SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (Twilight Time Blu Ray) Hammer /Columbia 1960 Megascope. Color 80 mins. $29.95 Region Free. https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/sword-of-sherwood-forest-blu-ray/
While Hammer Films was reigning supreme as the creators of high-quality horror cinema, they continued to make movies in other genres as well. In the 1950s, Hammer tried their hand at a story of Robin Hood.
The legendary hero had been the subject of motion pictures since 1908 with the British made ROBIN HOOD & HIS MERRY MEN (Clarendon). Sadly, the cast is not currently known.
ROBIN HOOD & HIS MERRY MEN (1908)
American Eclair did a version simply called ROBIN HOOD that starred Robert Frazier,later to star in WHITE ZOMBIE (Halperin,1932)
1912 ,Friar Tuck officiates.
In 1913, a kinemacolor silent British film was shot in and around Nottingham called IN THE DAYS OF ROBIN HOOD, starring Harry Agar Lyons. That same year, Thanhouser in the U.S. made their own version, with William Russell in the title role, Maid Marian as portrayed by Gerda Holmes, and a sneering John Dillon as the Sheriff of Nottingham.
In The Days of Robin Hood (1913)
The most famous of the silent Robin Hood pictures was the exciting ROBIN HOOD (U.A. ,1922), starring Douglas Fairbanks in a role he was born to play.
He was so definitive that no one dared try the part until W.B. in 1938 created their Technicolor masterpiece, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, starring Errol Flynn as Robin, Olivia DeHavilland as Marian, Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy, Claude Rains as Prince John, and a wealth of familiar character actors. The film is how most people see Robin today, a laughing cavalier with a huge caring heart, quick with his sword or arrows to disperse justice and right wrongs.
Columbia waited ten years before attempting two films on the subject: BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST in Technicolor with Cornel Wilde as Robin’s son. Sam Katzman re- used the sets and costumes that same year in the cheaper Cinecolor process to create THE PRINCE OF THIEVES starring Jon Hall, inspired by an Alexandre Dumas novel.
ROGUES OF SHERWOOD FOREST
Two years later Columbia went back to Sherwood, or at least the Corriganville Movie Ranch to create ROGUES OF SHERWOOD FOREST. This tale was about ANOTHER son of Robin Hood (insert Maid Marian jokes here) in the person of John Derek, as well as a return to Technicolor with costumes from the 1938 film as well as actor Alan Hale Senior .Hale had played Little John in 1922, 1938 and here in again in his final screen role.
Television discovered the legends and put them to good use in 1953 for the BBC’s ROBIN HOOD, starring future Doctor Who Patrick Troughton. The show was broadcast live from a small television studio .
Hammer got into the tights and swordplay with THE MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST (Hammer/Exclusive,1954, released by Astor in the U.S. in 1956) in Eastmancolor, their first color feature. American actor (and future director) Don Taylor worked on his British accent but seemed to have been instructed by director Val Guest that Robin laughs at everything. Seriously Robin, some of the things just weren’t that funny. Still, the movie is an enjoyable romp and a warm up for what Hammer would soon follow with.
From 1955 to 1959 , ITV created 143 half hour black and white television episodes for THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, with a deal with Officials Films to distribute the film within the United States in syndication .Richard Greene superbly played the hero of Sherwood , filming at the small Nettlefold Studios as well as locations that had standing medieval buildings ,as well as a great drawbridge and castle exterior constructed and also made use of for THE ADVENTURES OF SIR LANCELOT(ITV,1956-7).
20TH Century Fox gave us the DeLuxe Cinemascope SON OF ROBIN HOOD in 1959, which in fact was about Robin Hood’s DAUGHTER! It starred David Hedison and June Laverick.
Hammer returned to the shire, with a string of successes behind them since 1957’s CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Hammer/WB) and a guaranteed distribution deal with Columbia Pictures. At this point, Hammer was a smooth running machine able to put out high quality entertainment on a budget with superb production values and top-notch performers. One of their sterling entertainment’s was SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST.
Hammer went to it’s main go to director Terence Fisher (who had directed several episodes of the Richard Greene series) and its biggest star Peter Cushing to play a villain to let fans know that this was indeed a Hammer Film. Richard Greene was the only performer from the popular series who was brought over.
To show off their wide screen process MegaScope , Hammer went to Ireland and made use of the recently opened (1958) Ardmore Studios , as well as the green countryside surrounding in County Wicklow. Cinematographer Ken Hodges was no stranger to period dramas, having manned the camera on ITC’s THE BUCCANEER (1956), THE ADVENTURES OF SIR LANCELOT (1956-7), SWORD OF FREEDOM (1957-9) and of course ,13 episodes of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, all for television. He makes great use of the lush colors that the natural locations provided.
Music was provided by composer Alun Hoddinott, of which this was his first of only four film scores. His music was marked by a strong Celtic air, and he was later awarded a CBE. Works like this made him a perfect choice for the film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A–QSwlq-94 Composer Stanley Black wrote (uncredited) some of the ballads used within the film .
Filming took place between May 23 through July 8,1960. The film was edited scored, given its ‘U’ certificate (suitable for all audiences) uncut and released on Boxing Day, December 26,1960 in the U.K., with an Irish and American release following in January ,1961.
After the titles, the film begins with a wounded fugitive (an uncredited Desmond Llewelyn, 3 years before FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE ,U.A. 1963, as Boothroyd, before being properly named ‘Q’ in GOLDFINGER the following year) toppling off his horse, shot in the back by an arrow*.
Two of Robin’s men find the man and start going through his belongings. Robin Hood (Richard Greene) shows up and finds that the pair are in error, and that the man is not dead. Robin insists they bring him back to their camp where he can get treated.
They hear a sound and Robin draws his bow, telling whomever is hiding to come out. It is a quickly dressing Maid Marian (Sarah Branch who had appeared in Hammer’s 1959 HELL IS A CITY), who had been bathing au naturel but emerges with a very modern hair style, when she happened to catch sight of the man’s fall. She thinks the trio are the culprits, but Robin shows that the arrow used is not one of theirs, but from a crossbow.
Marian tries to set up a meeting with the Sheriff (Peter Cushing, looking as always born into whatever period he finds the films set within), but Robin is suspicious of the Sheriff’s motives. He was wise to be, as the Sheriff is up to his expected tricks, with one of Robin’s men killed in an attack
Robin, disguised, enters an archery contest and catches the eye of the Earl of Newark (Richard Pasco, later to appear in Hammer’s THE GORGON, Columbia ,1964). Robin plays along and discovers a plot to murder Archbishop Hubert Walter (Jack Gwillim, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, Hammer/Columbia,1964) .
By the way, there really was an Archbishop Hubert Walter, who had accompanied Richard 1st on the Crusades, helped raise the ransom for Richard when he was held captive in Germany, and as a reward was appointed Archbishop in 1193.
Back to the movie : The Earl has also a psychotic assistant in Lord Melton (a rising star, Oliver Reed, soon to top bill in several Hammer films before going on to international fame) who does something quite unexpected ¾ of the way into the film, which gets him chastised by the Earl, rather than the expected praise .
By the movie’s end, Robin, Marian, and the Merry Men emerge victorious, with the baddies all slain.
The production is first rate and moves at a rapid pace. Besides the performers already mentioned, there is also able support from Dennis Lotis (singer actor, known for CITY OF THE DEAD/HORROR HOTEL, Vulcan 1960. Lotis, at age 93, is still alive at the time of this writing ,living in Stiffkey in Norfolk England )as Alan A ‘Dale ; 6’ 4” Nigel Green(later to portray Hercules in JASON & THE ARGONAUTS, Columbia,1963)as Little John ,and Irish born actor Niall MacGinnis (forever to be remembered as Karswell from the classic NIGHT(CURSE)OF THE DEMON, Columbia,1957) .
Hammer returned twice more to Sherwood, with 1967’s A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (7 Arts) as well as Hammer releasing WOLFSHEAD: THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD in 1973. SWORD OF SHERWOOD, however, is perhaps the best of all their tellings of the legend.
Columbia released their Robin Hood films (Bandit, Sword, Rogues) to DVD in 2010 in no frill versions. Now TWILIGHT TIME has once again licensed one of the Hammer/Columbia releases, and given the film a proper sprucing up for Blu Ray release.
Limited as always to only 3,000 copies, the film is released in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio which was the proper 4 perf 35mm aspect ratio of Megascope (some Hammer films used Hammerscope, which was basically the same process). Some Megascope films were shot in the regular Academy frame and then printed on 4 perf 35mm anamorphic ( -source : http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/glossary.htm ).
The 1080p HD is a beautiful transfer, which superb details and colors. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 also does justice to the original sound mix, with dialogue and effects tracks being noise and pop free.
A separate isolated audio track of both Hoddinott’s score as well as sound effects.
Optional English subtitles which are clear, easy to read and follow the action and dialogue accurately.
The original theatrical trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rJQ5ZTc90M
There is the always welcome Julie Kirgo booklet enclosed as well as a reversible cover for the blu ray. One wishes that they had gone for a more dynamic cover, even if from one of the oversea releases.
Still the cover is an incredibly minor quibble on what is once again a wonderful release of an entertaining action adventure film.
With the recent release of the $100 million plus dud from LIONSGATE this year, may I suggest that you rush out and buy this Blu Ray to see how to tell the tale properly and on a sensible budget, when filmmakers did not rely on outlandish CGI, but had talented craftsman telling a well written story.
-Kevin G Shinnick
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*-Hammer’s MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST also began with a rider shot with an arrow to get the story going.