Judge Jim Thomas thinks this movie would be more accurately titled Bored of Sherwood Forest.
Since there's a new Robin Hood coming out, other Robin Hood movies are coming out of the woodwork, yada yada yada, Sony now brings us 1960's Sword of Sherwood Forest.
A wounded man fleeing soldiers makes his way into Sherwood Forest, where he falls from his horse near a stream. Robin Hood (Richard Greene, who played Robin Hood in the British series The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1955 to 1960) finds the wounded man, but also finds the comely Maid Marian (Sarah Branch) swimming au natural in the stream. After some feeble banter, Marian leaves, while Robin takes the man to his camp. The man dies, but not before muttering some cryptic words; Robin finds a gold medallion depicting a falcon gripping a daisy.
Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Cushing, The Curse of Frankenstein), prodded by Marian, takes time from the daily grind of confiscating the land of nobles killed in battle to surprise Robin at an inn and offer a deal: a full pardon in exchange for the wounded man. Robin, being heroic, says no; the sheriff, being not so much, springs a trap; Marian, being naïve, is shocked and appalled. (Good thing there was no gambling on the premises.)
As Robin investigates the matter, he finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue involving the Sheriff, the Earl of Newark (Richard Pasco, Mrs. Brown), and Lord Melton (Oliver Reed, The Three Musketeers) whom we know is EE-VILLE because of his indeterminate European accent. All of these unworthies bear ill will towards Hubert Walter (Jack Gwilam), Archbishop of Canterbury and High Chancellor of England, the man who is effectively running the country while King Richard is off fighting in France. (Yes, I know he's supposed to be fighting a crusade in the Holy Land, but I didn't write the bloody screenplay, now did I?) Can Robin foil the dastardly plot, win the heart of Maid Marian, and save Sherwood Forest from strip mall developers?
Sword of Sherwood Forest is the second Robin Hood movie from Hammer Films, following 1954's The Men of Sherwood Forest. As a general rule, you can rely on a Hammer film to deliver three things:
• Strong use of color. Hammer rode Technicolor for all it was worth, and this film is no exception. Lots of strong greens, golds, and reds dominate the art direction and costumes.
• A casual disregard for verisimilitude. See above re: King Richard fighting in France. Also, Marian's 1960s hair, as well as her 1960s political activism schtick.
• Efficient yet effective direction. OK, so two out of three ain't bad. Terence Fisher, who helmed such Hammer classics as The Curse of Frankenstein and The Hound of the Baskervilles, gets the efficient part right, but the effective part eluded him this time out, primarily due to a weak script. Fisher did great things with weak scripts (The Gorgon is an excellent example), but in this case, Fisher couldn't rely on establishing a gothic atmosphere and moving on from there.
The story is a fairly standard conspiracy plot grafted onto the basic Robin Hood legend. The problem is that the script takes its own sweet time in setting up the plot and establishing the characters, so that the resolution of the plot is almost an afterthought, relying on coincidences that would make Dickens blush. When the Earl of Newark recruits Robin (not knowing his identity) to assassinate the Archbishop, it never occurs to him to investigate this man and his astonishing prowess with a bow. When Robin steals a horse and heads for the hills, having been ID'd by the Sheriff, Newark refuses to send troops after him, because it wouldn't be right to pursue a man who had been his guest, thus making Newark one of the more idiotic villains you're likely to encounter. Listen, moron, you're plotting to assassinate a major political figure; any notions of honor are pretty illusory at this point. Not only that, but you're pretty cavalier about the guy you've recruited to be your assassin riding off to tell the world of your nefarious plot. The less said about the swordfights, the better. I'll limit myself to two words: They suck.
Acting is a mixed bag. Richard Greene was already in his forties by this time. While he's comfortable in the role, he's a bit too old to pull it off. Susan Branch isn't particularly good as Marian, but in all fairness, the part is horribly written. There is no chemistry between her and Greene, and their scenes together are at best perfunctory. Quite frankly, the movie would have been better served if the role had been written with her and Robin already together, or, better yet, with Marian omitted altogether. Peter Cushing turns in a typically string performance as the Sheriff; when the trap springs on Robin at the inn and Marian gets all outraged, you can almost hear Governor Tarkin telling Princess Leia, "You're far too trusting." His change of heart toward the end is a bit too convenient, however, and ultimately deprives us of a final Robin v. Sheriff confrontation. Along the way, lip service is made to Robin's merry men; Alan A'Dale sings, Little John performs a requisite feat of strength (Perhaps the film is set during Festivus), and Friar Tuck eats a lot (though he's not particularly fat).
Video is good, but not great. Colors are strong, though greens and earth tones are perhaps a bit muted, and there's just a touch of fuzziness with bright reds and flesh tones. The mono soundtrack is clear. The only real extra is the theatrical trailer, though a trailer for Heath Ledger's A Knight's Tale is included just to confuse you.
Sword of Sherwood Forest is a decent enough diversion; the brief running time keeps the proceedings from grinding to a halt. Still, that's all it is, and that's giving it the benefit of the doubt because I'm a big Peter Cushing fan.
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