Saturday Silents: Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922)

Update, August 18, 11:45 p.m. Just realized that upload had a very poor visual quality. I don’t know why – it’s quite clear at the Internet Archive, where I downloaded it from.

Sorry about that, and here is a much more clear version.

And here are two bonuses: “Elton Thomas” is actually Douglas Fairbanks – his real name was Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman.

Also, did you notice that Little John looks like the skipper on “Gilligan’s Island”? That’s actually the skipper’s dad – remarkable family resemblance!

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Douglas Fairbanks was never a senior. He was a massive stage star before movies became popular, and his son – Doug Junior – started his acting career in his father’s shadow.

Today you don’t really hear much about the father, though everybody is at least vaguely aware that there once was an actor named Douglas Fairbanks, Junior. Perhaps it’s because Fairbanks’ childishness, as well as his hyperactive antics on screen, could be a little off-putting (as a child, he fell off a roof and became hyperactive, with a slight personality change).

Griffith, Pickford, Chaplin and Fairbanks, at the United Artists contract signing (Library of Congress)

Griffith, Pickford, Chaplin and Fairbanks, at the United Artists contract signing (Library of Congress)

Or maybe we’re just jealous. He had, as mentioned, the successful stage career and then thrived in Hollywood. With D. W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, he started United Artists. He was the first president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, then left the academy, saying it was turning into a popularity club, and instead helped found the USC Film School.

And athletic? Wow! In today’s movie, for example, he single-handedly storms a castle. It’s a risky scene, and reportedly his people wanted a stuntman to do the dangerous parts (like riding a rising drawbridge up and then leaping over to a window), but he convinced the stunt man not to show up today and just did it.

Douglas Fairbanks also invented your image of Zorro and Robin Hood (no, Errol Flynn was not the first). These classic characters just did not exist in the movies until Douglas Fairbanks brought them to life.

Fairbanks, directing Robin Hood.  (Source)

Fairbanks, directing Robin Hood. (Source)

Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood was the first movie to have a big Hollywood premiere, at Grauman’s brand-new Egyptian theater, which is a little ironic considering that Fairbanks didn’t want to do it at first, according to his biographers. It would be tremendously expensive and backing was a problem. Perhaps that’s why they put his name in the title. In any event, Fairbanks eventually put a million dollars of his own money up to make this move – he got it back and then some.

I like this movie because, unlike other tellings, it gives the hero’s back story. There is also the action, of course, and yes, some dated scenes that are hilarious (Maid Marian’s being suddenly possessed by the spirit of Kewpie when Robin shows he loves her, for instance). Sam De Grasse – Canadian, like Mary Pickford, and a former dentist – is also a revelation as Prince John.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.



Categories: Saturday Silents

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