"Robin Hood Origins" DVD Review
With "Robin Hood Origins," Mill Creek Entertainment presents five classic Robin Hood films for the price of one.
The good folks at Mill Creek Entertainment have just released a fantastic new DVD collection entitled "Robin Hood Origins," which collects five classic swashbucklers from Columbia Pictures on two discs. Being a huge fan of all things Robin Hood, this release has been high on my priority list since I first mentioned it my video "Robin Hood: A Cereal At Midnight Celebration," and I'm happy to report that the package does not disappoint. I've watched all five movies and will write a little bit about each one below.
The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946) finds actor Cornel Wilde (the noir classic Road House) starring as Robert of Nottingham, aka the son of Robin Hood. This movie could be a direct sequel to the 1938 Errol Flynn classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood because it seems to inhabit the same world. Time has passed and Robin Hood and his merry men have grown older, so the torch of justice is passed to Robin's son Robert. Cornel Wilde is great as a rakish hero with a hint of mischief. With a budget of around one million dollars and filmed in Technicolor, this is by far the most ambitious of the five films presented here, and it's also my favorite of the bunch. It's competently directed by Henry Levin (1959's Journey to the Center of the Earth) and B-movie director George Sherman, though The Bandit of Sherwood Forest is a first class production all the way. Every time I watch it, I like it even more.
Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950) is the most confusing of the entire bunch. John Derek, perhaps most (in)famous for his relationship with Bo Derek and for directing the controversial movie Bolero, stars as the son of Robin Hood, much like Cornel Wilde in The Bandit of Sherwood Forest. However, this is where things get tricky: even though we're introduced to a much older group of merry men, everything else about this tale follows the same pattern as the classic story. After the death of Richard the Lionheart, King John is strangling the people of England with high taxes. The people need a hero, and Robin, Earl of Huntingdon, rises up with the freedom fighters who helped his dad years ago. However, there's also a romantic subplot with Maid Marian, who apparently also had a relationship with his father. It's unclear why the filmmakers decided to go with the "son of a legend" angle if they were going to keep so much of the standard Robin Hood myth. That's not to say that this movie is bad, because it's not. The film plays fast and loose with the story, and we're encouraged to just relax and enjoy the Technicolor adventure for 80 minutes, which is easy enough to do. There's another treat in the form of Alan Hale Sr. (father of Alan Hale, Jr., aka The Skipper on Gilligan's Island) in the role of Little John for the third and final time. Hale had played the same part in a 1922 silent film and again in the classic 1938 movie starring Errol Flynn. Seeing him reprise the role for a final time is a lot of fun.
Being an English production, Sword of Sherwood also benefits from the location photography of real forests and landscapes located within Great Britain. Whereas the four Columbia-produced studio pictures included in this set all filmed at Ray "Crash" Corrigan's ranch in California, this movie instantly has credibility by using actual English countrysides and real castles for location photography. There are also uncredited roles of note, including Desmond Llewelyn (the original "Q" from the James Bond film franchise) and Oliver Reed, who almost outshines Peter Cushing by chewing the scenery and playing his role so over-the-top that he becomes the focal point of every scene he's in. This movie also features one of the few platinum blonde Maid Marians that I can remember. Just like all the other movies in this set, Sword of Sherwood Forest is a short affair, coming in at only 80 minutes, but it uses its running time well to tell a story that somehow still feels epic on scope.