The third and last of Columbia's in-house Robin Hood knock-offs, Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950) benefits from a bigger budget and better cast than was given to Prince of Thieves. Best of all, this film offers the kind of warm camaraderie among Robin's Merry Men present in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) but which had been largely absent in the two earlier Columbia efforts. A major reason for this is the welcome appearance of Alan Hale Sr. in the role of Little John, a part he'd already played opposite Douglas Fairbanks in the 1922 Robin Hood and again in the 1938 Errol Flynn classic. This was Hale's last film and was released after his death, but in the movie itself he shows no sign of illness, and is hearty and spirited throughout.
Almost a reworking of The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, this is another classy programmer centered around Robert of Sherwood, the Son of Robin Hood, and again features velvety-voiced George Macready as a main villain. Filmed in three-strip Technicolor, the transfer looks great, and a fun trailer is included as an extra feature.
Efficiently directed by journeyman Gordon Douglas, Rogues of Sherwood Forest wastes no time getting down to business. The picture opens at a jousting match between Robert of Sherwood (John Derek*, later the terrible film director who was famously married at various times to Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, and Bo Derek) and Sir Baldric (John Dehner), champion to the Count of Flanders (Lowell Gilmore). Wanting to curry the count's favor, power-mad King John (Macready) has Sir Giles (Paul Cavanagh) fix the match, hoping Robert will be killed in the process - simply because he is the son of his old nemesis. However, Robert lives to defeat Sir Baldric anyway, leaving King John annoyed at the unabated popularity of the celebrated son of his one-time adversary.
Produced near the height of hysterical anticommunism, Rogues of Sherwood Forest vaguely and awkwardly slips in an anti-totalitarianism message. A prologue notes that the Bill of Rights, liberty and justice "we enjoy today" have their roots in Magna Carta, and the film contrasts King Richard's "democratic principals" with King John's despotic rule. He strikes a deal with the Count of Flanders to send 10,000 Flemish troops into England - apparently for no reason other than to repress his own subjects - with funds John intends to raise through crippling taxation.
Rogues of Sherwood Forest is more lavish than Prince of Thieves, with more extras, bigger and more elaborate settings (including a nifty dungeon set) and colorful glass shots of various castles and abbeys. There's also more action and the cast, including Diana Lynn as Lady Marianne de Beaudray, is better. (At least some of the action seems to include stock shots from The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, however.)
Derek is okay as the son of Robin Hood, but the real pleasure is watching Alan Hale breathe much relaxed humanity into the story. A natural in roles like this, in his hands the archaic dialogue never comes across as stilted; he's big, warm, and friendly (much like his look-alike son) and, thankfully, he's in almost every scene with Derek. (Touchingly, it's Hale who delivers the last line of dialogue: "Everything has been said, and everything has been done." A fitting epitaph.)
In the second-half of the film, the pair is joined by Billy House as Friar Tuck, Lester Matthews as Alan-A-Dale, and silent clown Billy Bevan as Will Scarlet. Matthews doesn't make much of an impression, but Bevan is fine and House is quite hilarious as Friar Tuck, the best such characterization this side of Eugene Pallette.
Video & Audio
In three-strip Technicolor and in its original 1.37:1 full frame format, Rogues of Sherwood Forest looks quite nice, perhaps not as dazzling as Bandit but pretty close. The audio is English only, with optional SDH subtitles resembling blocky closed-captioning. The only Extra Feature is a trailer, complete with text.
As with The Bandit of Sherwood Forest and The Price of Thieves Rogues of Sherwood Forest is a good programmer that makes a decent family film for a rainy Sunday afternoon, or anytime for classic film fans. Highly Recommended.
* Reader Sergei Hasenecz notes, "As for the poster to this one, John Derek is only a moustache away from being Mary Martin as Peter Pan."
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