A hundred years into the three hundred year existence of the Templars, there lived a daring chap called Robin Hood – or so we think. The story of the outlaw who robbed the rich to help the poor has enthralled generations of children and made a tidy sum for Hollywood as well. Today, the BBC is airing a 1960 movie called Sword of Sherwood Forest – there’s more wood in the acting than Sherwood Forest! The late Richard Greene is badly cast as Robin and Peter Cushing – a brilliant horror movie regular – has to cope with a clunky script as Sheriff of Nottingham. The only plus point of this dreary epic is Oliver Reed chewing the furniture as a very evil Norman!
The earliest Robin Hood movie I could find was “Robin Hood Outlawed” made in 1912 by the British and Colonial Kinematograph Company. There’s also a film short made in 1908 called “Robin Hood and his Merry Men“. But the actor who took a grip of the role and made it Hollywood gold was Errol Flynn. The Adventures of Robin Hood takes the usual line that Robin is a Saxon noble forced to rebel against a brutal Norman aristocracy.
He forms his band of Merry Men including Friar Tuck and Little John and takes on the Normans. And what a bunch of evil-doers the Normans are! There’s the Sheriff, of course, but also Sir Guy of Gisbourne – played by Basil Rathbone who more famously portrayed Sherlock Holmes – and bad King John – a part taken by Claude Rains who you might also know as the French police officer in the movie Casablanca.
Over the decades, we had serious and comic portrayals of Robin Hood and a full length cartoon feature from Walt Disney. I suppose the most notable contribution in recent times was Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – a film I find largely unwatchable now apart from the hilariously camp portrayal of the Sheriff by Alan Rickman. There’s also the interesting addition of a Moorish outlaw, depicted by Morgan Freeman. This movie gave rise to the spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights – a depressing two hours of ‘comedy’ that didn’t raise a laugh here.
More recently, Russell Crowe was directed by Ridley Scott in a version of the tale that captured our modern feelings about war as dirty and bloody. Unusually – and bravely – it took on historical themes never touched previously like the attempted French invasion of England under King John. There’s a tendency to delve into the darker side of fictional characters these days but I’m not sure this experiment worked and the end of the movie felt distinctly anti-climactic.