Thursday, April 13, 2006

Walt Disney's The Story of Robin Hood (1952).

Walt Disney The Story of Robin Hood (1952), was the first of two Disney Robin Hood films. It is in much the same style as other adventure films they produced in the 50's, such as Treasure Island, and Swiss Family Robinson. But since the release of their second Robin Hood film, the cartoon version of 1973, it has largely been neglected. This is a great shame, because The Story of Robin Hood is a worthy addition to the genre and has many good qualities.
Firstly, it brought a youthful quality to the legend, particularly in the casting of Joan Rice as the "tom boy" Maid Marian who gets to wear Lincoln green, (something Olivia de Havilland would never have done in the Errol Flynn version!) Secondly, the casting of British actors Richard Todd as Robin Hood, and Peter Finch as the Sheriff of Nottingham, with James Robertson Justice as Little John, helps infuse a more English quality. The same can be said of the scale of Sherwood Forest as depicted here, and which some Hollywood versions will insist on turning into Tarzan's jungle. In this respect the settings for Robin Hood's encounters with Little John and Friar Tuck are very pleasing.
Made with family entertainment in mind, all the essential ingredients of the legend are here. Of particular note is the excellent performance of James Hayter as Friar Tuck, easily the film's strongest role. The Story of Robin Hood is also responsible for making Alan A Dale such a well known outlaw. His ballads are used here to link many scenes in "ye olde English" style. But the film is not without its faults. Peter Finch, usually an accomplished actor, makes little impression in his role as the evil Sheriff, and James Robertson Justice makes no attempt to hide his educated Oxford accent, making his Little John faintly ridiculous.
The success of this film was no doubt an influence on the direction the Richard Greene television series which would follow. In fact Archie Duncan, later to play Little John in that series, appears here as the villain Red Gill who attempts to assassinate Robin! (See comments box for more cast details).

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