Although indelibly linked with its run of classic, lurid horror movies from the late 1950s until the early 1970s, Hammer Studios also dabbled in other genres such as thrillers, comedies, and historical or pseudo-historical adventures. They even draped themselves in lincoln green and put their own spin on the enduring legend of Robin Hood in three films including 1954’s Men of Sherwood Forest, 1960’s Sword of Sherwood Forest and 1967’s A Challenge for Robin Hood. The latter two titles are celebrated in style with superb new Blu-ray transfers in an impressive new boxset that takes us back to the heady simple days of a cheery Robin and his good-natured Merry Men robbing from the rich to give to the poor and indulging in a bit of fleet-footed swordplay with the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham. Hooray!
Richard Greene reprises his role as Robin from the popular TV series that came to an end the previous year in Sword of Sherwood Forest. Curiously, this version of Robin appears entirely unconnected to the TV series as it depicts our hero’s first encounter with all-new Maid Marion (Sarah Branch) and pitting his wits against Hammer doyen Peter Cushing as the Sheriff who plots to assassinate the Archbishop of Canterbury. There are a couple of nods to Hammer’s horror predilections in scenes where the Sheriff orders one of his queasy lackeys to exhume the recently-deceased body of a fugitive played by an uncredited Desmond Llewellyn and the Sheriff’s brutal slaying of Martin of Eastwood (Derren Nesbitt, again uncredited) after he’s given him information about Robin and co’s whereabouts. It all ends with a fine old swordfight in a crowded chapel and a routing for surly Oliver Reed who makes an early movie appearance (also uncredited, oddly) as snarly Lord Melton. Seven years later, Hammer returned to Sherwood Forest for an interesting new ‘origin’ for Robin in A Challenge for Robin Hood; now played by the likeable, if slightly miscast, Barrie Ingham, Robin De Courtenay is cast out into the Forest when his rascally cousin frames him for killing his brother. He crosses swords with John Arnatt’s seedy Sheriff of Nottingham almost immediately but is taken under the wing of a bunch of notorious outlaws hiding in the Forest. A quick test of his archery skills determines that he’s a natural leader and, with his jolly new gang in tow, he sets out to save Will Scarlet (Douglas Mitchell) from being hanged and to exact his revenge against his scheming less-than-perfect cousin. Comic relief is provided by Alfie Bass and Norman Mitchell as two dim-witted pie sellers and James Hayter is an exceedingly good Friar Tuck.
Neither film professes to be a classic interpretation of the Robin Hood story but they’re terrific fun in their own right., They look gorgeous and vivid on Blu-ray and Indicator has gone to town with the supporting material that includes an 80-page souvenir booklet, a poster, commentaries, new featurettes (Kim Newman discusses screen portrayals of Robin, for example), archive audio recordings and much more. It’s an embarrassment of riches, a terrific haul of swag that would delight even Robin himself.
Robin Hood at Hammer is available now on Blu-ray from Indicator