Saturday, May 03, 2014

Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, 3rd May 2014

In due course this will be left as a more permanent post on THIS SITE.

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Sunday, March 02, 2014

Robin Hood Ghosts of Sherwood (2012).

The film begins with Marian being escorted through Sherwood Forest. An old woman warns the soldiers not to enter Sherwood at night because of the ghosts. They of course do not heed the warning and all are killed by bandits (not ghosts), leaving Marian unprotected. Enter Robin Hood, who offers Marian safe refuge in his camp overnight where she also meets Will and Friar Tuck. It transpires that Marian is the Sheriff of Nottingham’s cousin and, although she doesn’t approve of Robin being a thief, she dislikes the Sheriff even more for being a womanizer. There is a tiresome long debate about Robin’s personal brand of politics and philosophy (he’s something between a communist and a late 1960s hippy), as a result of which Marian decides to assist the Merry Men to steal the Sheriff’s gold. We know they’re merry because they are seen to merrily dance the night away. Before approaching the stone ruins which pass for Nottingham Castle they disguise themselves by taking the first of what will become a seemingly endless series of potions in order to change their appearance.

Cutting a long story mercifully short, whilst stealing the gold the three outlaws are captured and killed. However, in return for his eventual soul, Robin is saved from death by a witch in the woods, and he in turn uses her magic potion to restore Will and Tuck to life. All now return to Sherwood Forest in time for a pop musical interlude featuring romantic montages of Robin and Marian.

The movie resumes as Robin explains to Marian why he hasn’t long to live, after which she returns to the witch in the woods and strikes a bargain: Break the curse on Robin in exchange for gold to buy other souls with. The deal is done, but when they return to camp everyone is being slaughtered, and both Robin and Tuck are killed (again) in the ensuing fight.

Now enter Little John who, after more tedious discussion about prescribed doses and ethics, helps Marian administer the magic life restoring potion to the dead outlaws around them. (They’re unsure of the correct dosage because John chopped the witch’s head off before it had been established). So, yes you guessed it, where once were the merry men now stand the not so merry zombies of Sherwood.

A very low budget German / American co-production, “Robin Hood Ghosts of Sherwood” is probably the worst Robin Hood (or zombie) movie one might ever see. However, in an age of digital screenings and straight to DVD manufacturing, it merits a review here. The cast are less capable than a poor amateur dramatic society, whilst the dubbed voices include a range of juxtaposing accents. (Marian being broad New York with a hint of oriental descent). It is not bereft of some interesting ideas, but none are explored with focus nor talent.


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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Will the Bowman, the forgotten outlaw.

Amongst the statues of Robin Hood's outlaws at the base of Castle Rock, Nottingham, is a figure no-one today recognises. (I myself thought it was Much the Miller's son). It is in fact Will Stutely, also known as Will the Bowman, an outlaw now all but forgotten, but certainly known to avid readers of Howard Pyle's "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood", published in 1883, and the main source of entertainment for all things Robin Hood until Hollywood came along. Will Stutely is not mentioned in the very earliest ballads about Robin Hood, and most researchers believe his creation in literature is based on a confusion with Will Scarlet, (a.k.a. Scarlock, Scadlock, Scatheloke, etc.) However, because there are a few stories where Will the Bowman and Will Scarlet appear together, he is worth investigation.
Above: Bill Owen as Stutely in "The Story of Robin Hood".

Will "the Bowman" Stutely is included in the Nottingham statue because this site below the Castle is where (according to local legend), he was rescued from the gallows by Robin Hood, having been found guilty of spying on the Sheriff of Nottingham. However, thrilling as that story might be for the tourist trade, it is flawed. Firstly, it was Little John who actually cut Stutely's bonds and fought off the Sheriff's men alongside Stutely until Robin got there. Secondly, a much more likely site for the hanging was Gallow's Hill (junction of Forest Road E / Mapperley Road), where outlaw bodies would be left swaying in the wind at the entrance to the town as a warning to others. Once a member of Robin Hood's Merrry Men Will Stutely is sometimes credited as being the person who gives John Little his outlaw name, (a credit which also goes to Will Scarlett), and being the person entrusted by Robin to find Alan A Dale who was trying to save his future bride from an arranged marriage. His most prominent film appearance to date is in Walt Disney's excellent "Story of Robin Hood" (SEE THIS LINK), which includes Stutely, Scathelock, and Scarlett! The 1950s TV series "Adventures of Robin Hood" (SEE THIS LINK) also made good use of Will Stutely's rescue from the gallows.
Above left: Robert Desmond as Will Stutely in 1950s TV "A Guest for the gallows". Right: Michael Hordern appeared alongside Bill Owen as Scathelock (neither Stutely or Scarlett) in "The Story of Robin Hood".

My video of the locations in which outlaws were hung in Nottingham can be seen on this link: Nottingham Executions.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Robin Hood (1912) and other silent Robin Hood movies.

Douglas Fairbanks' "Robin Hood" (1922) was not the first movie about the famous outlaw. Long since established as a tried and tested success in theatres, the story of Robin Hood was an obvious choice for emerging early 20th century film makers. (See list below).

One such film which has survived is American Éclair’s “Robin Hood” (1912). An American branch of the French film manufacturing company, Éclair Studios specialised in short films, state of the art in their day, but soon to be overshadowed by the emerging Hollywood industry. (Not to mention a fire in 1914 which destroyed both studios and negatives alike).

“Robin Hood” was directed by Étienne Arnaud and Herbert Blaché. Robert Frazer took the lead role, with Barbara Tennant as his Maid Marian. (Robert Frazer would survive the change from “silents” to “talkies”, appearing in such films as “White Zombie” and “The Vampire Bat”.) Shot in New York, and written by Eustace Hale Ball, the plot involves Guy of Gisbourne and Robin vying for Maid Marian's favour. No surprises there. But what today appears most dated and “odd” to a modern audience is the way the virtues of each character are conveyed to the audience via the momentary superimposition of an animal head. Good guys get good animals, bad guys, bad. For cast list see comments box.

Above: Robin Hood and his Merry Men are startled to find the disguised stranger in their midst turns out to be King Richard. Below: Friar Tuck performs the marriage ceremony for Robin Hood and Maid Marian.


Robin Hood silent movies:

1. "Robin Hood and his Merry Men" (1908). Dir. Percy Stow. Robin saves a man from the Sheriff of Nottingham's gallows.

2. "Robin Hood" (1912). SEE ABOVE ARTICLE.

3. "Robin Hood Outlawed" (1912). Dir. Charles Raymond. Robin is an outlawed Earl who forms an outlaw band and saves a girl from a knight. A Brian Plant as Robin Hood, Ivy Martinek as Marian. Made in the same year, but different from the above article.

4. "In the Days of Robin Hood" (1913). Dir. F. Martin Thornton. Robin disguises himself as a monk in order to enter the castle and rescue one of his men. Harry Agar Lyons as Robin Hood. Lyons would achieve greater fame as Fu Manchu. This movie is interesting because it was filmed using Nottingham locations, and in Natural Colour Kinematography.

5. "Ivanhoe" (1913). Dir. Herbert Brenon. Robin helps Ivanhoe rescue Rebecca of York from the clutches of Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert. Walter Thomas as Robin Hood. NOTE: Two different films of this title were made in this year. One American, the other British. This is the American version.

6. "Robin Hood" (Alt Title: Robin Hood and Maid Marian) (1913). Dir. Theodore Marston. William Russell as Robin Hood. Robin and his followers help the poor from their hideout in Sherwood Forest, chased by the Sheriff of Nottingham. NOTE: There is a reference on the internet to "another" 1913 film called Robin Hood in which Robin wins an archery contest and helps Alan a Dale rescue his sweetheart. I would suggest this is either number 4 or 6 from this list.(?)

7. "Robin Hood" (1922). Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood. See THIS LINK for pics and review.

8. Robin Hood Jr. (1923). Dir. Clarence Bricker. Frankie Lee as the young Robin Hood.

For more Robin Hood silent movie pictures see THIS LINK.

See Comments Box for cast listings of Robin Hood silent movies.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Robin Hood (1906) the stage play.

The legend of Robin Hood had of course been the basis of many stage plays well before 1906. As far back as the Tudor period in England, when the growth of theatres positively thrived, "morality plays" were enthusiastically received by the largely uneducated public, and what better theme than Robin Hood? In fact so popular was Robin as a subject that the governments of the day grew rather concerned. All well and good to deliver plays called "Jealousy" or "Greed", but what kind of message might be gleaned from an outlaw who robbed from the rich? There is a quote from one Bishop Latimer (dated 1549), that tells of him travelling to London and stopping along the way, only to find the church door locked. When enquiring as to why, he was told "Sir, this is a busy day, it is Robin Hood's day". The Bishop recorded his concern: "Robin Hood, a traitor and a thief. It is a weeping matter when people prefer Robin Hood to God's word."

At the start of the 20th Century, and before cinema largely replaced the theatre, Lewis Waller was the most famous actor to portray Robin Hood prior to Douglas Fairbanks. Born in Spain in 1860, he formed his own company in Haymarket c.1895, producing and performing the lead role in "Henry V". Similar appearances ensured his reputation grew fast. In 1906, at the Lyric Theatre, London, he took the lead role in "Robin Hood". This was William Devereux's first play, written in collaboration with Henry Hamilton, and it ran to 163 performances, plus matinees. A further measure of its success was the number of promo postcards it elicited.

Little is known of the plot line. Certainly the emphasis would seem to have been on romance, with Robin Hood / Earl of Huntingdon (Lewis Waller), using a servant girl Adela (Dorothy Minto), to deliver his amorous messages to Maid Marian / Lady Marian de Vaux, Evelyn Millard. Playwright William Devereux played King John, and a postcard of Ethelbert Edwards, known for his height, suggests Little John was also present. Many of these names would go on to have very successful careers in the emerging silent movie industry.

Above L-R: Lewis Waller as Robin Hood, Evelyn Millard as Maid Marian, Ethelbert Edwards as Little John. For more pictures from this production see THIS LINK.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Robin Hood: What bow did he use?

Above: Robin Hood draws his Welsh longbow in "Wolfshead" (1969).

Robin Hood would have used at least two different bows. One simply for hunting game in Sherwood Forest, and one powerful enough to penetrate armour when confronted by the Sheriff of Nottingham's or Prince John's soldiers and constabulary. And to do the latter he would have used one of the the most powerful weapons of medieval times: The Longbow.

The Longbow originated in Wales, a fact alluded to in the movie "Wolfshead" (1969). The Welsh used it to fight off attacks from the English before the end of the 11th century. The English recognised its awesome power and soon adopted it as their weapon of choice, so contrary to some people's belief, the Longbow was around at the time of Robin Hood albeit perhaps not yet fully established in the English army. As the decades passed it became known as the English longbow. Knights had no protection against the arrows of the longbow, which could pierce their armour more than 250 yards away. For example, at the Battle of Crecy (1364), the French lost 2000 Knights and soldiers, compared with only 50 English fatalities!

In the military, a longbow was made to measure, depending on the individual archer's height, and it is interesting to speculate whether or not Robin Hood might have received some military training. The English longbow would normally have been made of Yew, whereas the Welsh preferred Elm. It would have been protected by wax or resin, and the string made of hemp soaked in glue. Longbow arrows were about 3 feet long and came in a various types according to whether one wanted to bring down a horse, pierce chain mail or armour plate.

So powerful was the bow that skeletons of longbow archers are often found deformed, with enlarged left arms and bone spurs on their left wrists, left shoulders and right fingers. A skilled military archer would have been capable of firing 12 arrows per minute, and we can be sure Robin Hood would have matched that. However, whereas a military archer's arrow was one small part of a huge volley, Robin Hood's reputation is that of an expert individual marksman. According to legend the Yew for Robin Hood's bow came from a Papplewick churchyard, and it is worth noting that such trees were well known for their medicinal, symbolic and spiritual qualities.

For more pictures of Robin Hood and his bow click on THIS LINK, and THIS LINK.

Did you know? The English Archery Law of the 13th century ordered that all Englishmen between the ages of 15 to 60 years old must equip themselves with a bow and arrows. King Edward 3rd further commanded obligatory archery practise on Sundays. This Archery Law "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise". King Henry 1st later proclaimed that an archer would be absolved of murder if he killed a man during archery practise. So if you're reading this in the UK, get practising!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Princess of Thieves (2001)

"Princess of Thieves" is a made-for-TV low budget movie, the title of which might imply it was a sequel to "Prince of Thieves", though the content is clearly not. The plot explores the theme "what if Robin Hood had a child?" Of course that notion had been addressed before in movies like "Bandit of Sherwood Forest" and "Rogues of Sherwood Forest", but the difference this time is that the child is a daughter.

Gwen "Hood" Loxley has grown up more or less neglected by her father Robin Hood whilst he was overseas fighting alongside King Richard. After the death of Richard, Robin returns home to try and ensure Prince Philip takes the throne and not Prince John. When Robin is captured it is up to his daughter Gwen to prove herself to her father.

Aimed at a pre-teen / teen audience, the movie is all about the equality of girls, teenage angst, "my parents don't understand me", and unrequited love type references. This would be fine if the result tackled those ideas in anything like as effective a manner as Lucy Griffiths' superb portrayal of Marian in BBC's 2006 Robin Hood. But it does not. At the end of the film Prince John calls to Prince Philip "History will ignore you!" Robin Hood fans will no doubt feel the same about this film, but I concede that on the internet it does have its fans.

(Cast list in Comments box).

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946)

Above: Cornel Wilde as Robert, Son of Robin Hood.

Robin Hood, now the silver haired Earl of Huntingdon some 20 years after his exploits as the legendary outlaw of Sherwood Forest, learns that The Regent William of Pembroke is scheming to revoke the Magna Carta. The aging Robin argues against Pembroke and as a consequence is outlawed, whilst the Boy King is also kidnapped by Pembroke from the Queen. And so it is that Robin Hood / Earl of Huntington calls together his outlaw gang of old (seeming hundreds of whom come charging out of Sherwood Forest riding stallions and looking like a cross between the 7th Cavalry and Geronimo’s Apaches), whilst the Queen and Lady Catherine take shelter with the “old hag” Mother Meg.

Above: An aging Robin Hood with Merry Men Little John and Alan A Dale.

The actual hero of the film is Robert Hood, son of Robin, who in time honoured tradition proves his strengths in a good hearted sword fight with Friar Tuck. This idea of making the son of Robin Hood the central character will be used again in 1950’s “Rogues of Sherwood Forest”. However, the difference here is that the original, aging Robin Hood is still alive and fights alongside Robert.


Above: The original Robin Hood as earl of Huntington.

It would be easy to be cynical about the Bandit of Sherwood Forest, especially Cornel Wilde’s padded shoulders and huge pointy hat which make him look like Peter Pan on steroids. Also, note how in 1946 it was perfectly acceptable for the hero to creep up on a girl he’d never met, spy on her bathing, then forcibly kiss her, all within the space of about 60 seconds, only to have her fall instantly in love with him. However, I found it to be an enjoyable, well crafted, colourful adventure, in which all the legend’s main characters are present. (Apart from Marian, where there is an almost unspoken implication that Robert was raised by the “old hag” Mother Meg). As with the aforementioned “Rogues of Sherwood Forest”, “Bandit of Sherwood Forest” is intended to be seen as a possible sequel to the Errol Flynn classic, and comes complete with an attempt to duplicate the former film's staircase duel at the end.

(Note: The media would have you believe Russell Crowe was the oldest actor to play Robin Hood. Now you know better! Russell Hicks was 51 years old when he played the role in this film.)

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Robin Hood (2010)

“Robin Hood” (2010), may possibly disappoint as many Robin Hood fans as it will surely please admirers of director Ridley Scott, but make no mistake this is a fine movie and one with far more integrity than the stream of semi-mindless blockbusters which bombard the cinema screens of its time. Where would the disappointment lay? Well, certainly not in the absence of men in little green hats and tights. To suggest such is ludicrous, and well out of touch with the appetites of the Robin Hood audience as it has developed post-Michael Praed. But what is lacking is something of the audacity we expect from the main character; that quality which has us both smile and gasp at his daring exploits in one and the same breath. Russell Crowe’s Robin is undoubtedly heroic, and a man of principle, but he is perhaps more akin to Ned Kelly or Jesse James than he is to a Zorro or Scarlet Pimpernel type.

Ridley Scott approaches the legend by basing his movie on the premise that Robin Hood was in reality Robin Longstride, thereby claiming more “historical accuracy” than has been the case with previous films on the subject. But that seems as foolish to me as claiming a film about Dracula which takes into account Vlad the Impaler, is therefore more “historically accurate” than sticking to the novel. The theory does not stand up to scrutiny, and can result in a dull movie. Thankfully, Ridley Scott’s movie about Robin Hood is not dull. (In fact, although not my favourite Hood movie, I think it’s possibly Scott’s career best).
The story involves the archer Robin Longstride, serving in the Crusades. When King Richard is killed, Robin, Little John, Alan A Dale and Will Scarlet leave for England. Meanwhile another “Robin”, the knight Robin of Loxley, has been entrusted to return King Richard’s crown to England. When Loxley is ambushed and fatefully wounded, he passes the crown and his sword to Robin Longstride, asking him to complete the mission. It is in this way that Robin Longstride will become the new Robin of Loxley, inheriting both his lands and his wife Marian. Only at the end of the movie do we see Robin banished as an outlaw by a King John jealous of the way his soldiers admire Robin’s courage in defeating the French. (Sounds complicated, but it’s really not).
The emphasis being on action and the political manoeuvrings which went with the transition from King Richard to King John, there is little time to study the characters apart from Robin and Marian, and that is to the movie’s detriment. (I would also have liked to see more to of the feral children in the forest; a splendid, original idea). But Friar Tuck and the Sheriff of Nottingham are all in place should a sequel ever get made. And if there is no sequel? Well I still came away thinking this was more of a Robin Hood movie than most reviews in the media would have you believe.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950)


Without specifically saying so, “Rogues of Sherwood Forest” suggests itself to be a kind of sequel to the “Adventures of Robin Hood”, and features the son of Robin Hood. This conception is given added credence with the repeat performance by Alan Hale as Little John. (This was Hale’s third performance in the role, the first being the Douglas Fairbanks version. Sadly, it would also prove to be his final film). However, this being 1950 Hollywood, no specific details are given regarding his father’s marriage to a Marian, or how babies might be made. (Note: In 1939, Tarzan and Jane could not be filmed as a married couple in the jungle and had to “find” a son in the wreckage of a plane in “Tarzan Finds A Son”.) Similarly, the “Marian” in this story is the conveniently similarly named Marianne de Beaudray. But don’t let any of that put you off.

The plot involves Little John and young Robin, Earl of Huntingdon, returned from the Crusades and living in an England ruled by King John. The King holds a grudge against Robin because of his father’s exploits as the original Robin Hood, and so arranges a jousting contest in which the young Earl is meant to be killed. Needless to say, after some flirting with Lady Marianne, Robin survives the contest.



King John is having trouble enforcing his rule in England, and needs more troops to impose his will on the people. He seeks to buy Flemish troops from the Count of Flanders, but to do so he must raise the money by introducing punitive taxes. When Robin opposes him he is outlawed and his lands confiscated. Robin then responds by becoming the outlaw his father once was and, at Little John’s suggestion, gathers together the original “merry men” (though not, it should be stressed, the original actors apart from Hale). And, of course, Marianne plays her part as an informant to the outlaws regarding the King’s plans.



I thoroughly enjoyed the film. A colourful, light hearted piece of entertainment with all the iconic outlaws present, even if (as is the point), they are more advanced in years than most films depict them. It would have been nice to hear how the original Robin had died (we don’t), and yes it is a bit strong to suggest King John signed the Magna Carter because of Robin Hood’s son. But hey, those fans who prefer their Robin Hood in such splendid attire, with lots of galloping of horses hooves through the forest, as lots of arrows find their targets in the chests of shiny helmeted soldiers, will find plenty to enjoy. I certainly did.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Beyond Sherwood Forest (2009)


Above: Robin Hood (Robin Dunne) falls to the Sheriff of Nottingham's blade ((Julian Sands).

“Beyond Sherwood Forest” was the first internet movie version of Robin Hood, made for an age when entertainment on the ‘net challenged television ratings like television once challenged the movies.

Three riders charged with looking after Nottingham in King Richard’s absence, are attacked by a dragon. It slays one of the men outright, before being wounded by a second and diving into Sherwood Forest. But when the remaining two men go in search all they find slumped against a tree is a naked girl with an arrow in her side. Malcolm, the superior of the two, plunges his sword into the girl but she cannot be killed. So, realising what a powerful weapon she could prove to be in his plan to become Sheriff of Nottingham and side with Prince John against the King, he kills the other man, Loxley, and takes the girl prisoner. However, watching on from the bushes is the young boy Robert of Loxley who, seeing his father killed in this way, flees deeper into the forest. There he comes to rest before a mystical portal in the trees, leading to another world Beyond Sherwood Forest.

Above: Alina (Katharine Isabelle) the cursed girl who becomes a dragon when exposed to sunlight.

We then fast forward several years. Marian is practising her skills with a long staff, and arguing with her father over her imminent arranged marriage to Duke Leopold of Austria. When her father refuses to see her point of view, she runs away into the forest, attempting to disguise herself as a man, only to encounter Robin Hood who demands from her some payment. In an interesting twist on the original legend, Robin and Marian fight with long staffs on the bridge whilst Little John looks on. Even when revealed as a woman, Robin Hood fails to recognise his childhood friend Marian, and she, disapproving of outlaws, decides to keep that secret from him until a time later on in the plot when she sees how he “gives to the poor”.

Meanwhile, after hearing that Robin Hood has ambushed a treasure chest intended for Prince John and containing the wedding dowry, the Sheriff of Nottingham visits his “dragon girl” Alina in the dungeons deep beneath his Castle. He has something Alina desperately wants back (no spoilers here), but in order to regain it she must capture “the Man in the Hood”. Once exposed to sunlight, Alina transforms into the dragon and takes to the skies over Nottingham to complete her quest.
Above: Will Scarlet (Richard de Klerk) fights the dragon.

Are you with me so far? It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and the next part of the film sees Robin hood and Little John joined by Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck, before finally embarking on their journey to the world Beyond Sherwood Forest; a place which holds the secret of how the dragon can be slain. This is the land of the Syrans, and the Temple of the Elders, who are the Keepers of the Trees. But to get there and find the Tree of Life, Robin Hood must ward off attacks from bats, wolves, and meet the challenge of climbing a huge rock face. Yes, you guessed it, this is the stuff of computer game plot lines as both Robin Hood and the dragon strive to reach their individual respective “prize”. One wonders if that is what is intended? Is a pc game far behind?
Above: Robin Hood's first internet outlaws? Will Scarlet (Richard de Klerk), Little John (Mark Gibbon), and Maid Marian (Erica Durance).
But I found “Beyond Sherwood Forest” to be an entertaining, enjoyable adventure; one which utilises the familiar personnel as iconic heroes rather than getting too involved in character development and origins. The low budget location shooting combines very well with the special effects and the cast throughout give good performances. Special mention goes to the wonderful Katharine Isabelle, of “Ginger Snaps” fame, for her portrayal of the dragon girl Alina. Also, David Richmond-Peck for his Prince John. It’s a small part, but effective.
More pictures of Alina and the dragon on THIS LINK.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Wolfshead, the Legend of Robin Hood. (1969)

“Wolfshead” was the fourth and final Robin Hood film to be associated with the Hammer company, more famous for their horror movies of the 1960s. However, it’s production history is not so simple. This very gritty version of the Robin Hood story was initially produced by London Weekend Television, intended as a pilot for a subsequent series. But when the television company decided against taking up that option, Hammer purchased the pilot, subsequently circulating it under their name and copyright. This explains why the film is featured in the “Costumes” episode of the 1990 “World of Hammer” documentary. (Copies sold today on internet auction sites usually come from a later TV source in which the original title was blacked out in favour of a rather crude graphic reading “The Legend of Young Robin Hood”).

“Wolfshead” was the first contemporary telling of the story of Robin Hood. Filmed entirely out on location in North Wales, it’s characters struggle for existence across a bleak, windswept, winter landscape. All thoughts of Merry Men in Lincoln Green are dispensed with in favour of an attempt to portray with greater realism the conflict between the Saxon farmers and the Norman baron’s intent on seizing their properties.
The story: Robert of Loxley, a simple farmer, is working his land with friend Much, when a fellow Saxon runs through their property attempting to escape Sir Jeffrey and the Royal Game Warden. Robert denies seeing the alleged poacher, and (in time honoured tradition), the fight which ensues is destined to seal his fate.

When Sir Jeffrey’s brother, Roger of Doncaster, learns that Robert of Loxley was not killed for his insolence, he determines to use the incident to have him arrested and his lands confiscated. Sir Roger’s ulterior motive is that his intended bride Lady Marian Fitzwater, has a crush on Robert from childhood, and this stands in the way of his marriage to her. So he enlists the help of the Abbott to have Robert made a Wolfshead: An outlaw who’s head is worth that of a wolf’s, dead or alive.

Returning from a secret meeting with Marian (who’s childhood name for him is “Robin”), Robert finds his farm burnt to the ground and his sister murdered. Nearby forest dweller Friar Tuck takes care of the survivors, whilst Robert himself is forced to flee. Much joins Robin, presenting him with his father’s Welsh bow, “powerful enough to stop a bear and pierce plate iron”. From this moment Robert refers to himself as Robin, as both a disguise, and a means of communicating via secret messages to Marian. After a while, when attempting to cross a river in search of a safer hiding place, Robin meets John Little on the bridge (how they didn’t freeze to death in those temperatures I’ll never know), and later still recruits Will Stukely, whose coat, whilst not exactly Scarlet, is of a suspiciously familiar shade of “rusty red”. And so it is that, directly after this band of outlaws take to wearing Hoods as a disguise, and nominate Robin as their leader, the short film comes to a close with Robin Hood and his familiar band of outlaws, poised to do battle against villain Roger of Doncaster and his sadistic sister, who by the way quite fancies Robin for herself. (Shades of Isabella Gisborne in BBC’s Robin Hood?)

“Wolfshead” is the start of the story of Robin Hood, and leaves us just as the Legend is about to begin. Sadly, the subsequent TV series was never made. This pilot was just too far ahead of it’s time. Maybe it still is. But this grim telling of the tale, with it’s clear attempts at authentic references, is highly recommended to Robin Hood fans who find the sequins on Errol Flynn’s green costume a little hard to take. Special mention should be made not just of Director John Hough, but of Director of Photography David Holmes, who’s camera angles are a visual feast.

More about Hammer Films dark visions of Robin Hood can be seen on THIS LINK, THIS LINK, and THIS LINK. Also, if you like the mystical aspects of Robin Hood, you might enjoy "Beyond Sherwood Forest".

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

"The New Adventures of Robin Hood" (1997)


"The New Adventures of Robin Hood", is frequently referred to as the "Xena" version of the legend. In truth, it was never up to the standards of "Xena, Warrior Princess", but it does employ a similar mindset in its most basic production values: An emphasis on action (heavily overdubbed with martial arts style sound effects), and "camp", tongue in cheek humour.
Matthew Porretta, having already lost his soul by playing Will Scarlett O'Hara in 1993's "Robin Hood men in Tights" (a film which these blogs will always decline to review), took the lead role as Robin Hood for seasons 1 and 2. To his credit, Porretta does have a strong on screen charisma, and one wonders what he might have made of the role in a much more serious, higher budget production. He was replaced in seasons 3 and 4 by John Bradley, who acquitted himself well (though less successfully) in a more rugged interpretation of the role.
Anna Galvin (season 1) and Barbara Griffin as Marion FitzWalter (seasons 2 - 4), were required to do little more than strut their whip cracking stuff in red leather miniskirts, resembling gum chewing cheer leaders rather more than maidens of Sherwood Forest. And mention should be made of Hakim Alston as Kemal, who carried on the contemporary tradition of including a black (or Saracen) outlaw amongst the "merry men". The rest of the regular cast are entirely forgettable, but Robin of Sherwood fans will want to see the late great Robert Addie (not looking too well), in an episode called "the Devil's Bride".
"The New Adventures of Robin Hood" makes no attempt at character development, schedules more noisy swordfights per episode than commercial breaks, and frequently uses costumes which resemble left overs from the Mad Max movie villains. The lack of any sense of continuity throughout the series makes meaningful review impossible. But you know what? The shear ridiculous nature of it all does make it a sort of guilty pleasure. Good fun. If this approach to Robin Hood is to your liking you might also enjoy the cult favourite "Beyond Sherwood Forest".

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Robin Hood Series 2 (2007)

The advance publicity for Robin Hood series 2 heralded it as a "much darker" drama than series one had been. Just how much darker was not anticipated, and whilst the best of its episodes were certainly on a par with the best of series one, the conclusion in which Marian was murdered, alienated infinitely more fans than it ever stood to win.

For much of series two, the smiling, heroic, charismatic Robin Hood which Jonas Armstrong had portrayed before, was a thing of the past. If anything the second series documents the mental breakdown of the character, as hero becomes loser: Allan A ' Dale deserts him and turns traitor; his fiancé, Marian, rejects the idea of living in the forest with him, preferring to return to Nottingham; John disobeys him and briefly returns to the traditional "give to the poor" concept; and perhaps worst of all, Robin Hood frequently kills his enemies. The basic reason for all of this is Robin's belief that everything depends on King Richard's return from the Holy Wars, whereas Marian and the Outlaws feel the welfare of Nottingham should be their number one concern. And against this backdrop of "darkness and despair", popular characters like Will Scarlet (Harry Lloyd), and especially Djaq (Anjali Jay), are notably absent from the screen.
Nevertheless, although this reviewer's preference is for the characters as portrayed in the first series, episodes 1 - 7 of series 2 continued to thrill and delight fans everywhere. The tension created between Jonas Armstrong's Robin Hood and Joe Armstrong's Allan A' Dale, was palpable, culminating in some great fight scenes, and (need we say it), Lucy Griffiths as Marian continued to be the most popular cast member with readers of this site, turning in consistently outstanding performances. Indeed, in a series which once again involved great performances from a predominantly young cast, the only thing which lacked real consistency, was the writing.
Internet debates over the removal of Lucy Griffiths from the show, not to mention the manner in which Marian was murdered at such an early hour, will continue to rage. Partly because the centuries old Legend is far better than anything a contemporary writer might foist upon us for a half dozen years at best; and partly because taking perhaps the single most popular cast member out of the show made no sense either financially or creatively. Put bluntly, the murder of Marian was a dumb idea, of no artistic merit.

Was Lucy pushed? The writer's say they had explored her character via the "love triangle", as far as they could. (As if that's all Maid Marian was about). Jonas has said she wanted to pursue other opportunities. (A similar comment to the BBC's). Lucy said that "whatever happens at the end of the show happens by mutual consent". Whatever official statements might say, the opportunity to expand upon Marian as a member of the Outlaws living in Sherwood Forest, not to mention her Night Watchman role (and how she acquired those skills), was thrown away. For myself, and the vast majority of readers who leave comments on Robin Hood 2007, between episodes 8 and 11 the series was leaving the tracks, only to be completely derailed in the disaster that was episodes 12 & 13.
Robin Hood Series 2 episode guide can be found on this link.
Robin Hood Series 3 episode guide will be featured on this link.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Robin Hood, BBC 1953



1953 was the year of the first televised version of Robin Hood. Directed by Joy Harington, six thirty minute episodes were broadcast live by the BBC from Gaumont-British Studios, London, from March 17 to April 21 of that year. Only one episode is believed to have survived. Patrick Troughton played the part of Robin Hood, opposite David Kossoff as the Sheriff of Nottingham. From what very little I've seen of the programme it would seem to have had a rather serious, sombre intent, but lacking the more stylish action of the Richard Greene series which was soon to follow. Of course, as we all know, Patrick Troughton went on to become Dr Who, whilst his grandson Sam Troughton would feature in Robin Hood in 2006.
Above: Patrick Troughton as Robin Hood, with Kenneth MacKintosh as Little John. Below left: Wensley Pithey as Friar Tuck. Centre: Possibly Philip Guard as Will Scarlet. Right: Possibly John Breslin as Alan A Dale.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Robin Hood (BBC TV 2006)

In 2006 it seemed the BBC could do no wrong as their programmes regularly beat all independent UK companies in the ratings wars. One particular jewel in their crown was the revised and award winning Doctor Who. So, as that series came to the end of its season, the BBC looked around for a similar vehicle with which to replace it. They chose the story of Robin Hood, perhaps not out of any great passion or knowledge of the legend, but more as a well known hero they could base a popular programme around.
Indeed, the early episodes did suffer a little through lack of a clear direction. Characters had been swapped around for no apparent reason: Instead of Much being caught poaching at the start, it was now a none musical Alan A ' Dale; instead of Will Scarlet being the previous leader of a gang of outlaws, it was now Little John; instead of John being Robin's second in command (or accompanying him on the Crusades), it was now Much. These changes often side lined certain key characters and deleted rather than replaced certain tales from the legend. For example, there was no meeting on the bridge with Little John, and no Friar Tuck at all on the grounds that a stout Tuck was no longer politically correct. Other issues which drew criticism during the early episodes included Maid Marian's seemingly super powered hair grips, and Robin Hood's two-at-a-time trick arrows. But if the series got off to a slightly uneven start, it very soon established high standards and incorporated new ideas which those who follow will have to take into account.
Filmed largely outdoors in Hungary as the season passed, and using an excellent and largely unknown young cast, the series had a gritty "realistic" quality. Jonas Armstrong (Robin Hood) proved capable of the heroic approach of Flynn and Fairbanks (back flipping from balconies or sweeping Marian up on horseback), whilst also displaying those tearful emotions not associated with the hero in the past, as when Marian rejects him or was mortally wounded. Lucy Griffiths (Maid Marian) admirably portrayed those tougher aspects of the role we've seen before in Patricia Driscoll and Uma Thurman, whilst also taking on the series’ one great new innovation, her secret identity as the Night Watchman. It will be interesting to see in future years if subsequent film makers include Marian's Night Watchman alter ego.
Special mention must also be made of Keith Allen, certainly the most villainous Sheriff of Nottingham to date. Allen’s experience and screen presence was often the satellite around which the younger cast revolved and developed their craft as he gave a classic interpretation of the role. Also, Sam Troughton as the ever loyal and ever complaining Much whose affection for his master Robin rivals that of Marian. Troughton's performance proved that making Much Robin's second in command rather than John was quite inspired, providing as it does a platform for exploring the emotions and humour in close male friendship. Anjali Rose as Djaq was not only the Saracen outlaw for the series (an idea first used in 1984's Robin of Sherwood), but became Robin Hood's first full time girl outlaw. (An idea flirted with periodically over the decades). Djaq proved an especially important character when dealing with such issues as the Crusades at a time when a real life war raged in Iraq. Other actors like Harry Lloyd and Joe Armstrong drew a huge following with teenage audiences, establishing their respective characters in a manner well placed for future development in series two.
The final episodes of this BBC version of Robin Hood reached a particularly thrilling climax. Probably the equal of any interpretation of Robin Hood there has ever been. Those who were somewhat dubious at the very start (and the series certainly had its critics), would be well advised to look again. It thoroughly deserved its ultimate success. Highly recommended.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Robin Hood (1922)

The Douglas Fairbanks version of Robin Hood (1922) is not in all truth an artistic classic of the silent movie era. But it is certainly a huge spectacle, and was designed as such to appeal to a public which had previously flocked to see him in his first historical action adventure film "The Mark of Zorro". This was a time when a cast of a thousand extras, and huge theatrical sets, provided the backdrop to Fairbanks's swashbuckling style as he produced and directed himself through a series of box office smashes.
The first part of the film concentrates on the Earl of Huntingdon as he becomes King Richard the Lionheart's favoured knight, beating the cheating Guy of Gisborne in a jousting tournament, and accompanying the King as they depart for the Crusades. The night before their departure the Earl of Huntingdon meets Lady Marian, having to rescue her from the advances of Prince John. This makes him both the enemy of the Prince and Guy, the latter of which has desires of his own for Marian.
No sooner has the King's Army departed for the Crusades than Prince John and Guy of Gisborne begin to terrorise the countryside in their attempt to take over the throne. Marian despatches the Earl's Squire (soon to become Little John), to tell both Huntingdon and King Richard of what is happening. But Huntingdon decides not to give the King the news for fear it will make him turn back from his task in the Holy Lands. So he "deserts" the King, returning to England to deal with the matter himself.No sooner is the Earl back in England than mysterious arrows (accompanied by gusts of wind), appear out of the forest, cautioning the movements of the Sheriff of Nottingham and all who are disloyal to the King. Sadly we never get to see how Friar Tuck, Alan A’ Dale, nor Will Scarlet join the Merry Men. And of course there is no legendary encounter on the bridge with Little John because he is already Robert Huntingdon's Squire. What we do get is much prancing through the forest, accompanied by a histrionic waving of arms, as if to drive home the none too subtle point that these Men are indeed Merry. The best silent films are neither this crude nor this obvious.Douglas Fairbanks was a slightly portly 39 when he made "Robin Hood". To be honest he looks older. Of interest to Robin Hood fans is the fact that Little John is played by Alan Hale, the same actor who played the part opposite Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), upon which the Fairbanks style was a notable influence. (Alan Hale would play Little John a third time in "Rogues of Sherwood Forest", 1950.) The 1922 silent version of "Robin Hood" was a huge commercial success. The fact it has aged so badly has nothing to do with the absence of sound.
More pictures from this film on THIS LINK. See Robin Hood even BEFORE silent movies were invented on THIS LINK.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Robin of Sherwood : The Jason Connery series.

When Michael Praed made the somewhat dubious career move of leaving Robin of Sherwood for a bit part in an ailing American soap opera, he obviously created something of a dilemma for the continuity of the series. The solution the producers came up with was however totally in line with the basic premise of the story; that Herne's son is a chosen one, and not a birthright title. So it was that after the death of Robin of Loxley, the mantle of the Hooded Man passed to Robert of Huntingdon.
Nevertheless, no matter how logical that solution, the general public (and a significant number of fans), did not readily take to the substitution of their hero with a bleach blonde Robin Hood, and Jason Connery had not only to live up to the expectations of a role developed by Praed, but an audience keenly aware that his dad was James Bond. Thanks to the DVD boxed set collection Robin Hood fans like me, who were more than uncertain at the time regarding the Jason Connery series, can look back and lay such apprehensions to rest.
Richard Carpenter's writing in the third series of "Robin of Sherwood", especially in the initial three transitional programmes in which Jason Connery takes over the role, is if anything even better. Clive Mantle as Little John, certainly approaches his role with greater confidence and definition, more use is made of the popular Mark Ryan as Nasir, and the sets and locations show a continued high level of investment in the continued success of the series.
The third series of Robin of Sherwood has aged well, continuing to set the bar high for those that follow. Recommended.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Legend of Robin Hood (1975)

The Legend of Robin Hood was a six part television series. Broadcast in late 1975 it then promptly disappeared for three decades until a petition campaign by Robin Hood fans encouraged its DVD release. During its absence the series became something of a legend in its own right, and expectations amongst those who had never seen it ran high.
Filmed for the most part on interior sets, the series takes the form of a historical drama, similar in style to other BBC programmes of that era. But that is not to suggest the historical content is totally accurate in regard to the throne of England, nor the original ballads about Robin Hood. This is entertainment after all.Martin Potter makes an outstanding Robin Hood. In this version he is wrongfully outlawed by King Richard himself, who believes Robin deserted him on the brink of departure for the Crusades. Potter is appropriately youthful, aggressive, but with the educated tone of a Saxon Lord. The main plot line involves the scheming Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne as they assist Prince John to take the throne from King Richard. Paul Darrow's Sheriff of Nottingham hints at the actor's subsequent performance as Avon in "Blake's 7" which made him a household name in the UK. David Dixon as the overtly camp Prince John is equally compelling, and not for the last time it is the villains of the piece who almost steal the show. Fans of Robin of Sherwood will appreciate John "Herne the Hunter" Abineri in a major role as Lady Marian's uncle, intent on marrying his niece to Guy of Gisborne in an attempt to bring Saxon and Norman together.
The Legend of Robin Hood was an important stepping stone in the modernisation of Robin Hood. It was not the first production to move away from the concept of "men in Lincoln green tights", but it was a very significant one. The general public or younger Robin Hood fans, seeking the swashbuckling style of Errol Flynn or Richard Greene, will not find it here. Fans of the Robin of Sherwood approach, full of the mysticism of the Pagan Green Man in dark damp forests, might also be disappointed at the lack of witchcraft and the emphasis firmly on changing Kingdoms. But "The Legend of Robin Hood" is recommended and rewarding viewing, full of outstanding performances.

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