They say it was the most expensive movie of the year, with a budget of around $1M USD (approx. $16M USD today), but it made $2.5M USD ($40M USD) in box office sales. The costumes alone cost $250,000.
The logistics of it would have been a nightmare, and apparently the whole business took a year – starting with the purchase of an old movie studio, a lot with ample room for the film’s enormous sets. IMDb says the castle set was the largest built for any Hollywood silent film, and that includes the Babylon set from Intolerance.
According to historian Kevin Hagopian, director Allan Dwan (a former engineer) “ensured that the set was larded with devices that would enhance Doug’s stunts: handholds were built into the walls, trampolines to make his leaps even more outlandish, and a long, long, long slide hidden behind the castle draperies to make possible one of Doug’s most remarkable escapes.”1
Some scenes employed up to 1,200 extras, says IMDb, and Fairbanks allowed the public to visit the set during filming as part of a charity fundraiser.2
This film, when released, was a big, Big Deal. It ran in theatres for so long, says IMDb, that street car conductors driving past the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles would announce, “All out for Robin Hood!”3
It was money well spent.
Even a hundred years later, in our age of advanced filmmaking technology, it’s impressive: The costumes, the sets, the cinematography.
Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood is not the first film adaptation of the Robin Hood tale. According to Wikipedia, the story had been adapted to the screen five times between 1908 and 1913, and at least 15 times since.4
The 1922 version was built specifically around Fairbanks, who was known for his extraordinary stunts and Larger-Than-Life presence. At the time, Fairbanks was one of the biggest names in Hollywood; when you see him on screen, it’s obvious he was never not going to be a Star.
This adaptation runs a bit long at nearly two and a half hours, and the first hour is, admittedly, a bit of a grind while characters, motives, etc., are established.
But once Fairbanks’s Earl of Huntingdon character transforms himself into the merry insurrectionist with goals to Take Down the evil Prince John, it’s time to Hang On.
Douglas Fairbanks is the perfect Robin Hood, a legend portraying a legend.
The word “boyish” seems to stick to Fairbanks, and at least one film historian has referred to the Robin Hood set as his “playground”.
So what. An outsized personality needs an outsized set when portraying Robin Hood, especially during a fimmaking era that celebrated movement and continually Outdid Itself with daring stunts.
Watch Fairbanks as he swordfights with five or six Bad Guys at a time, and makes it look plausible. Or look at how he famously slides down a long curtain during an escape. And here he is, scaling the castle walls. Go, Doug!
In one scene, Fairbanks-as-Robin-Hood is taken captive by authorities. The evil Prince John orders them to get 40 archers ready, and we nod because they’ll need 40 archers if they know what’s good for them.
Many say The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), starring Errol Flynn, is the Definitive Robin Hood flick, and that may be so. But surely Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood is a close second.
Because Douglas Fairbanks is one magnificent Show-Off.
This post is part of The 2021 Swashbucklathon, hosted by Silver Screen Classics.
Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks, Wallace Beery, Sam De Grasse. Directed by Allan Dwan. Written by Douglas Fairbanks (as Elton Thomas). Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation, 1922, B&W, 143 mins.
1New York State Writers Institute. (Retrieved June 22, 2021.) Robin Hood, by Kevin Hagopian.
2IMDb. (Retrieved June 24, 2021.) Robin Hood (1922).
4Wikipedia. (Retrieved June 25, 2021.) List of Films and Television Series featuring Robin Hood.