Battle of the Aussie Hoodies
This week Russell Crowe slagged his Robin Hood predecessor Errol Flynn for wearing tights. But in real life, who was the bigger hell-raiser? Joe O'Shea is referee...
Published 15/05/2010 | 05:00
Alpha-male actor, Renaissance man and all-around tough guy Russell Crowe has spoken. Real men do not wear tights. The fearlessly heterosexual star of the latest in a long line of Robin Hood movies has been doing the publicity rounds this week, taking a strong stand against male hosiery.
And in a not-too-subtle dig at a fellow antipodean, he pointed out that Errol Flynn's much-loved Robin of 1938, would never have cut it in a real forest fight.
"The practicality of going through an English forest, with all its coarse bushes and bramble and all that, in green tights?" said Crowe when asked about Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood. "Not very practical now, is it?"
Crowe did reserve his strongest criticism for Kevin Costner's take on the Robin Hood tale, 1991's Prince Of Thieves, saying it "looks like a Jon Bon Jovi video".
But he also implied that swashbuckling Errol Flynn would have been more worried about laddering his tights than taking on the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham.
The message from the actor, who once threw a massive strop when he was prevented from reading a poem at an awards ceremony, was clear.
Robin Hood was a tough guy, tough guys should have beards, leather trousers and grunt their dialogue in dodgy Aussie/Anglo accents.
They should not prance around the forest in green tights or sporting a blonde bubble-permed mullet.
Movie fan and historians should thank God, then, that Crowe and Gladiator director Ridley Scott have finally turned their talent, vision and passion for historical accuracy to the legend of Robin Hood. "Past filmmakers and studios have 'supposed' things about Robin Hood," explained Crowe to a French journalist this week.
"Our film depicts the origins, where he might actually have come from."
Far from relying on the "usual clichés", Crowe's version sets out to "recalibrate the story . . . taking a fresh look".
The Gladiator star's anti-pantyhose stance, delivered at the start of the European leg of a massive publicity tour, may be a case of Crowe responding to critics in America.
A lukewarm reaction to his latest historical epic has seen headlines such as "Gladiator In Tights" and "Hood Misses Bull's Eye" grace the US reviews.
But the stance is also classic Crowe, coming from an actor with a famously massive ego who feels most at home with alpha-male roles that cast him in the most heroic light possible.
Crowe is drawn to roles where he is the muscular defender of the weak, a gruff champion of the truth but always ready to tousle a young lad's hair in between hacking bad guys to death with a broadsword.
However, unlike the great Errol Flynn, who spent a lot of 1938's Adventures of Robin Hood throwing his head back and laughing uproariously, or Douglas Fairbanks in the silent movie version of 1922, Crowe seldom brings a lot of warmth or humour to his roles.
And in comparing his Robin to Flynn's take on the legendary outlaw, Crowe may be setting himself up for a fall.
Flynn, born in Tasmania to parents of Irish descent, was the original Hollywood alpha male, a hard-drinking, bar-brawling, skirt-chasing hedonist blessed (or cursed) with wicked charm.
He was an early starter, getting expelled from his school in Sydney when he was a young teen for fighting and seducing the school laundress.
After a colourful life in the colonies (including a stint as a merchant seaman and a failed attempt to set up a tobacco farm in New Guinea) Flynn lucked into the movie business in his mid-twenties.
His did most of his own stunts on classic pirate movies such as Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk.
With Flynn, no buckle went un-swashed and no chorus girl escaped as he used Hollywood as his own personal playground.
He was great friends with his regular drinking buddy David Niven; they shared a beachside bungalow they dubbed 'Cirrhosis On Sea' and founded the Hollywood Cricket Club.
His notorious womanising and a court case in which he was found not guilty of corrupting two underage girls, led to the popular phrase "In Like Flynn".
The actor actually wanted to call his scandalous autobiography In Like Me but the publishers insisted on the safer My Wicked, Wicked Ways.
Flynn never apologised but was always ready to laugh at himself, right up until he died of a massive heart attack at the age of 50, while enjoying a week-long series of parties in Vancouver, Canada, with friends and his teenage girlfriend Beverly Aadland.
Flynn's lifestyle may have been reckless and destructive. But his charm, self-deprecating humour and lack of ego (he preferred to hang out with the regular studio staff when working) contrasts with the preciousness of poetry-writing, self-consciously tough guy Russell Crowe.
In many ways, Crowe is not fit to pull on Errol Flynn's tights.