BR: Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

January 6, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  October 16, 2018

Genre:  Action / Adventure

Synopsis: Robin and Marian thwart evil Sheriff of Nottingham’s plot to slay uppity landowners and absorb their estates.

Special Features: Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

After going solo with their first Sherwood Forest entry, Hammer Films partnered with series originator Columbia for Sword of Sherwood Forest, but rather than create a wholly new script or hark back to the first two films (of which Bandit of Sherwood Forest was based on a novel), the choice was made to build on the success of The Adventures of Robin Hood, not the 1938 Errol Flynn classic, but ITV’s long-running series (1955-1960) starring Richard Greene as titular hero.

Perhaps an initial attempt to start a series of occasional films with Greene, the resulting one-off seemed to signal a firm close to the TV show, and allowed its star – a former leading man at Fox, whose prior hits included The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), and Forever Amber (1947) with Bandit’s star Cornel Wilde – to be more selective in future roles. It may also be that at 42, Greene was tiring of vine-swinging and archery.

Like Hammer’s prior The Men of Sherwood Forest (1954), Robin Hood and his men are much older, but the film carried over more than a few elements from the series for continuity, and to please fans: the story is goosed with a few vocal interludes (composed by Stanley Black and John Holingsworth), and Maid Marian Fitzwalter (Sarah Branch) is a regal maiden who rides free from any worry between Robin’s camp and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Cushing), and can both chastise and defend herself without being written off as a tomboy or meddlesome woman.

Her role is pivotal to the story’s central conflict: she’s the volunteering peace broker who attempts to negotiate a pardon for Robin in exchange for handing over a supposed fugitive (unbilled Desmond Llewelyn, future Q in the James Bond franchise) to the Sheriff. When Robin balks at the Sheriff’s proposal, the latter mounts a nasty campaign to rob landowners of their property through false proclamations, arrests, and outright murder.

Marian is also the lone fetching lady among the cast, yet her relationship with Robin is careful & respectful; she seems to represent the sacred, untouchable woman, as none of the men seem to care about the incipient malaise of living and loving solo. An amusing song by a campfire – clearly shot in the small corner of a tight little studio – expresses the men’s slightly regretful but apparently necessary decision to forgo women for iron-clad bromantic ties.

Filmed in Ireland, Sword has some lovely countryside visuals – forests, sloping valleys and small rivers – and a handful of chases that show off Greene’s confident equestrian skills. When Robin becomes (surprise) wanted by the Sheriff, he goes incognito and is unexpectedly snagged by the sly Edward, Earle of Newark (charismatic Richard Pasco) as a possible assassin. Among Edward’s henchmen is Lord Melton, an effete ass played by a young, goteed (and weirdly overdubbed) Oliver Reed, but neither he nor his falcon are matches for Robin and his superb archery.

There’s an engaging midsection in which Robin passes Edward’s marksmanship tests and discovers his purpose in the deadly plot, but once Robin is exposed as a mole, the finale involves rival factions clashing in a nunnery’s priory. The sword battles are relatively tame (except for a nasty headshot with a flaming torch that must have stopped production for the day), and the fate of the Sheriff signals Sword was indeed a one-off designed to close the series on a more adult note. ITV’s show  was quite family-friendly, and its Sheriff of Nottingham (played by Alan Wheatley) was a bit of a fuddy-duddy than lethal foe.

Humour, integral to the film & TV series, comes from minor chiding among the merry men (with tall Nigel Green portraying Little John as a smiling, slow-moving genial figure than a mighty physical force), and Niall MacGinnis (Curse of the Demon) shows his knack for nuances by playing Friar Tuck as a pouting, frustrated religious servant irked by an uncooperative donkey, and the limited meal portions decreed by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Jack Gwillim).

Alan Hackney’s dialogue is straightforward, lacking much bite or risqué quips, and Hammer stock company director Terence Fisher covers the action scenes & locations nicely. Although Ken Hodges’ cinematography makes the pastel colours of the costumes glow, there’s never a doubt what’s a set, but the hard pools of light bring out some of the fine details in the castle and amber hued nunnery.

Alan Hoddinott’s score – a rare film project for the concert composer – features some striking orchestrations and action cues, and although unreleased on LP or CD, Twilight Time’s disc presents the score with sound effects from the mono M&E mix.

Richard Greene would appear in Jess Franco’s Castle and Blood of Fu Manchu diptych (1968 and 1969 respectively), and Amicus’ Tales from the Crypt (1972) anthology, while Cushing would star & co-star in a multitude of Hammer and several Amicus productions.

Attractive Branch would appear in a trio of TV guest spots before retiring in 1965, leaving just three prior feature films on her C.V.: The Night We Dropped a Clanger (1959), the Hammer crime classic Hell is a City (1960), and Sands of the Desert (1960).

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

 


 

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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