Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Men of Sherwood Forest; Robin Hood meets Hammer Horror.

The Men of Sherwood Forest (1954), was the first Robin Hood film made by Hammer Productions at Bray Studios, and their first colour film. The meeting of Robin Hood and Hammer was inevitable, Hammer being a specialist in producing low budget films which exploited the success of previously well established themes, mostly with outstanding results. In 1957 their Curse of Frankenstein single handedly relaunched the whole horror genre, a success which would give rise to the phrase Hammer Horror. The Men of Sherwood is not quite in that class, but it is a good film and worthy of much more attention.
Filmed in genuine English forests, with real English castles as backdrops, the locations and sets are excellent throughout. The villains in particular hint at the dark cloaked Hammer style of their later horror catalogue, and the story is tight and well delivered, involving King Richard's imminent return to England at a secret location. What is refreshing here is the presentation of a single adventure involving the famous outlaw, and not a retelling of the whole legend with speculation about his origins.

Reginald Beckwith as Friar Tuck gives the best performance of the film. His Friar Tuck is not as obsessed with food as he is with hustling and gambling. The villain of the piece, Sir Guy Belton (David King-Wood) also swishes around perfectly admirably through the castle corridors. Don Taylor plays Robin Hood, his obvious influence in this pre Richard Greene adventure being Errol Flynn. This would of course have been Hammer's intent. They were not in the business of taking risks with new interpretations. Their honestly stated intent was to make money with a formula that had proven successful in the past. In this respect Taylor is good, especially in those scenes requiring an aggressive tone. But there is also perhaps sometimes too much hearty laughter and a jumping on of tables. The only outlaws present are a token Little John (Leslie Linder) and Will Scarlett (John Van Eyssen), both identifiable by their stature and costumes but not required to do much else, and there is no Maid Marian. In fact, as the leading Lady Alice is already betrothed, there is no romance for Robin in this film. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Leonard Sachs) makes too brief an appearance in a law enforcement role to comment upon. (It is entirely possible that Hammer decided to call their Sir Guy "Belton" rather than Gisborne in order to avoid problems with Warner Brothers. Universal Studios did threaten to sue them once already if Hammer's version of the Frankenstein monster looked anything like Karloff. But this is speculation, and judging by the way Lady Alice is able to recount to Robin an accurate account of the story of Alan A Dale as it appears in the ballads, someone at Hammer had certainly done their homework and would have been well aware that Gisborne was not a creation of Warner’s.)
The Men of Sherwood's time of release was ill fated, not being as "family oriented" as the slightly earlier Disney version The Story of Robin Hood, and soon to be swept aside by the magnificent Richard Greene series The Adventures of Robin Hood. But it is a film with many good qualities, and well worth revisiting. (Note: The date given for the production of this film varies wildly across the internet. I have given the date as it appears on Hammer's official site. See comments box for more cast details).
For more Hammer Horror pictures from The Men of Sherwood click here. Or simply visit http://robinhoodoutlaw.blogspot.com/ for pictures from Robin Hood films in general, including others from the Hammer studios.

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