Flynn vs. Costner: It's No Contest

The legend of Robin Hood has been popular for more than 600 years, so it will probably survive Kevin Costner's whiny yuppie interpretation of the Prince of Thieves.

But it may have never been better served in films than in the 1938 Michael Curtiz production "The Adventures of Robin Hood," starring Errol Flynn as Robin of Locksley, Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Claude Rains as Prince John, Alan Hale as Little John, Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck and Basil Rathbone as one of the great film villains, Sir Guy of Gisbourne.

Criterion has issued a golden-anniversary laser-disc edition that does full justice to one of the best swashbuckling films ever made. Skip the CBS/Fox disc. It pales next to the two superb Criterion Collection's CAV (standard play) discs.

Consider what Criterion has produced:

* A crisp video transferred from MGM's newly restored internegative of the 102-minute Technicolor film with sound mastered from the 35-millimeter nitrate optical negative.

* An audio essay by film historian Rudy Behlmer on analog audio track two on the making of the film and the people involved in the production.

* Excerpts from the 1922 "Robin Hood" with Douglas Fairbanks offering some of his incredible no-double derring-do; an excerpt from the 1952 "Ivanhoe" in which Robin Hood and his men attack the castle, and the 1948 reissue trailer.

* Rare home movies of the film in production, including behind-the-scenes sequences from the Chico, Calif., location and on the Nottingham Castle set on the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank. Listening to the audio track, on which composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold plays the piano, is a treat.

* A collection of illustrations from books, music, film and TV depicting the Robin Hood legend, clearly revealing the longstanding interest in the steal-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor legend.

While this laser-disc package can keep you occupied for hours, it's the film itself, written by Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller, that still entertains with pure, shiny, unadulterated romance and spectacle. Flynn's Robin makes Costner look like a wimp as he wins Marian's love, defeats the evil Prince John and, in one of the classic film sword fights, kills the wicked Sir Guy of Gisbourne.

And all in less than two hours.

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