guy of gisborne in ‘the adventures of robin hood’ (1938)

This post is an entry in The Sauve Swordsman: Basil Rathbone Blogathon.

In a different blogathon post, I discussed Claude Rains’ portrayal of Prince John in the 1938, big screen, Technicolor adaption of the classic Robin Hood story. I stated that not even Basil Rathbone could steal the show from Claude Rains in the film—and that’s somewhat true. But even though Rathbone plays a more understated villain compared to Rains’ Prince John, there’s plenty of unpack about his performance and the character itself.

(I will say that my love for this movie as a whole knows few bounds and there are some things I want to share with you all about it that don’t have much to do with Gisborne. May slip them in here somewhere, may save them for another post. We’ll see!)

The initial appearance of both major villains opens with Prince John asking Gisborne a question. It sets up the relationship between the two of them. Gisborne is the prince’s subordinate but he’s also somehow who John relies on—and Gisborne isn’t afraid to stand up to John or let his true feelings and frustrations show (when others might have chosen to diplomatically cover their feelings).

Rathbone plays Gisborne as more dangerous and, yes, cool than either Prince John or the bishop (and certainly more formidable than the bumbling sheriff). Not even the rags in which the outlaws dressed him can make him look foolish. And he unflinchingly offers one of his men to Prince John to go kill King Richard—the bishop even balked at the idea of killing the king, but Guy quickly put him in his place.

Prince John may be the main villain of the piece, but Gisborne is the one who interacts the most with Robin. He’s the first antagonist to tangle with our hero and then there’s also the forest capture scene and the magnificent duel near the film’s end.

Gisborne also seems to have more a personal vendetta against Robin than Prince John does. John’s true enemy is Richard after all—but Guy has it out for Robin since their first eventful meeting. Robin made Gisborne look foolish and even perhaps cowardly in front of his men and Gisborne can’t forgive that.

Also, this is just a side note, but until the last time I watched (skimmed through) the movie I hadn’t realized that the castle where a bunch of the scenes take place is Gisborne’s castle. I feel like I might have known that before, but it slipped my mind. It adds to why Guy hates Robin, I feel—because Robin basically invaded the castle and thumbed his nose at Gisborne (more than once). Rathbone plays Gisborne with a ruthlessness and a hard, proud disdain for all those who he thinks are beneath him—especially Robin.

One big reason that Gisborne probably hates Robin is that Robin stole Marian away from him. Admittedly, Gisborne seemed to think more about his dinner than Marian, even when Prince John claimed that he (Gisborne) is in love with her. Guy doesn’t care about Marian until it appears he’s losing her to Robin (when she and Robin go into the forest together) and he ends up turning bitter against her (Robin telling him to thank Marian for saving his life probably didn’t go over so well). Eventually, he turns her in to Prince John—coldly and callously.

Of course there’s the big duel between Gisborne and Robin in the end. And of course Robin triumphs, because that’s the way it has to be. I can’t say that I’m sorry to see Gisborne go by the end of the film (his treatment of Marian alone is #notcool). But I wish I could spend some more screen-time with Basil Rathbone—even when he’s playing a villain.

Have you watched The Adventures of Robin Hood? What’s your favorite Basil Rathbone role?

Eva-Joy

14 thoughts on “guy of gisborne in ‘the adventures of robin hood’ (1938)

  1. He’s really quite chilling in this! I think my favorite role of his, however, is Cousin Andre in We’re No Angels (1955). He’s so deliciously hate-able in it, you just can’t wait to see him get what he deserves. So snide and derisive. I always feel like Rathbone is having a superb time playing the role. (But, then, I feel like everyone must have been having a jolly time making that movie.)

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  2. Yes! Someone who appreciates classic movies! This is definitely one of my favorites! I like Basil Rathbone as the villain in this role…he seems to fit into his ‘evil’ character like a glove! I prefer him playing the villain than Sherlock – It was so different from his calm, and almost heroic character in the Sherlock Holmes movies. He seemed to add a comedic flare to the story line whenever he was irritated with Robin Hood; this made me want to see him/Robin together more often.
    The quality and detail of the costuming, the setting, and the acting compared to the movies of today still blows me away. It’s nice to know that the actress who played as Marian is still alive, and I can’t help but think she had fun memories acting with Basil Rathbone as well as the other stars! The facial expression of desire when Basil looks at Marian and the immediate look of disgust on her face makes me crack up. I need to watch this movie again…

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  3. The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of those movies I have seen so often throughout my lifetime that I don’t need to see it again, but I know that I will. A glorious movie!

    Prince John is indeed fiendish but he knows he needs Gisborne to carry out his misdeeds so the ambitious prince will put up with Guy’s gripes. I love Basil Rathbone the actor. He has such charisma and versatility. Favourite roles include Louis XI in If I Were King and Major Brand in The Dawn Patrol, Mr. Black in The Comedy of Terrors is an absolute hoot. He steals the picture. And, of course, Sherlock Holmes.

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  4. First, on a purely visual note, I love that gorgeous striped gown Marian is wearing in that last photo. It is unbelievably stunning in technicolor. (This entire movie is GORGEOUS. Just saying.)

    I spent some time thinking about why the Guy/Marian subplot was so under-developed, and had to reach the conclusion that a fierce, pragmatic man like Guy would come to see her as his assumed property. He liked her, but had no trouble later in the film SPOILER convicting die for treason. Either Prince John was wrong and he didn’t care, or he cared only to the extent that he assumed he could marry / own Marian, then lost her to Robin — a man who had entered his home, humiliated him on several occasions, and then stolen the woman he wanted. That’s how I reconcile it, anyway. 😉

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    1. I love that dress! She has so many amazing costumes in this movie, but that one is definitely a standout. And, YES, the whole movie is so beautiful. Speaking of costumes though, I feel that Robin (and Will) should have had clothes that more obviously showed they were nobles in the opening scene. I always thought they were already outlaws when they first show up to Much’s rescue, but they (at least Robin–idk about Will’s societal status) could have been wearing something that looked less like their outlaw clothes. *shrugs* I might write another post about this movie and talk about that.

      Yeah, I totally think Guy viewed Marian as convenient property–a ward of the king he could marry so that if John’s scheme to murder Richard failed, Guy would be relatively safe as Marian’s husband. And plus, just the prestige of being married to the king’s ward. 😛

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      1. I didn’t really notice that, but now that you mention it, it’s a fair point. Maybe they (the studio) wanted him to be in his iconic Robin Hood outfit right from the start.

        Yeah. It’s a shame, because having him be more emotionally invested in her would have fleshed out that subplot more. (Or maybe I just would have liked to see Basil play the emotions of a thwarted lover. Ha, ha.)

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