He’s one of cinema’s most familiar characters, but Robin Hood doesn’t always enrich an actor’s life. Paul Byrne wonders if the much-loved outlaw can save Russell Crowe’s career…

The man who made his name stealing from the rich and giving to the poor has, down through the last 100 years, taken quite a few shillings off the poor cinema-goer and given it to wealthy studio chiefs. Often making the latter very merry men indeed.

Making his screen debut in the 1908 short Robin Hood And His Merry Men, Sherwood Forest’s notorious re-distributor of wealth has been captured on celluloid, and digital, over 50 times now, the last notable entry being the BBC’s eponymous TV series, which bid us adieu only last year.

Before that, we’ve had the likes of Kevin Costner’s 1991 box-office smash Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves – a film that not only gave us Bryan Adams’ record-breaking and arse-aching Everything I Do (I Do It For You) but also sent that year’s Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman-led Robin Hood straight to the bargain bin; Walt Disney’s 1973 animated, and hippy-infused, adaptation (the nasally-challenged cockerel troubadour bearing more than a passing resemblance to Bob Dylan); 1984’s Clannad-themed TV series Robin Of Sherwood; and, most significantly, the great Errol Flynn at his swashbuckling best in 1938’s The Adventures Of Robin Hood.

And now Universal will no doubt be hoping that the combination of director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe taking on this iconic medieval figure will bring home the loot once again when Robin Hood hits our screens on this weekend, having set out to wow them at Cannes.

Well, they’ve failed. With style, though – and great lighting, of course.

The career boost a worldwide blockbuster with built-in franchise potential might bring is no doubt part of the big attraction for the notoriously prickly Kiwi, Crowe. Thanks to a series of major and minor flops in recent years – including Cinderella Man, A Good Year, 3:10 To Yuma, Body Of Lies, Tenderness and last year’s State Of Play – plus a slight problem on the PR front (thanks to a tendency to bang heads with journalists and hurl phones at members of the public), Crowe is in desperate need of a hit. Reuniting with the man who gave him Gladiator is a smart move too, and from the look of the trailer, the duo may as well have called their Robin Hood outing Maximus In Tights.

Having become notably chunky since his Gladiator heyday, Crowe seemed to turn every character he’s played in his recent films into a slovenly, unshaven, uncouth maverick. Which must have cut down on the preparation time somewhat.

Not that Robin Hood is definitely going to put the poetry-loving, producer-wrestling Oscar winner back on the horse. Sherwood’s finest doesn’t always deliver at the box-office.

That Clannad-themed Robin Of Sherwood made Jason ‘son of Sean’ Connery the non-star that he is today. Ditto Cary Elwes and the Mel Brook spoof Robin Hood: Men In Tights, Stuart Wilson in the Keira Knightley-co-starring 2001 Disney series Princess Of Thieves, Jason Braly in 2008’s Prince Of Sherwood and Jonas Armstrong in that more recent BBC outing.

No doubt Crowe will be hoping for the same kind of global success that another comeback kid, Robert Downey Jr., recently enjoyed with the equally much-loved, much-played icon, Sherlock Holmes.

Trouble is, despite Crowe laying off the pasties and restraining himself from hitting anyone on his current promotional tour, even Robin Hood mightn’t be able to find it in his heart to save the Sheriff Of Wellington.

Words – Paul Byrne

Robin Hood  is now showing at Irish Cinemas