Now Playing: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.

1939 was a packed year when it comes to movies. Perhaps none of the movies released that year remains as famous or as popular as this week’s movie, “The Wizard of Oz”. And since both Diane and I hate this movie, we decided to pair it with a second movie: 1985’s “Return to Oz”. Thankfully, we left out “Oz the Great and the Powerful from 2013 or this post would be overkill.

As you know, “The Wizard of Oz” is a musical about a dog, Toto, and his owner, Dorothy, who are whisked away to a far away land called Oz after a cyclone strikes their farm in Kansas. Toto gets top billing in my retelling because he is the single best thing about this movie. That and the music.

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/r/MovieDetails, “The farmhands at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz are really the companions.” ZOMGbestMOVever

“The Wizard of Oz” is something most everyone sees at least once here in the United States. Channels frequently play it each year, often as a marathon, and it is the kind of movie that parents pass down to their children and subsequent generations. I watched it as a kid. Diane watched it as a kid. For both of us, it didn’t take.

In rewatching the film, I can appreciate its technical beauty and fantasy charm. It is overflowing with rich imagination and the color to match. Even in its cheapness, it is timeless. The songs also soar above the rest as they are, in my opinion, the most important thing “The Wizard of Oz” brings to the table. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is an objectively perfect song and is most likely the greatest original song for a movie ever. Judy Garland’s performance of it is all you ever really need to see in “The Wizard of Oz” to get your money’s worth, especially as Toto watches on from a tractor.

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Toto literally being held back by the rest of this film.

The rest of “The Wizard of Oz” is just okay. Frankly, neither of us really get the appeal. We didn’t as kids and we don’t now as kid-adults. The movie lacks in plot and plays out more like a string of interconnected music videos making about as much sense as anything you would see on YouTube. I am not directly familiar with the books on which the movie is based, but there’s no digging into any rich mythos either. “The Wizard of Oz” seems like an early blueprint for all live action children’s movies, but its so prototypical that it is hard for me to sit through and enjoy. I think it is better experienced by listening to the soundtrack and not much else.

Fast forward from 1939 to 1985 and you get a much different kind of movie. “Return to Oz” was not something that either of us saw as kids. This was Diane’s first watching and my second after chasing it down years ago out of shock that it existed.

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Thankfully, Glinda the Good Witch is not in “Return to Oz” where she can instigate everything and never help anyone.

“Return to Oz” picks up immediately after “The Wizard of Oz” and it functions as a sequel/spiritual successor, only it is completely different. Based more on the books, “Return to Oz” is a darker, richer story that abandons music and dancing for abject horror. Even with its age, the scene introducing Mombi, a woman who treats her 31 severed heads as accessories to be worn as her mood demands, is terrifying. Similarly, all of the claymation work done to bring the Nome King to life is equally horrifying and memorable.

Neither of us will try to argue that “Return to Oz” is an objectively better movie. It is certainly the lesser of the two and not nearly as important, at least in the span of film history. It exists as a relic of a dark era for the Walt Disney company. After struggling to make use of the Oz property they had purchased, “Return to Oz” was a failure in the box office.

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I forgot this was in “The Wizard of Oz”. This looks good. I like this.

I find it hard to imagine that “The Wizard of Oz” was not similarly revered in the mid-80’s, so the fact that anyone greenlit a movie that could only be perceived as a sequel is beyond me. “Return to Oz” is set in a post-apocalyptic Oz where everything anyone ever loved about “The Wizard of Oz” is frozen in time, standing lifeless in the ruins of an emerald-less Emerald City. There’s no music. There’s less color. Dorothy only manages to return to Oz after escaping from electroshock therapy intended to treat her delusions from the first time she visited. It is a dark, 80’s fantasy film for kids and I love it for that, but it is the worst way possible to follow up “The Wizard of Oz” even with a four decade gap.

It’s also not a particularly good dark, 80’s fantasy film for kids. You are better off crying at “The Neverending Story” or eye-fucking David Bowie in “Labyrinth”. It has its moments, but “Return to Oz” only works as much as it does because it starts off by taking something iconic from everyone’s childhood and subverting into a desolate hellscape. I love it for that very reason even if I will forever question its very existence.

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St. Patrick’s Day in America, everyone.

When comparing the two films, we found the side characters more entertaining in “Return to Oz”. While the three in “The Wizard of Oz” all have their classic song and dance routines to introduce themselves and what they are missing, the characters in “Return to Oz” all serve actual purposes and advance the plot without spending the entire runtime bitching about something they learn they already have in the end. One’s a chicken, which is unfortunate, but Tick-Tock is cool. He’s a wind-up soldier. Diane was partial to Gump, the resurrected head of a moose attached to some antique furniture.

I will give “The Wizard of Oz” the nod on the designs for Scarecrow, Tin Man, and even the Cowardly Lion (the lesser of the three). “Return to Oz” goes for a much more stylistic interpretation which I hated, but the makeup and costume work for the 1939 film still hold up to this day. Even more impressive, it holds up while the performers are doing some great singing and dancing. Ray Bolger, previously seen in our review for “The Great Ziegfeld” is fantastic and has no equal in either film, besides Toto, of course.

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You had it all along, you dumb fucks, now stop wasting everyone’s time, including your own.

“Return to Oz” also has the superior Oz, even if it is a rundown dump. Why? No munchkinland. That place still creeps me out.

Sometimes there is no place like home. Sometimes the life lesson is to bury yourself in the familiar and never leave your farm. Other times, life calls for taking a chance even if it means replacing the excellent dog lead with a subpar chicken character. For us, “The Wizard of Oz” has its place and that is firmly in 1939 when it was fresh and original. I hope to never see it again unless I am only watching Judy Garland win over the rest of human history with a truly remarkable song.

Oh and I doubt I watch “Return to Oz” again unless I find someone else who can’t believe it existed. Seriously, Disney, why?

My Wrestlemania 34 Review

This is the third year in a row that we’ve watched Wrestlemania live. Like many, I tend to resubscribe for the Royal Rumble and let my subscription run until Wrestlemania. Of all the Wrestlemania’s we have watched live, this was by far the best, but I still went to bed late last night feeling kind of empty and let down.

Continue reading “My Wrestlemania 34 Review”

Backstory: Dwarf Forge Cleric #DND

I haven’t committed to my next character yet, but one (of many) in the running is a Dwarf Cleric with the Forge domain. I’ve loved dwarfs and clerics for as long as I have been aware of D&D (mostly through reading the Dragonlance books), but I’ve never really put the two together. The Forge domain is thematically perfect for a Dwarf and a great excuse to build a dwarf tank steeped in his race’s culture and lore.

When working on this background, I wanted to get away from some of the more typical tropes, especially since Forge domain Dwarf Cleric isn’t exactly a unique idea. I’ve always loved the idea of ekphrasis which, borrowed from the Greek, typically means an overly dramatic description of a piece of art. I associate the term most with the Shield of Achilles from Homer’s Iliad where the god-made shield (Hephaestus) is described in elaborate, poetic language. Here, I wanted my character’s adventuring goal to be the gathering of materials (most dangerous) and crafting of a set of armor worthy of being described ekphrasticly.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Continue reading “Backstory: Dwarf Forge Cleric #DND”

Now Playing: Gone with the Wind (1939)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.

1939’s “Gone with the Wind” has no equal. Running nearly four hours, it’s a sweeping romantic epic about the rise and fall of the American South in the American Civil War. It follows Scarlett O’Hara as she marries, complains, and cries her way through the entire war and well into its fallout. It is exactly the kind of film that everyone should see once and, if they are so cursed, see twice since this thing gets shown in history classes in the deep South.

I admit I was mixed about having to see this movie again. The one and only time I watched it was over the course of a week back in middle school. For me, “Gone with the Wind” always seemed like a celebration of all things that I found troublesome about my heritage. It romanticizes the gallantry and heroism of slave owners. It asks the audience to sympathize with the fallen opulence of plantation life built on the backs of others. It celebrates the old American South as a civilization that did not deserve its fate.

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Buckle up, y’all!

After seeing it again, I am not so sure my biases are accurate. “Gone with the Wind” is a difficult movie to fully understand because it rarely takes a stand for anything. It supports slavery if only through its omission of its evils and the presence of strong, noble characters like Mammy and Big Sam. At the same time, next to no one seems concerned about whether African Americans are freed or not (including the Southern gentleman who don’t want to see their way of life disappear).

Though it skirts around the issue of racism, “Gone with the Wind” takes classism straight on and rarely to the film’s benefit. Early on, a poor white man is kicked off the plantation, despite his talents, because he had the nerve to knock up a woman of higher birth. One of Rhett’s friends is a prostitute but she still wants to give money to the war effort. When she tries, her money is seen as no good until she finds the one person with the social pedigree and soul to accept her charity.

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This is the perfect capture of a woman who is about to revenge-marry someone’s relative before they go off to die in a war.

Beyond race and class, the first half the movie focuses on the South itself. Diane felt some of the text was uncomfortable to read and I have to agree. Not to get too political, but all of the text describing the Southern war effort as some grand adventure or quest seemed problematic. Words like ‘chivalry’, ‘gallantry’, and ‘gentleman’ were used quite liberally as well.

Growing up in the American South, I have a complicated view of the matter. I’ve never been one to fly a Confederate flag, but just as hard as my eyes roll when someone tries to play the Civil War off as being about states rights I have a similar concern with the North’s reasons for war too. Often they are portrayed as pure and about freeing the slaves, but that’s only a smart part of the overall picture.

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When the war is front and center, “Gone with the Wind” has some of its most impressive shots.

None of these nuances are in play here. “Gone with the Wind” uses the word ‘yankee’ as a slur more often than not. There are thankfully no long sylloquies about states rights, but the destruction and death depicted as a direct result of General Sherman’s march to the sea and burning of Atlanta does plenty to bring into question Northern atrocities. With the fantasized depiction of slavery too, “Gone with the Wind” is definitely a pro-South film even if it had been cleaned up for Hollywood and mass consumption. Rather than dwell on historical events or politics, the movie instead focuses on the love triangle of Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley as the whole world around them falls apart and then is rebuilt.

“Gone with the Wind” wouldn’t be much of a movie without the performance of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett. Her resting bitch face is unparalleled and juxtaposing her against the pure Melanie (played by Olivia de Havilland, previously Maid Marian in “The Adventures of Robin Hood”) was genius. With the exception of Prissy (who I hate for other reasons), no one is more hateable than Scarlett. She’s the perfect villain for this plot though I imagine that was hardly the intent at the time.

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Ashley, your wife’s death is totally about me. Thanks for asking!

How is Scarlett the villain? She’s selfish until the very end. She loves Ashley and pines for him, but she marries his cousin in an attempt to make him jealous. After that, she moves in with Ashley’s wife Melanie to await Ashley’s return from the war. She marries a second time to a man who loves and is loved by her sister just for his money. When her second husband runs off with Ashley and others to a nearby shanty town where Scarlett was assaulted, she never once worries about her husband when he doesn’t return but a wounded Ashley does. Even as Melanie is on her deathbed, Scarlett makes Ashley’s grief and raw emotion about her more than anyone else.

The only sympathy I have for Scarlett is how Ashley leads her on throughout the film. Rather than be honest with her and tell her he will never love her, he consistently aims to protect the weaker sex from the pains of raw truth, thinking it more chivalrous and decorous. I am unsure if Scarlett was ever mature enough to hear Ashley’s honest opinion of her, but he could’ve at least tried.

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Ashley is the best big screen examples of, “I didn’t tell him/her off because I didn’t want to break their heart. Instead, I just wanted to string them along for decades.”

And as dull as Ashley was and as frustrating as her obsession with him could be, Scarlett’s love for him helped me appreciate the movie once I found an interpretation of it that made sense. In the first half, we see the glory of the South as it burns down to the ground as a direct result of Southern hubris and pride. Early on, we overhear the menfolk talking about how they will win the war in a month with their gentleman ways alone. Scarlett constantly ignores talk of the war and never gets very involved, so I pondered throughout the film if she was above nostalgia.

To me, Scarlett’s love for Ashley, taking us from the very beginning of the film to the very end, is that very same nostalgia. She longs for the dream of Ashley, a man who we are repeatedly reminded is chivalrous, honorable, and above all else a gentleman. Even as she marries Rhett, the only other person to know how deep and how long she has loved Ashley, the dream of her white knight sours what Scarlett and Rhett have together.

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If Star Wars had been filmed 40 years sooner, Han Solo would be played by Clark Gable. This is two movies on this list where he’s been an honorable scoundrel.

We see early on the price of pride as their entire world burns to the ground. We see the hundreds of men lying dead in the streets and fields or returning home clearly broken and mangled. When Scarlett realizes she had fallen in love with a dream that would never exist again, she realizes what she had in Rhett and rushes back to their home. As she admits to Rhett her foolishness, he admits his own in thinking this could ever work and begins to walk out on her for good. When she asks him what she should do in the wake of her dream ending, Rhett responds with a line that everyone knows whether they’ve seen the movie or not: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” In an instant, that line lands with all the violence and destruction of the burning of Atlanta itself.

That line alone was worth sitting through almost four hours to get there. I had forgotten its power, especially as pop culture has stripped away its context. In a single blow, Rhett lands a punch that Scarlett deserved during the entire movie. He reveals that he is the hero and that, survive or die, the Old South is behind us just as Scarlett is behind him. He leaves as Scarlett is left clinging to all that is left: the land she grew up on.

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Rhett is the hero and I love him, but maybe the “I’ll choke you to death, bitch” and implied rape scene could’ve been dropped.

Overall, Diane and I both enjoyed watching the movie. Despite its many problems, “Gone with the Wind” remains a whirlwind of emotion, technicolor, and great performances. Of what we’ve watched thus far, it is both the hardest to watch fairly from modern eyes and the hardest to see without so much baggage attached from having grown up in the South. I doubt either of us ever revisit it again but I do suggest everyone see it at least once. If only the winners write the history books, then “Gone with the Wind” stands alone as historical fiction written by the losers. It’s a fantastic place to see at least one, but thankfully is just a fantasy.

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Fuck you, Scarlett!


Now Playing: Dark Victory (1939)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


This week’s movie comes all the way to us from 1939. “Dark Victory” is a film you likely have never heard of though you may recognize some names from its cast: Bette Davis, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan. It may have even won a few Academy Awards if it didn’t have to compete with “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” (both of which will be in this series).

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Ann, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald on the left. Judith, played by Bette Davis, on the right.

“Dark Victory” stars Bette Davis as a young, affluent woman who is carefree and never careful. She drinks, she parties, she smokes, etc. She suffers terrible headaches for months and soon begins to lose her vision. Her dwindling health is only discovered by the family doctor after an accident on her favorite horse and a tumble down the stairs afterward denying her unhealth.

The movie is pure drama with some romance thrown in. We had no idea what to expect, but this is a film that tries to make you cry. It almost succeeded too based on the excellent performances. Everyone here brings their A game, especially Bette Davis, whose character is full of life up until the point where she has to face her own premature death.

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I liked George Brent in this role though I wish he had a real mustache.

The cast surrounding her is also excellent. George Brent plays her surgeon and love interest. His character Dr. Steele is caring, though he tries to hide the results of her surgery from Bette Davis’s Judith and her best friend, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ann. Ann soon finds out anyway, which plays out in several heart wrenching scenes of the frowning Ann listening to her best friend Judith go on about how she will live her life again without worry.

Geraldine Fitzgerald is easily the weakest of the cast. She has a way of overacting that forces her to dab anytime something truly dramatic happens and she needs to cover her face. That’s not to say she actively hurts the movie though.

Humphrey Bogart also makes an appearance, though in a very limited role. He plays a stable hand and trainer for Judith’s horses. He doesn’t do much, but he is hard to miss. He has a calm, coolness on display in all of his scenes.

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Ronald Reagan’s hair never moved an inch.

This was also our first time having any real exposure to Ronald Reagan as an actor. He plays a young booze hound who is caught drinking in nearly every scene he is in. With today’s current political climate, it is less entertaining seeing a president in such a state, but I was pleased by how much charisma he had in so few scenes. In particular, we both loved the scene where, paraphrasing, he excuses himself from a private moment between Judith and Dr. Steele by saying he is going to cook eggs and bacon and then admits he only said that as a means to politely excuse himself. Not exactly a sly character!

If I have any real complaint about the movie, then it is its length. I don’t recall the specific run time, but given that its a drama about a woman who knows she will soon die, she takes an awfully long time to do it. I felt like the middle and latter parts of the movie drag. While there weren’t any specific scenes I’d remove, I would’ve edited the ending to occur sooner and feel less dragged out.

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I also feel like Humphrey Bogart’s character professing his love for and kissing Judith was 100% unneeded.

Diane had less complaints than me. If anything, she thought the movie’s length was beneficial as it helped show the character growth for Bette Davis’s character. I agree and it is likely more a personal dislike for straight dramas that has me wishing I hadn’t spent so long with this one.

Overall, “Dark Victory” holds up though I doubt I’d ever revisit it. If anything, it is a wonderful trivia question answer if you were to ever wonder when so much star power was gathered in one place. It’s also a great introduction to a set of stars we will likely see more of in the future of this project. I know Humphrey will be back very soon.

Persona 5, I Yield

I am dropping Persona 5. Before some of you burn me at the stake for my sin, do know that I really have no issues with the game itself. “It’s not you, it’s me” is cliche but accurate in this case. As much as I wanted to love Persona 5, the more I tried to play it, the less I did, and the less I played the more I realized this was not a JRPG for me.

In general, it is hard for me to enjoy any JRPG that is not strictly fantasy. The only exceptions would be various entries in the Final Fantasy series, but those at least had “Fantasy” in the title. It didn’t dawn on me until I went to write this that I have not completed any JRPG that had a modern or science fiction setting. I dropped Xenosaga about three hours in, though I always attributed that to having sat through about two and a half hours of cut scenes before getting to the half hour of gameplay. I tried a Star Ocean game once and managed to get really far, but when I realized I had gone too far in the game’s final dungeon and was going to need to grind to get anywhere, I dropped it too. Xenoblade? Hated.

That’s a shame too because I would’ve loved to watch Persona 5 as an anime. The setting and characters didn’t grip me as a game, but this is exactly the kind of show I’d enjoy. It’s bizarre to me that I have such a cognitive disconnect. Maybe it is a time commitment thing? It’s one thing to spend my time and attention on a full season of an anime, and another thing entirely to experience the same story in game form of a much longer period requiring much more involvement.

Further annoying me, Persona 5 was fun, at least when I felt like I could play it. The game takes its time introducing things, which I enjoyed, but it never stops introducing things, which I hated. I even enjoyed all the atypical bits, like training your character’s skills or building character relationships. I am not sure I enjoyed both together though.

The combat I did like. I loved the weakness system and wish I had more time in my 15 hours or so having played the game. I also enjoyed recruiting monsters, though the whole system was a little weird and likely needed more time for me to really get the hang of it.

Other things I loved: presentation and humor. Persona 5 is a gorgeous game graphically, but, more importantly, it is a gorgeously designed game. Even the font has a sense of style and bravado. I loved every single random encounter because once I was done, my characters walked away triumphant rather than standing in place doing a dumb dance until I hit the button. I also laughed a lot at this game. It is hands down one of the funniest games I have played in recent memory and I enjoyed its insanity all the more because the character’s recognized how crazy things are too.

I could easily see myself regretting this decision and trying again another time. I don’t plan on deleting my save at least. Persona 5 has a lot to love, and I wanted to love it, but when something doesn’t hook me I rarely find much success in forcing myself forward. Worse, with so much choice and so many awesome games out there, I hate the feeling of wasting my time as I force myself uphill in a battle I know I will ultimately lose. Persona 5 is probably the great game that so many have recognized it as being, but we aren’t sympatico, at least not yet.

Now Playing: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.

It was about time for a movie Diane and I both enjoyed. I give you “The Adventures of Robin Hood” from 1938:

Our first movie in color, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is easily the most modern movie we’ve yet seen for this project. To me, it felt like a prototype to your typical Marvel movie seen today. It’s no wonder that of all the movies we’ve seen, this is our favorite even if it isn’t particularly deep.

“The Adventures of Robin Hood” follows the legend of Robin Hood as you might know it from more recent movies like Mel Brooks’s “Men in Tights” or any other adaptation of the classic story. This isn’t a stuffy, dated, or hyper realistic take though. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” excellently blends action, adventure, humor, and a dash of romance. It also has a couple of villains that you want to see lose and a charismatic lead you want to see win. You know, like every Marvel movie you’ve seen and loved in the last decade.

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I swear, this is not a comedy or the Mel Brooks’s version!

For the first half of the film or so, I was worried that “Men in Tights” had followed “The Adventures of Robin Hood” story beats too closely. I’ve seen that classic a dozen times. Even though they are similar in structure, the existence of a parody in no way makes “The Adventures of Robin Hood” a worse film. Even having a story I’ve seen so many times done in so many ways, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” quickly found its footing and there is no mistaking this as the quintessential Robin Hood movie.

Diane’s big standout was the choreography. I have to agree. While it was a little off-putting to hear plastic swords clinking and clanking with as much impact as opening a tub of whip cream, the fighters were all lovely. I especially enjoyed the climatic battle between Robin Hood and Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Other than that, there were a lot of great outside shots and scenes that still hold up as well.

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This is an objectively cool shot, regardless of any other factors.

Though I’ve heard his name, I have never seen Errol Flynn in action before. Let me say this: the man is charming. If ever there was a dashing rogue, he is it. This detracted a bit for me since every fight scene, as excellent as they were, felt like swashbuckling and not a true medieval fight, which was intentional I am sure. Still, despite the inaccuracy, I was wholly entertained.

All of the side characters were a treat. The fight on the bridge with Little John was great. Best of all for me, I loved the recruiting of Friar Tuck, played by the actor Eugene Pallette. Diane found it difficult to understand him, as he sounded like a bullfrog with a horrible smoking habit. The actor later died of throat cancer, so that’s probably more fact than joke.

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Let there be colors so we can all look so fabulous!

Finally, we both loved the color in this movie. Diane read that they had to borrow every technicolor camera whenever shooting the movie to get all of their scenes. The costume department made it count too. Every character, whether they have a name or not, is decked from head to toe in colorful medieval attire. It reminded me of playing games like Ultima Online that allow for players to freely dye their character’s clothes any color they want.

I would re-watch “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and I recommend it to anyone, regardless of their familiarity with the subject. This is a movie for all ages and all people. While it is not a particularly deep film, it never fails to be fun. I’d personally give a nod to “Cimarron” still for myself since it was so different but “The Adventures of Robin Hood” is a better-rounded movie by far.

Bonus Screenshots

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What an entrance!

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I get that in most stories everyone, including Robin, knows it is a trap, but this is by far the laziest disguise ever. “They won’t know me if I choose to wear a color other than green and leave my hat behind!”

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Lens technology at the time is weird to see today.  The focus on this shot is all over the place. Friar Tuck looks photoshopped in.

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