Film: Men of Sherwood Forest, The (1954)

January 6, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Action / Adventure

Synopsis: Robin Hood infiltrates Sir Guy Belton’s castle, and with the aide of Friar Tuck and Lady Alys, attempts to save King Richard from a deadly ambush.

Special Features:  n/a




Whether a deliberate plan by Columbia to restart its Sherwood Forest series, or pure coincidence with Hammer (under the company’s original shingle, Exclusive Films) taking a crack of sorts at lucrative Robin Hood, The Men of Sherwood Forest presents a much older version of the merry men, using an almost exclusive British cast romping about in the verdant settings frequented by British-based Hammer Films.

American Don Taylor does a decent job as hugely energetic Robin Hood, living in Sherwood Forest where his band of outlaws manage a fairly independent existence growing veggies, hunting game, and living in neatly arranged (and rather cozy) caves.

The men are put into action when two robbers may hold information that’ll free crusading King Richard (Patric Holt) from evil Germans, and prevent Sir Guy Belton (David King-Wood) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Leonard Sachs) from usurping control of the kingdom. Much of the drama is centered on the acquisition of a trinket, and attempts by Robin Hood and Friar Tuck (Reginald Beckwith) to stall Belton’s actions after they’re held in the castle, and the gradual allegiance between Robin and Lady Alys (Eileen Moore).

Allan Mackinnon’s script is quite clever in maximizing volleying antics and powerplays between the rival groups in an otherwise tightly budgeted production where most of the action takes place within a few castle sets (some possibly redressed for later scenes). Val Guest’s direction is quite brisk, with edits and camera movements hiding changes in lighting for day scenes. (That said, the forest shots vary from day to dwindling midday sunlight, and hard lights casting hot spots on the actors in what are likely a few forced night shoots.)

Perhaps the biggest shock for Robin Hood fans is accepting the felt-clothed icon as a more mature hero instead of the prior youthful incarnations. Taylor’s American accent bleeds in now & then, but he clearly had fun playing a noble cad who relies on the wits of his fellow outlaws, and in his first appearance onscreen, he makes a point in posing the same arms-on-hips / cocked neck / bawdy laughter as Errol Flynn.

The actions scenes and swordplay are straightforward, and Robin’s initial masquerade as an itinerant troubadour offers plenty of amusing banter, but perhaps the oddest element is faux love interest Lady Alys. Both actors have fun hinting at latent sexual tension: Robin’s persistently overconfident and working towards a conquest, while Alys transitions from bosom-friendly costumes to a Robinesque outfit, delineating her allegiance to a corrupted court towards the merry men’s noble quest to save King Richard and the country’s moral integrity.

Humour is integral to the film’s spirited tone, and a highlight has Robin and Friar Tuck duping their dense jailers with loud song & banter; and the friar using gambling to win gold in a primordial game of roulette and later the clothes of his jailers in a strip poker variant. Also of note is Doreen Carwithen’s strong score, which captures the spirit of the period, and Robin Hood’s constant attempt to thwart jailers, evil princes, and a slimy sheriff.

Columbia’s attempt to spin off a new film was stayed until 1960, when they co-produced the final entry in the Sherwood Forest series with Hammer, by then quite comfortable making horror, pirate, suspense thrillers, and a fine Sherlock Holmes entry.

Director Val Guest was exceptionally prolific during the 1950s, crafting noir (Hell is a City), horror (The Abominable Snowman), and sci-fi classics (The Quatermass Xperiment, The Day the Earth Caught Fire), whereas Don Taylor would cut back on acting and focus on directing numerous TV and subsequent film productions, including Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977), and Damien: Omen II (1978).

The four entries in the Sherwood Forest quartet are Columbia’s The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946) and Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950), and the Hammer-produced The Men of Sherwood Forest (1954) and Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), the latter released by Columbia.



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan




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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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