Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964)

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It didn’t take much to get me to peak excitement for this film: Rat Pack + Robin Hood set in 1920s Chicago, and I was pretty much sold. Even if it turned out to be not great, the pieces were already set to make for a great movie experience.

The plot is much, much more loosely cribbed than I was expecting. Aside from borrowing a few key details and names (Robin, Little John, Marian, the Sheriff), there wasn’t much to tie in Robin and the Seven Hoods with the Robin Hood legend itself. So that was a slight bit of let-down, as I’d been expecting more of an adaption of the familiar story into this brand new setting.

But anyway–Sinatra is in top form here, and he’s brought Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., and even Bing Crosby, whom I was incredibly pleased to see. This movie was towards the end of his career (after Road to Hong Kong but before Stagecoach), so it’s fun to see him on cruise control, making it look so easy.

Though the story’s kind of so-so (and, well, very very long), the musical numbers are pretty great (and, well, still pretty long), written by the great Sammy Cahn, who also wrote familiar Sinatra tunes like “Love and Marriage” and “Come Fly With Me.” Each of the main cast gets their own solo number: I loved Sammy’s song about how much he loved guns–punctuated by machine gun fire as he ransacked a rival casino–and Dean’s song about how much he loves his mother–as he’s hustling Frank at pool. Dean, Frank and Bing also get a catchy number about how “you’ve either got it or you haven’t got… style,” as Dean and Frank try to show Bing the finer points of male style. It’s a very simple set-up, almost vaudeville in nature, but it works well and they seem to be having a great time.

It seems like in every prohibition-era movie, there has to be a scene where the cops are on their way and everyone has to hide their champagne glasses as the bar stools roll back into the ground. Though it seems kind of cliched now, I really enjoyed that scene in Robin and the Seven Hoods. There’s a great sense of fun and creativity as all the elements of the casino transform into a basement church for teetotalers. The roulette table becomes a space for unfortunates to eat their soup, the poker tables ascend into the ceiling to resemble simple columns, and the floor reveals rows of pews for the faux worshippers. As the cops enter, they’re treated to a lengthy sermon and song-and-dance number decrying the evils of “Mr. Booze.” The boys all get to be pretty goofy as they outdo each other in their falsified hatred of the drink. I almost want to see a preceding scene where they’ve rehearsed and choreographed the extensive numbers, but I suppose the movie’s long enough as it is.

Overall it’s a charming, if over-long, picture, with all the guys in top form and having fun. It’s more of a gangster musical than Robin Hood, but I’m ready and willing to forgive, because I can totally see that the “Seven Hoods” really is a pun to good to pass up.

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