Friday, December 18, 2009


Clearly the two deaths were a murder/suicide. There was a witness and a camera was running. He was a famous warrior but showed no symptoms of PTSD, even though he had witnessed and participated in many Middle East atrocities, often perpetrated by the leader of his own nation. It seemed that he was just so in love with the action of the battles that he was willing to ignore the victims. Just the same, he was a leading philanthropist who gave away fortunes to the poor.

She was the perpetrator, in spite of long service in religious orders working with hospitals. This was where she got her knowledge of poisons, which let her choose a painless sort of death for herself and her lifelong lover, who -- according to his best friend and fighting companion -- was reconciled to the death on grounds that he didn’t wish to age anymore. He considered himself elderly though he was barely fifty, if that.

He was handsome, a hunk. Well, maybe a Big Lug. His friend was an even Bigger Lug, but he didn’t understand what was going on. The killer was religious, or so she claimed. At the end she stated she loved this guy more than God. She also refused to mourn him, which is a religious duty. More than that, she was Catholic which prohibits both murder and suicide. Just not Holy Wars, though they cause both.

The motive seems quite mysterious but the facts are very clear. They’ve been more or less known for centuries, but not quite this take. It’s Robin Hood, the 1976 version with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn. Robin has come back from the Crusades where Richard the Lion-Hearted had become besotted with violence and dominance to the point where Robin wanted out. Released by Richard’s death, he returns home where everything has gone to pieces. It’s not so much a case of Robin feeling old as the constant reminders that nothing is as it once was when his sheer vitality carried him along. Marian has become a devoted (but cursing) abbess (management), reconciled to the way things are, though she has tried suicide in the past. We see the scars on her wrist and she freely admits it. So the precursors are there. But she is quickly drawn back into Robin’s orbit. So are others.

Everyone wants the past except the Sheriff of Nottingham, who is not a bad sort in this incarnation. (Almost all the main characters are played by actors whose lives echo the figures they are assigned. This one is Robert Shaw. Richard Harris is King Richard, the Lion-Hearted who becomes a bit of a hyena.)

This story has been repeatedly inhabited by remarkable actors and reinterpreted partly by the choice of characters, the plot emphasis, but most of all by the casting. I see there is a new one coming up next year, directed by Ridley Scott, which appears to be Gladiator II: same smoking forest, same wolf on the trail, same Russell Crowe. This time Maid Marian is Cate Blanchett and I see in the little preview trailer that they have used the becoming-cliche gesture of one lover putting a hand over the other lover’s face. Is he obliterating her identity or memorizing it? All we know for sure is that it’s about identity.

For most people, Erroll Flynn IS Robin Hood (1938). His Maid Marian was Olivia deHavilland. The sex was mostly in the sub-text, since “in like Flynn” is a phrase that originated about this time during a trial in which Flynn was accused of having seduced a girl in a shower and the whole jury trooped down to the shower in question since it was rather small and Flynn (reluctantly) said it would have been an impossible feat. Basil Rathbone was Sir Guy of Gisborne, an adversary who doesn’t appear in “Robin and Marian.” Claude Rains was Prince John and Ian Hunter was King Richard.

The movie was made at an “interesting” time between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of WWII. Economics and heroism were of great interest. The first director was replaced by Michael Curtiz, born in 1888 in Budapest and more famous for “Casablanca.” He often worked closely with Flynn and brought Flynn into the picture.

Of the many other versions of Robin Hood, Kevin Costner’s is the most forgettable and maybe he ought to be grateful. His Maid Marian was Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. No one wanted to stop thinking about Dunbar in “Dances with Wolves” which was Costner’s immediately preceding film. “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” was released in 1991, a strange time. A rising social consciousness didn’t seem to know where to go. Like Costner.

“Robin and Marian” (1976) captures an elegiac tone at a time when the great WWII heroes were fading. To us in 2010 both Connery and Hepburn don’t look that old. To us, maybe forty or even fifty is the new thirty. Hepburn and Shaw checked out early, but we’ve watched Connery and Harris age. Now we know what a graceful and hearty old age looks like, and we also know what a frail dissipation-riddled old age looks like. Both are still onscreen, Connery still a romantic hero and maybe even the true King of Scotland. He still IS James Bond.

I had thought that maybe I could use this movie as a contrast to “Unforgiven” or even “Gran Torino,” since Eastwood is also a mega-personality. In “Unforgiven” he prevails -- collects his reward and moves his family to San Francisco where they thrive. In “Gran Torino” he chooses suicide, though violent. (Robin had no choice but had a painless death.) It looks to me as though the two movies are advocating self-extinction not because THEY were aging, but because they didn’t like the times. (English Bob -- Richard Harris again -- goes out fighting, but he’s not offered as a role model.)

Robin and Marian is a beautifully seductive film, as poignant as the three apples rotting on the windowsill. Our feelings are so engaged that it’s hard to think about the actual facts. Hepburn makes euthanasia seem transcendent, a religious act justified by love. “I love you more than God,” she says to Robin. A heresy. Would you have accepted this outcome if Marian had been Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio? I wonder what Cate Blanchett will do.

1 comment:

Lance M. Foster said...

Just wanted to wish you Happy Holidays, Mary! I am off the Internet for a week as of tonight, until Dec. 27.

I am going to live real, not virtual life, for a week :-) See how that gives my brain a rest.