Susan King takes a look at some vintage Robin Hood films and finds that, unlike the legendary archer, they miss more often than they hit.
With Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” opening Friday with Russell Crowe as the latest incarnation of the hero who robbed from the rich to give to the poor in 12th century England, there’s suddenly Merrie Men of yore everywhere on the home-video shelf.
This week, for instance, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment just released a quartet of vintage “Robin” movies on DVD. But the collection is definitely a mixed bag. Here’s a look at each of them…
“THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST” Cinematographer Tony Guadio, who shot the 1938 Technicolor classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn, was the director of cinematography of this luscious-looking 1946 action-romance. But that’s the best thing about this production. Matinee idol Cornel Wilde, right, is a snooze as Robert of Huntington, the son of old Robin Hood. He joins his father (Russell Hicks) and the aging Merrie Men to save the young king of England after the regent of England imprisons the boy, usurps the throne and vows to tear up the Magna Carta. Anita Louise plays Robert’s love interest, Lady Catherine.
“PRINCE OF THIEVES” Even worse is this low-budget 1948 production shot in a cheapo two-color format called Cinecolor. Jon Hall, who was best known for his period flicks with Maria Montez like “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves,” seems ill at ease in Sherwood Forest. Patricia Morison, who would find fame on Broadway the following year in “Kiss Me Kate,” stars as Maid Marian. At least it’s only 72 minutes.
“SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST“ The best of the lot. This 1960 Hammer Films production was directed by the studio’s reliable Terence Fisher. Dimple-cheeked Richard Greene, who played the hero of Nottingham from 1955-60 on TV in England and the U.S. in “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” dons the green tights for the last time in this fast-paced adventure. This time around, Robin and his Merrie Men go undercover after they learn of an assassination plot against the Archbishop of Canterbury. None other than the great Peter Cushing is on hand as Robin’s nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Sarah Branch makes quite a mod Maid Marian. And look for a very young Oliver Reed in one of his first film roles as a particular odious crony of the sheriff.
“ROGUES OF SHERWOOD FOREST“ John Derek, who later became known as a director and hubby to Bo Derek, headlines this entertaining 1950 Technicolor adventure. Though he’s sporting a hairstyle that resembles singer James Brown‘s legendary ‘do, the handsome, athletic Derek makes a quite capable son of Robin Hood. He ends up joining his late father’s band of Merrie Men to stop the oppressive rule of King John (George Macready at his oiliest). Diana Lynn is on hand as his love interest, the Lady Marianne. And the wonderful Alan Hale, who played Little John in the 1922 Douglas Fairbanks film, “Robin Hood” and in the 1938 classic, reprises his signature role. However, “Rogues” ended up being his last film. Hale died in early 1950 and the film was released posthumously. (Hale’s son, Alan Hale Jr., was of course best-known as Skipper of “Gilligan’s Island.“)
– Susan King
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Photos: Top,, Cornel Wilde in Sherwood mode (Los Angeles Times archives); bottom, Russell Crowe at Cannes (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images )
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