Starring: Don Taylor, Reginald Beckwith, Eileen Moore, David King Wood, Douglas Wilmer, Harold Lang, Wensley Pithey, Ballard Berkeley, Leslie Linder, John Van Eyssen, Toke Townley, Vera Pearce, Michael Golden, Leonard Sachs, Patrick Holt
Director: Val Guest
1954 | 77 Minutes
“Has anyone ever escaped from here?” – Robin Hood
“They have not, nor shall they.” – Jailer
“Are you a betting man?” – Friar Tuck
I have been a huge fan of Robin Hood since I was very young. It started with a small illustrated book, followed by the Forestmen legos, the animated Disney movie and, of course, Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But that is basically where it ended. I have continued to be fascinated by the character but never went back to watch or read what had come before.
So, I have decided to do just that. I picked what must appear like a completely random starting point with The Men of Sherwood Forest starring Don Taylor as the main man in green. I say it is random because many would have pointed me toward some of the Errol Flynn movies or possibly one of the many popular TV shows. Well, I didn’t go with Errol Flynn and I don’t review TV shows so here we are.
A man is murdered in Sherwood Forest and a small Saracen statue is stolen. Robin Hood and his Merry Men are suspected and the price on Robin’s head is upped to 10,000 crowns. When Robin finds out that the statue holds the key to the safe return of King Richard, he makes it his top priority to find the real murderers.
I had a bit of culture shock as the movie began. Old-timers say things like “They don’t make movies like they used to.” Well, there’s good reason. That’s not to say The Men of Sherwood Forest is a bad movie by any means but it certainly was made with a different style than anyone is used to nowadays.
The acting and dialogue is hammy all the way around yet I came to enjoy the characters for what they were. Don Taylor’s Robin is likeable. Reginald Beckwith’s Friar Tuck was humorous. And Eileen Moore’s Lady Alys is an attractive, charming and a bit more than the standard lady in distress, even helping Robin on a number of occasions. Once I got accustomed to the pacing of the movie it actually moved quite briskly. I mean, I’d hope it would at only 77 minutes but you never know with a movie over 60 years old.
The sets and costumes are all wonderfully bright and colorful. It all seems very well made even if they aren’t terribly realistic for the time. The only complaint I could muster against it is just the fact that there never seem to be too terribly many people around. There’s only a few Merry Men and about an equal number of castle guards. It just seems a bit small. This is the only area where things start to feel cheap to me. It’s not terribly noticeable though.
The director opted to skip the whole Robin Hood origin story since anyone who’s ever seen a Robin Hood movie knows it… or some version of it. Instead we jump ahead to 10 years into Robin’s reign over Sherwood Forest. Personally, I found this to be a breath of fresh air. So many hero stories feel the need to beat us over the head about a hero’s (and now villains’) past.
Friar Tuck is an interesting choice as Robin’s right hand. Usually it is Little John. Little John would not have fit the role required by the story though so here we are with a gambling Tuck. He’s shown as a constant trickster, always trying to make a few “crowns” with games of chance, even tricking a group of soldiers into a game of strip poker… how progressive for a movie from the ‘50s.
This version of Tuck actually gives us a more true to original form version of Robin. More modern versions show Robin Hood to be a master fighter but in the older stories and ballads he was known to use his wits and cunning as much as his sword and bow.
That’s not to say there isn’t any action in The Men of Sherwood Forest. There is. It just isn’t terribly well done. But, again, it is probably more a sign of the time than poor production values. They just didn’t choreograph action sequences the way they do now. It all feels rather slow moving with a few too many rope swing kicks.
After the first few minutes I found myself really enjoying The Men of Sherwood Forest. It’s a quick adventure film that probably doesn’t add too much to the Robin Hood legend but entertains all the same.