Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Two competent Hollywood helmers—George Sherman of “Big Jake” and Henry Levin of “The Man from Colorado”--teamed up for the above-average Columbia Pictures’ release “The Bandit of Sherwood Forest,” yet another saga about Robin Hood and his merry men in their battle with an autocratic tyrant. Scenarists Wilfred H. Petitt of “A Thousand and One Nights” and Melvin Levy of “The Robin Hood of El Dorado” have adapted author Paul A. Castleton’s 1941 novel “The Son of Robin Hood” in a rustic outing that tampers with British history, specifically the Magna Carta. The chief difference here is Robin Hood is a gray-haired, old fart, and Will Scarlet, Allan-A-Dale, Little John and Friar Tuck appear a mite long in the tooth, too. Robin Hood, Earl of Huntington, has fathered a son with an unseen Maid Marian and the son--Robert of Nottingham--must now eclipse his father’s legendary standing. Whether he is romancing a lady-in-disguise or crossing swords with the dastardly foe, a mustached Cornel Wilde appears to be in his element. He has no end of self-confidence, and his superb skills as an archer, an equestrian, and a swordsman testify to his expertise with these weapons of warfare. Mind you, Wilde is no Errol Flynn. He lacks Flynn’s flamboyance. Moreover, he doesn’t have any scenes here that stand out from the rest of the heroics. Nevertheless, Wilde was a champion fencer on the U.S. Olympic fencing team during the 1930s, and he appears to be performing his own fighting in the finale when he clashes with bad guy Henry Daniell. Unfortunately, the dames here are nothing delectable. Wilde’s romantic interest--former Warner Brothers starlet Anita Louise--is no pin-up girl, but she is an adequate actress. Jill Esmond makes only a minor impression as the Queen Mother.

“The Bandit of Sherwood Forest” (**1/2 out of ****) opens with scores of green clad archers on horseback of every description assembling in the wilderness to hear an elderly Robin Hood (Russell Hicks of “Tarzan’s New York Adventure”) address them about imminent danger of tyranny that has loomed up in the personage of the Lord Regent, William of Pembroke (Henry Daniell of “The Sea Hawk”), who intends to repeal the Magna Carta. “Comrades,” Robin states, “I’ve called you together again because the people of England face a grave crisis. Many years ago, as Robin Hood, I led you as an outlaw band here in Sherwood Forest. Together, we resisted the tyrant King John. When he died, we dispersed because we believed that tyranny had died with him. But tyranny did not die, it merely slept. And now it has awakened again. It’s the same tyranny, different only in name. And its name is William of Pembroke, the Lord Regent. Now, the Lord Regent calls the Council of Barons to a special meeting at Nottingham Castle. As the Earl of Huntington, I will attend, but on one knows what the outcome will be. But if he dares do anything to destroy the rights given you by the Magna Carta, we must take up our swords again.”

Later, after Pembroke has rescinded the Magna Carta, Robin Hood delivers a passionate speech at the Council of Barons in Nottingham Castle against Pembroke’s actions. "I've sat here hardly believing what my ears hear or my eyes see. Have you forgotten that English blood was shed to gain the Magna Carta? Does it means nothing to you that thousands of men have died for the people's right to rule themselves, to tax themselves, to live in liberty and in dignity? Now, the Regent asks you to take away those rights, and you are ready to agree. How can you face your families, your friends, and all those people you will betray for one ambitious man? Or if you will not think of others, you must think of yourselves. Today, the Regent calls on you for help because without you he is powerless. If you grant the Regent what he asks, he will need you no longer and he will turn on you and destroy you, just as surely as today he is destroying those whose only protection is the Magna Carta. If you refuse the Regent what he asks, you'll be your country's heroes. But I warn you if you give into him, you'll be history's blackest traitors."

The other barons capitulate to Pembroke, but Robin refuses to accommodate him. Consequently, Pembroke banishes the former outlaw and confiscates his wealth. Robin warns the Queen Mother to watch over her son because Pembroke may try to kill him. Naturally, the Queen Mother refuses to believe that Pembroke could behave so monstrously. Nevertheless, Robin pledges his service to the King and Queen and then returns to Sherwood Forest. Meantime, the wily Pembroke plots his strategy. First, he separates the Queen Mother from the young King of England (Maurice Tauzin of “The Piped Piper”) and orchestrates the demise of the monarch at the castle. Pembroke plans to have the young king plunge to his death from the tower where he has arranged for the youngster to lodge. Pembroke’s best-laid plans go awry when the Queen Mother (Jill Esmond of “The White Cliffs of Dover”) and Lady Catherine Maitland (Anita Louise of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) escape from the castle. Pembroke dispatches search parties, but they return to the castle at dusk. Instead, Robert (Cornel Wilde of “High Sierra”) stumbles upon them in the woods. Lady Catherine and the Queen Mother try to masquerade as scullery maids. Robert doesn’t believe a word of it, especially after he gets a glimpse of Lady Catherine’s silk stocking. Eventually, our hero discovers the identities of the two women, and Robin sends Allan-A-Dale (Leslie Denison of "Desperate Journey") in the guise of a minstrel to the castle to perform. Allan-A-Dale eavesdrops on Pembroke and the Sheriff of Nottingham as they discuss murder.

Before this can happen, our heroes masquerade as religious figures who request shelter for the night at Nottingham Castle. Lady Catherine poses as the ill Prioress of Buxton. Initially, Fitz-Herbert (perennial villain George Macready of “Gilda”) believes that the appearance of church people will derail their plans. On the contrary, argues Pembroke, the church people will serve as “witnesses to the fact that the king died by accident.” Later, Fitz-Herbert leaves with a regiment to scour the countryside for the heroes when he runs into the real religious figures. Although they manage to rescue the king, Robert, Lady Catherine and Allan-A-Dale are captured. Pembroke plans to hang them, including Lady Catherine. Robert demands his right as a nobleman in the law of trial by combat. Pembroke accedes to Robert’s wishes and then locks the protagonist up with no food or water for three days. The sly Pembroke also orders Fitz-Herbert to assemble the archers and have them ready to fill Robert with arrows if he gains the upper hand. Little do the villains know that Lady Catherine has been sharing her food and drink with Robert while he maintains a starved attitude. Meantime, Robin and his men take the king to safety and infiltrate the castle while Robert and Pembroke clash swords. The villainous Sheriff of Nottingham intervenes and stabs Robert in the back during the sword fight. Robin Hood skewers the Sheriff and Pembroke is desperate for help. Robert is reduced to fighting with his other hand. Pembroke races up a staircase to a higher level and hurls his sword at the protagonist like a spear. Robert hurls his and it lands in Pembroke’s chest and he plunges off the wall to his death in the courtyard below. “The Bandit of Sherwood Forest” concludes with the young King knighting Robert as the Earl of Sutherland and seeing to it that Lady Catherine becomes his bride.

Clocking in at a trim 86 minutes, “The Bandit of Sherwood Forest” is a brisk swashbuckler on a budget. Presumably, neither Sherman nor Levin collaborated on this epic. The question is who replaced whom? Interestingly, when the arrow sinks into the screen credit for the two directors, it lands solidly on George Sherman’s name. Sherman may have been the alpha director. Occasionally, one or both of these helmers uses the shadows of the combatants on the walls as another way to depict the scene. Undoubtedly, Sherman and Levin helmed separate scenes, perhaps like director Michael Curtiz did after he replaced William Keighley on “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” Incidentally, lenser Tony Gaudio photographed not only the Flynn classic, but also he was one of three photographers on the Wilde version. Lensers George Meehan of “The Black Parachute” and William E. Snyder of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” also received credit as directors of photography on “The Bandit of Sherwood Forest.” Some of the casting choices are quite novel: western tough guy Ray Teal plays Little John and Edgar Buchanan portrays Friar Tuck. The scene where Buchanan’s Friar Tuck tangles with Robert has got to be the only time that Buchanan worked up a sweat on screen. Typically, Buchanan specialized in slippery, conniving, sedentary supporting characters, but here he displays incredible agility.