As Ridley Scott’s ambitious epic Robin Hood reared its inflated head to strike at theatergoers across the world, some suits at Sony came up with the bright idea to release some classic Sherwood Forest tales from their vaults as budget-priced releases. The result is something labeled as the “Robin Hood Collection,” which (thus far) consists of four vintage motion pictures from Columbia’s days of old. The collection begins with The Bandit Of Sherwood Forest (1946), directed by George Sherman and Henry Levin, and based on the novel, The Son Of Robin Hood.
As the original literary version’s title suggests, The Bandit Of Sherwood Forest introduces us to Robert of Nottingham (fourth-billed Cornel Wilde), the swashbuckling progeny of the original Robin Hood, the Earl of Nottingham (played here by Russell Hicks). Decades following the Earl’s famous tryst against tyranny, the tiny island of England is once again being beleaguered by the current Regent, William of Pembroke (played to the hilt by the great Henry Daniell), who is planning to murder the young King of England (Maurice Tauzin) and seizing the crown for himself.
On hand to give the Son of Robin Hood a little love interest (and really, what fun is the pursuit of justice without the promise of love afterward?) is Lady Catherine (Anita Louise — who, interestingly enough, is top-billed). Joining Robert and his aging father are Robin Hood’s band of Merry Retirees (Edgar Buchanan as Friar Tuck, John Abbott as Will Scarlet, Ray Teal as Little John, et al), who unite to overthrow the Regent and his gang of baddies. Jill Esmond received second-billing as the Queen Mother in this overly ambitious but enjoyable Technicolor effort. George Macready and Ian Wolfe also star.
Next up is The Prince Of Thieves (1947), directed by Howard Bretherton, written by Charles H. Schneer, and produced by Columbia’s one and only Sam Katzman. Jon Hall, a one-time star who was well on his way into the annals of obscurity when this one came out, stars as Robin Hood. Having rescued Maid Marian (Patricia Morison) and her brother, Sir Allan Claire (Michael Duane), from the bow of a would-be assassin (played by I. Stanford Jolley, a regular heavy in the Republic serials), Robin Hood soon assembles his faithful band of Merry Men (Walter Sande, Syd Saylor, and the great Alan Mowbray) in an attempt to kidnap Sir Allan’s beloved Lady Christabel (Adele Jergens), whose father has decided to marry her off to another bloke.
Anyone familiar with the name Sam Katzman probably already knows what to expect here: a low-budget film made by one of Hollywood’s most thrifty producers (a skill that Roger Corman would later hone in on). The sets were all already standing, as were the costumes, probably, and there’s really nothing in the way of acting or writing that will have you declaring this is the best Robin Hood flick ever made. Of course, just as anyone who knows the name Sam Katzman is aware of how cheaply his films were made, they can also expect the same no-frills entertainment that the late producer is so well known for to this day. And besides, Alan Mowbray is in it — what more do you need?
In the third installment of Sony’s “Robin Hood Collection,” Rogues Of Sherwood Forest (1950), we return to the “Son of…” motif first seen in The Bandit Of Sherwood Forest. We also return to a production with an actual budget (see the previous entry). Directed by Gordon Douglas, Rogues Of Sherwood Forest features none other than John Derek in the lead as Robin, Earl of Nottingham. Once more, England’s freedom is being squeezed to death by an evil tyrant, this time in the guise of King John (George Macready), and so, once again, the band of Merry Men are called away from their annual shuffleboard tourney at the retirement home to fight injustice.
Really, what else did you expect here? Not to imply that Rogues Of Sherwood Forest is bad or anything. It’s another fun foliage-filled adventure from the vaults of Columbia Pictures — and definitely better than the first two films. Plus, Rogues Of Sherwood Forest is the final screen appearance by Alan Hale (The Skipper’s father), who portrays Little John for the third and final time here.
Finally, we come to the only film out of this entire collection that wasn‘t produced by Columbia, but rather distributed by them. Sword Of Sherwood Forest (1960) is one of the many fine films produced by the legendary Hammer Film Studios. Just as he had done in the UK TV’s long-running The Adventures Of Sherwood Forest, Richard Greene takes up the bow as the famous righter of wrongs in this big-screen adaptation directed by Terence Fisher.
Trouble is afoot in the land of tea and crumpets. Robin Hood’s discovery of an injured soldier (Desmond Llewelyn, a few years away from achieving everlasting fame as “Q” in the James Bond series) introduces him to Maid Marian (Sarah Branch) as well as the big bad Sheriff of Nottingham (played to the hilt by the bid bag Peter Cushing), who, as we later learn, is plotting to assassinate the Archbishop of Canterbury (Jack Gwillim). After a failed attempt to exchange the wounded man in return for a pricey reward, Robin Hood finds himself on the Sheriff’s shitlist, and all of the Merry Men are wanted fugitives.
While working undercover, our hero competes with the mighty Edward, Earl of Newark (Richard Pasco), who is working with the Sheriff in an attempt to kill the Archbishop, which will in-turn enable the greedy law official to rob the locals of their land and sell it to a group of high-and-mighty investors — who plan to develop the land into the Merrie Olde England equivalent of a modern-day strip mall. Seriously, that’s their plan. Among the familiar Hammer Films faces to be seen here are Niall MacGinnis, Nigel Green, and Oliver Reed, who appears as one of Pasco’s henchmen (and whose voice is dubbed by another actor).
The first three films in this collection are presented in the then-standard Academy aspect ratio of 1.37:1, with Sword Of Sherwood Forest being the only film here to have been filmed in a 2.35:1 widescreen ratio (which is anamorphic). All four films receive more-than-adequate video transfers here, boasting strong colors and contrast overall, with a few (probably unavoidable) imperfections here and there. Sound-wise, the whole collection only offers English mono tracks, which are about as strong as they can be, considering. English (SDH) subtitles are available. Only the last two titles (Rogues Of Sherwood Forest and Sword Of Sherwood Forest) bear any sort of notable special features, which are the original theatrical trailers for the respective titles. A few promos are presented on all four titles, and advertise several other Columbia/Tri-Star titles.
While it’s obvious that the entire “Robin Hood Collection” was cranked out just to cash in on Ridley Scott’s big-budgeted theatrical fiasco, these reasonably-priced gems will be nonetheless welcomed by lovers of classic swashbucklers everywhere and are well-worth their $14.94 price tags.