “ANTM” episode–tears, spats, pretty clothes–it isn’t tawdry. If this restraint is laudable, its effects are also rather bland. A cameo by former “ANTM” judge Miss J would, for all its anachronism, have infused a measure of vibrancy into the proceedings, but left as we are without her or any memorable dynamo, The Last of Robin Hood remains simply a serviceable vehicle for a rich tale.

Robin Hood is based on the true story of Flynn’s (Kevin Kline) teen lover Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning) and, made out to be more interesting, Beverly’s mother Florence (Susan Sarandon). Beverly is a mediocre performer at once young girl and seasoned professional, having worked in showbiz as a singer, bit actress and entrant in such exploitive precursors to “Toddlers and Tiaras” as a baby Bette Davis competition, from the moment she first emerged from her failed dancer of a mother’s womb. Crossing the parking lot en route to her job as a chorus girl on the Gene Kelly picture Marjorie Morningstar one day, Aadland passes Errol Flynn’s dressing room window. The actor known for playing Robin Hood in the classic 1938 Warner Bros. film, as well as for several statutory rape charges levelled against him, is smitten, and enlists the help of a costume designer (Bryan Batt of “Mad Men”) in introducing him to the lovely Miss Aadland.

Flynn quickly finds his port of entry, so to speak, in Beverly’s professional ambitions, and under pretense of an audition, invites her to his home that very night. Soon, the practiced star is bestowing upon Beverly a pet name (“Woodsy,” because she strikes him as coy and lithe as a woodland nymph) and relieving the not entirely game girl of her virginity. And so a romance between the 47-year-old Errol Flynn and the 15-year-old Beverly Aadland is born. Theirs was a love that was to last until Flynn’s death at age 50, in the arms of Beverly, we learn from Robin Hood’s opening sequence.

The film’s present action occurs in the media maelstrom following Flynn’s passing, while the couple’s relationship is chronicled through flashbacks inconsistently positioned as the memories of Beverly’s stage mother Florence, as she relates them to the writer penning her confessional. Glatzer and Westmoreland take a flexible approach to this memory-as-frame device. The pair, not unlike a lothario and his paramour, uses it when it suits them, and discards it when that suits them, too, depicting scenes Florence could neither have witnessed firsthand, nor learned of through Beverly. These include a meeting Flynn holds with his lawyer, who, in a case of the law as Good Samaritan, warns his naughty client against leaving himself vulnerable to yet another statutory rape charge, and one with Stanley Kubrick, during which the director refuses to cast the untalented Beverly opposite Flynn in an adaptation of Lolita. (The idea is Flynn’s, leaving one to ponder the merits of self-awareness.)

Breaches in perspective notwithstanding, The Last of Robin Hood is efficiently directed. A few archival shots of New York City circa the late 1950s, and a scene in which the characters on either end of a telephone conversation are filmed in split-screen, a la the contemporaneous Pillow Talk, are among the few stylistic flourishes of a film whose formal elements largely recede in favor of the drama at hand. Sarandon’s abetting and insecure mother Florence is the most interesting of Robin Hood’s central trio, although her motivations are a little too easily psychologized. Flynn, on the other hand, with Kline bearing an uncanny resemblance to the dissipated thesp, is left largely unanalyzed as the charming pervert with something of a feeling akin to a conscience.

As the ball of yarn unraveling with each bandy between Florence and Flynn, Fanning’s Beverly is oddly remote. For much of the film she is demonstrably lacking in emotion. Where the real Aadland has gone on record to People magazine describing how she “carried on” the night she lost her virginity, Fanning just sheds, or the directors have her shedding, a single tear. Cool operator Beverly appears to deviate from her real-life model to a significant degree, as pictures of Aadland from the period depict a lively, expressive girl. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to show the dulling effects of maternal manipulation and those constant admonitions to “be a good girl and listen.” But it’s a misstep of a characterization that leaves one wondering just what about such an absent girl hooked Flynn for so long.

Still, there’s enough juicy story to keep things flowing. The movie does not overstep itself at 94 minutes. The best way to sum up The Last of Robin Hood may be to speak of the film in terms of the viewing platform to which it is best suited. This one’s for Netflix.

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