Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) film review.

Sword of Sherwood Forest was the second Hammer Robin Hood film after The Men of Sherwood Forest. The presence of Richard Greene in the lead role may satisfy many fans but the film is disappointing, long on dialogue, with rather too many tedious tests and demonstrations of Robin Hood's archery skills, and a basically simple plot which nevertheless becomes totally confusing due to its direction.
By this time in 1960 Richard Greene was of course the established image of Robin Hood in the public eye, and competently delivers here a slightly more aggressive Robin than in his television series. A blonde Maid Marian (Sarah Branch) was no doubt cast more for her chest size than her acting ability, (this being a Hammer film), whilst Little John (Nigel Green), is merely tall and Friar Tuck (Niall MacGinnis) is cantankerous but totally lacking any wit or humour. Director Terence Fisher, who normally excels in the Hammer Horror genre, fails here to ignite any action and the final swordfight, which lapses into a series of oddly still and staged poses, becomes ridiculous.
On the positive side Peter Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham is wonderful. Cushing plays the Sheriff as a military man, in many ways anticipating the Robert Shaw interpretation in Robin and Marian by almost two decades. Peter Cushing's Sheriff also, like Shaw's, has an underlying sense of honour which leads to his downfall. Another stand out performance is that of Oliver Reed in a cameo role as Lord Melton. Reed's psychopathic villain makes one wish he had been given a prominent Guy of Gisburne type role, but alas this is not the case. Filmed in Ireland the locations, sets and costumes are most pleasing, and fans of 1950’s British music will spot crooner Denis Lotis in the Alan A’ Dale role. But in conclusion, the combination of Hammer, Terence Fisher, and Richard Greene, promises much more than it delivers. (See comments box for more cast details).

Robin Hood film reviews at this website, and more pictures of Robin Hood at this website.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967)

A Challenge for Robin Hood came at a time when all Hammer films were suffering from a distinct lack of energy and inspiration compared to their earlier works, and this was no exception. The intention seems to be to rewrite the story of Robin Hood almost entirely, having already exploited the popularity of Richard Greene in the earlier Sword of Sherwood Forest. In Challenge for Robin Hood Robin is a Norman landowner, with Will Scarlet and Little John numbering among his men. He is outlawed when falsely accused of murdering his uncle, and flees to Sherwood Forest where he meets Alan A Dale and a band of outlaws. Once he has proved his worth to a sceptical Alan A Dale his intelligence and skill with the long bow quickly make him their elected leader.
Robin Hood is played by Barry Ingham and his toupee; the performance is adequate but could never compete with the public's expectations as defined by Richard Greene. Will Scarlet is agreeably aggressive and stocky in appearance, but the concept of acting eludes him as it does Leon Greene in the Little John role. Robin Hood fans will be pleased to see the aging James Hayter return as Friar Tuck once more, but for nostalgic reasons only. The dark, gothic atmosphere normally associated with a Hammer film is missing, Lincoln green costumes are freshly pressed and tailor made, whilst the sight of Robin and Little John singing around the camp fire (“camp” being the operative word) is frankly hilarious.
However, there are good points. John Arnatt as the Sheriff of Nottingham deserves credit for his portrayal of the Sheriff as a sly, scheming, manipulator of those around him. Also Alan A Dale, played by Eric Flynn, has a more central role than in any other Robin Hood film, with the possible exception of Walt Disney's The Story of Robin Hood. But this Alan A Dale is an aggressive outlaw, keen to wreak revenge on the Normans. He only becomes the musical Alan A'Dale of legend near the end, and when he does it is a disappointment because it is his aggression which has propelled so much of the film to that point. (See comments box for more cast details).

The Robin Hood website for pictures of Robin Hood : http://robinhoodoutlaw.blogspot.com/

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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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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Will Scarlet / Scarlett

Will Scatlock was forced into the outlaw way of life before Robin Hood, although if the stories are true that Will was Robin's cousin, they could have been outlawed at the same time simply because they were related. Will's early life as an outlaw was dominated by his anger and rage at the Normans. Will Scatlock lacked Robin Hood's later noble principles about robbing the rich to feed the poor; he simply wanted revenge. It was precisely this angry, hot headed state of mind which prevented him from becoming an effective leader, although his aggressive tone was certainly an influence among the outlaw fraternity which surrounded him. Some say the name "Scarlet" was bestowed on him because of this anger inside, (a concept explored most successfully in Robin of Sherwood. It is also possible the name Will Scarlet was given him by the other outlaws because of his amusing habit of incorporating some of the rich fabrics and items of clothing he stole into his own shabby attire, much like wearing trophies. But one thing is certain; the real Will Scarlet was no foppish dandy.
After Robin Hood's natural leadership skills had organised the outlaws of Sherwood Forest into an effective force to combat the Sheriff's exploitation of the people of Nottingham, Will Scarlet would become one of Robin's most faithful and devoted followers, second only to Little John. Possibly born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, the church of St Mary in Blidworth is said to be his final resting place.

Top: Will Scatlock (Bruce Seton) is mortally wounded in battle. His final wish is for Robin to take over as leader of the outlaws. (Scene from The Adventures of Robin Hood television series).
Bottom: Will Scarlet as played by Patric Knowles was a rather ridiculous looking character in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), a trend continued by Ronald Howard for 1950's television, and Anthony Forwood in the first Disney version of the legend. Ray Winstone totally restored the character's credibility in Robin of Sherwood a stunning performance in which his torment and anger emanated from the small screen. Robin Prince of Thieves would seem take a lot of it's inspiration from ideas within Robin of Sherwood, and Christian Slater certainly continued the trend of a tormented Will Scarlet. But before them came the gritty Robin and Marian which explored the final days of Robin Hood, days in which Robin was to find only an equally aging Will Scarlet, played by Denholm Elliott, and Friar Tuck still living in Sherwood Forest.
Click on this link for more Will Scarlet and Robin Hood pictures, and visit http://robinhoodoutlaw.blogspot.com/

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood's day

Although Errol Flynn would have you believe otherwise, there is no doubt the Sheriff of Nottingham and not Guy of Gisborne was Robin Hood's true arch enemy, a cold hearted scheming opportunist, cunning and clever in equal measure.

Nottingham actually didn't get its own Sheriff until the mid 15th century. At the very start of the 13th century the title would have been "High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests". Sometimes the title was appointed by the King, sometimes purchased. Such a person would have essentially been a debt collector. Not being paid a wage, he took a percentage of the debts he collected as his fee. Over time, the Sheriffs became responsible for escorting prisoners to court, collecting taxes and rents, and keeping the peace. Such an office, certainly open to abuse, became redundant as the centuries passed. But Nottingham still has a Sheriff for tourism and promotional purposes, thanks to the city links with Robin Hood. The first female Sheriff of Nottingham was Mrs. C. M. Harper, who had previously worked on the Nottingham Council. She held office for the year 1931/32.

In Robin Hood's day the title of "Sheriff" did not yet strictly exist, but the man in charge of collecting taxes and enforcing the law, would always be called such in the early ballads. Ralph Murdac (Murdach) is probably the most popular contender for being the actual Sheriff who Robin Hood most encountered, as it was he who defended Nottingham Castle against Richard 1st. But the legends tell of Robin's encounters with more than one Sheriff, suggesting this official position changed hands several times whilst Robin roamed Sherwood Forest. Another Knight who is often suggested as Robin Hood's Sheriff of Nottingham is Simon de Headon, and you can see his Tomb Slab on THIS LINK. For much more information and pictures of the Sheriff of Nottingham visit the links on THIS PAGE.

Above: Without doubt the most famous Sheriff of Nottingham is Alan Wheatley in the 1950's television series The Adventures of Robin Hood. Cunning, camp, and cool, in equal measure, this Sheriff's wit is the equal of Robin but he is ultimately let down time and again by the inadequacy of his soldiers.

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