So here’s the deal: I was originally just going to post a link to one of the various “top Robin Hoods” lists, but wasn’t particularly happy with any of them. Of course everyone loves the Errol Flynn film, and most everyone loves to make fun of the 90s Kevin Costner film – but I thought I would try and list some of the films/tv series that don’t get talked about as much and have had much less of a presence on the other lists out there.
5. Robin Hood (BBC, 2006-2009)
I actually have seen this one on a few lists here and there, but overall I don’t think this series has much of a presence outside the UK and people like me who regularly watch BBC America. Designed to fill the slot vacant when BBC mainstay Doctor Who was on hiatus, this revisionist take on the legend isn’t good in the traditional, Errol Flynn sense. However, its frequent anachronisms, BBC budget, and awkward humor give it a certain amount of camp value, and as long as you aren’t too demanding of you action-adventure tv programming it can be quite enjoyable.
4. When Things Were Rotten (ABC, 1975)
Mel Brooks’ first attempt at skewering the Robin Hood legend is actually much more original and entertaining than his later Men in Tights. Starring Richard Gautier (Hymie the Robot from Get Smart) as Robin and Dick Van Patten as Friar Tuck, the series only lasted one season. While its anachronistic humor was well-received by critics, the show didn’t really fit in with network programming. Sadly, the show has yet to receive a release on DVD, although I have several episodes on VHS.
3. Ivanhoe (MGM, 1952)
Not really a Robin Hood film, but an alternate take on the disappearance of Richard in the Crusades and the takeover by his brother John (based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott). However, Robin of Locksley (played by Harold Warrender) does come into play as a supporting character and plays a key role in the events of the film. It’s not particularly faithful to history or to the novel, but it is a very well-made epic from MGM.
2. Robin Hood (BBC, 1953)
I’ve never seen an entire episode of this, and when you see the only online footage I could find you will understand why. This was the very first televised adaptation of Robin Hood, broadcast live by the BBC. It featured future Doctor Who star Patrick Troughton as the title character and only lasted one season. As bad as the video quality is, I would love to see more of what remains of this series – I’ve always been fascinated by shows like this that managed to broadcast live on a regular basis. Trivia: Troughton’s grandson, Sam, played Robin’s manservant, Much, in the 2006-2009 Robin Hood series produced by the BBC.
1. Sword of Sherwood Forest (Hammer, 1960)
Sword of Sherwood Forest is the second of three Robin Hood films made by Hammer Studios, and the only one that is currently commercially available. The first, Men of Sherwood Forest, was Hammer’s first color film and starred American actor Don Taylor. The third, A Challenge for Robin Hood, was made in the mid-60s and featured Barrie Ingham. The three don’t seem to be linked by any direct continuity (although I can’t say for sure, since two of the three are unavailable). In fact, this film is more directly connected to the long-running tv series The Adventures of Robin Hood in that Richard Greene reprises his lead role as the title character. It also stars Peter Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham, and features Oliver Reed and future James Bond actor Desmond Llewellyn in supporting roles. It was only just released on DVD (to coincide with the release of the dismal-looking Ridley Scott film), and being a fan of Robin Hood films and Hammer Studios, it has jumped to the top of my “must have” list.
I couldn’t do a post on Robin Hood adaptations without at least sharing a few of my personal favorite tributes to the character, in no particular order.