ROBIN AND MARIAN —–worthwhile but wobbly 1976 variation on the Sherwood Forest folk came in on a wave of hopeful expectation. Sean Connery had just presented adventure lovers with two of the best ever, The Wind And The Lion and The Man Who Would Be King, and his playing the famed archer was a natural progression. Fresh from Jaws, Robert Shaw would be a formidable Sheriff of Nottingham. Director Richard Lester had recently delighted with his sumptuous and rambunctious versions of the Musketeers tales. Lester had screenwriter James Goldman (The Lion in Winter) for witty dialogue and a grand supporting cast: Nicol Williamson, Richard Harris, Denholm Elliott and Ian Holm. Class, elegance and style was assured by the return of Audrey Hepburn after a nine-year retirement. What could go wrong?
Well, nothing with the cast: they’re all excellent, and Goldman’s screenplay gives them some effective word-smithing, taking the traditionally vigorous and daring characters into battered, guarded middle-age (Sean a year younger than Audrey’s 46, the others similarly ripened) with Robin and Little John (Williamson) war-weary from Richard the Lionheart’s (Harris) heartless Crusades, love-wounded Marian 20 years cloistered as a nun and the Sheriff more sympathetic than oppressive. The actors bring dignity to lost hope.
Lester’s directorial tone, however, is splintered, and visually it’s a dreary letdown, the $5,000,000 budget too spare to have more than a few dozen extras on hand, under-populating any sense of place, not helped by filming in dry Spain rather than lush England (five members of the cast were tax exiles from Britain, oddly fitting for rascals ‘robbing from the rich’). The director was upset with John Barry’s score, rightfully, as it’s the least memorable arranging the normally sublime composer ever delivered. The blunt switching of tones from brutal to farcical to rueful, the flat look and the lifeless score don’t undo the the fine acting but they hamstring it. Lester’s shooting schedule was a mere 35 days and it shows. The climactic fight between Connery and Shaw is weak (stick with their pounder in From Russia With Love). Audiences didn’t flock to the downbeat, faded heraldry and the shaky bow missed its targets, hitting wet straw at 77th place for the year.
Final scene between Connery and Hepburn is a gem. In total, deserving of respect, for the admirable cast doing their noble thing, but, alas, not the glorious sally we peasants were tilling for. 106 minutes, with Kenneth Haigh, Ronnie Barker and Esmond Knight.