I need my Robin Hood to be merry.
I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not giving up my love for broody, tragic, dangerous, dark heroes any time soon. But that is not what I want from Robin Hood. I want Robin Hood to be a merry and cheerful fellow, I want my Robin Hood stories to be frolicsome, and I just can't seem to make myself enjoy broody Robins and dark stories about him. People keep trying to make Deep stories about Robin Hood with Serious themes and lots of Tragedy... and it just doesn't work for me. Even when you've got Russell Crowe in there, whom I really love -- nope, I'm not 100% digging it.
Happily, The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952) is all of the things I want from a Robin Hood story, and none of the ones I don't. I first saw this when I was in my teens, whereupon I quickly fell in love with it. I showed it to my children for their first time this week, and while they didn't universally embrace it (Eggnog says she doesn't like it because "Maid Marian has a weird voice," but she's five, so whatever), they did get a big kick out of it. I have a feeling they're never going to love it like they love the Errol Flynn/Olivia de Havilland version, but that's okay. I like that one better too, but this one is the sort of thing I like to watch when I have a head cold and need cheering up.
So, on to the story, eh? One note: I'm not marking spoilers. It's Robin Hood. You know how this goes.
Like so many classic Disney movies, this begins with the image of a book which opens, revealing the title and then the opening credits. Why don't people open films this way anymore? I love it!
This was only the second live-action Disney feature film! Treasure Island (1950) was first. Also, according to IMDB, some of this was actually filmed in the real Sherwood Forest, which is just cool.
At the beginning of the story, our hero (Richard Todd) is hanging out doing some target practice while his father helps a bunch of knights get ready to join King Richard on a crusade to the Holy Land.
One of those knights has a daughter named Marian (Joan Rice) who grew up with Robin since his father works for her father. She's been teasing him by moving his target all the time so he misses.
I don't think he minds, do you?
I really like Robin Hood stories where he starts out kind of a hooligan, or at least a rascal, and then has to turn into a steady, dependable, wily man in a hurry. This is one of those. He's not a bad kid, just kind of devil-may-care.
Marian and her father and a bunch of other knights journey to Nottingham to join Richard. I mostly included this shot for the pretty bridge. Also, this is clearly a mix of sets and paintings, and I can't tell where one ends and the other begins, which I think is amazing.
Here's something else I love about this movie: the Queen Mother is in it!!! Queen Eleanor (Martita Hunt) even has a more than passing role in the plot, and I completely dig her. She's regal and strong-willed, a force to be reckoned with. All the things King Richard (Patrick Barr) has become and Prince John (Hubert Gregg) hasn't.
As soon as Richard and his troops have left in one direction, and the Queen Mother and her retinue (including Maid Marian, her newest lady-in-waiting) have departed in another, Prince John starts to plot. He begins by appointing a new Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Finch).
Quick note: yes, this is the same Peter Finch who went on to play the absolutely splendid and wonderful Alan Breck Stuart in Kidnapped (1960). And I had ZERO idea they were played by the same guy until I happened to be looking him up on imdb one day a few years ago. I think that says something about Finch's acting, don't you? Two completely different characters, and he convinced me so much as both of them that I didn't realize they were played by the same guy!
This Prince John isn't very charming or very smart, but he's cunning and pesky and wily and greedy, so that'll do.
From there, we launch right into the archery tournament. It's my opinion that a Robin Hood story with no archery tournament is a fairly poor Robin Hood story, but that's just me.
At the tournament, we hear lots of songs from Allan-a-Dale (Elton Hayes), a traveling minstrel who serves as a sort of narrator to weave some of the story bits together.
Robin Hood does not win the archery tournament! Try not to faint.
But he does get the golden arrow, which he promptly gives to Maid Marian to show his continuing esteem for her.
The Sheriff of Nottingham wants Robin and his father (Reginald Tate) to join his gang of thugs and enforcers, but they won't do it. Robin's father talks back to the sheriff, and then on the way home from the tournament, this happens:
Well, first he gets shot in the back with an arrow, but then that happens -- you know what I mean.
Stricken with sorrow, and also filled with anger over having his father shot in the back, Robin kills off a bunch of the sheriff's men and then flees into the forest.
I know what this looks like, but I promise you he's not about to kiss his arrow. This is a special signal arrow that whistles as it flies! He's just going to blow into it to make sure it's working properly before he uses it to signal his men about something. Because the next thing we know, Robin Hood has gone outlaw and gathered himself a band of merrie men.
This is their jolly encampment, deep in Sherwood Forest. Some excitement ensues, with Robin and his men rescuing some peasants from the Sheriff's mean and low-down, scurrilous ways.
And it's about time that Little John (James Robertson Justice) shows up, huh? He's delightful, all big and burly and deep-voiced and cheery.
Of course, Robin and Little John have to have their fight over who gets to cross the bridge first.
Now I must tell you a very strange thing. Every time I watch this movie, both when I was a teen and now when I'm an adult, I start out thinking that really, Richard Todd isn't quite suited to the role of Robin Hood. Don't get me wrong -- I have a genuine fondness for him as an actor. And he well deserved that Oscar nod he got for The Hasty Heart (1950). But I'm not sure if it's the writing or what... for the first half hour of the film, I just can't quite dig him as Robin Hood. He's almost too serious, even though he's supposed to be a devil-may-care lad most of that time. But I gradually begin to like him in the role, and when we get to this scene, I'm sold.
Yes, I agree with Robin's expression here: that makes no sense. I mean, having seen this a dozen times, you'd think I'd be used to him as Robin Hood! But nope, have to adjust all over again every time. I mention this so that, should you ever start watching this movie and think, "Man, this Richard Todd guy just doesn't feel like Robin Hood to me," you will be encouraged to keep watching, because he'll probably grow on you like he does on me.
(Shush, DKoren! This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that he gets dumped into a river and comes out sopping wet.)
Anyway, once we've got our Little John, we need our Friar Tuck (James Hayter), so we go off and collect him too.
Meanwhile, at Windsor Castle, word has arrived that King Richard has been captured while on his way home from a failed crusade, and he's being held for ransom.
The Archbishop of Canterbury (Anthony Eustrel) and Queen Eleanor confer about how to raise his ransom money. Another thing I really like about this version is that the Archbishop of Canterbury is NOT a bad guy! He's morally upright, he's helpful, he's kind, and he's very distinguished-looking to boot. The entire film treats God, religion, and the church with reverence, something that is sadly lacking from so many adaptations. (Which is not to say that Friar Tuck isn't a source of comic relief, because he is, but that's because he's just a silly, jolly sort of person, not because they're making fun of Christians.)
Anyway!!! Prince John claims he can't contribute to his brother's ransom because Robin Hood has stolen all his money. Maid Marian is terribly upset to learn that her childhood-friend-turned-flirting-companion has turned outlaw, and she sneaks off to find out if he's really thwarting John's efforts to raise ransom money. She is not pleased with Robin when she finds him, and gives him a scolding.
And then lots of exciting things happen, but this review is already almost as long as the movie (which is a breezy 84 minutes), so I'm going to skip that and cut to where Robin Hood meets up with the Queen Mother!
She accuses him of stealing things, and he insists he's an honest outlaw who only steals to give money to the poor, and so on. Also, he learns from her that Maid Marian is missing, and he zips off to rescue her (she's been locked in a dungeon by Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham because of reasons).
Marian is suitably happy to be rescued. But during her rescue, Robin is wounded. And the Sheriff of Nottingham comes to a very icky end, off-camera.
Doesn't she make a pretty outlaw?
Marian and Friar Tuck nurse Robin back to health in his woodland stronghold. Robin makes silly faces about having to eat gruel. This is the least-silly of the faces he makes. For real. You should go watch this just to see his silly faces over being fed gruel.
Then the Black Knight shows up. Now, anyone familiar with Robin Hood stories knows who this is.
But Robin and his merrie men don't, and they bandy some harsh words about how they only serve King Richard and they wish he'd never left, and anybody who rides around with his face concealed can only be up to skulduggery, etc.
Then, of course, the Black Knight turns out to be King Richard, and he pardons Robin Hood and all his merrie men, and then he orders Marion and Robin to get married.
So does kissing.
And the whole thing ends with Allan-a-Dale walking off into the sunset singing a little song about Robin Hood. Isn't that charming and jolly and all-around happiness-inducing? I think so. (And so does Cassian.)(I say that way too much in real life, so I might as well start saying it in print too.)
Is this movie family friendly? Absolutely! No bad language, no innuendo (okay, Prince John does refer to Robin Hood as Maid Marian's "lover," but he's a jerk and it just serves to convince us of his jerkyness), and all violence is mild and non-bloody. (Though if you stop to imagine how the sheriff died, you're going to be grossed out. But you don't see it.)
This has been another contribution to Robin Hood Week hosted by Olivia at Meanwhile, in Rivendell... Thanks so much for hosting this party, Olivia! It has been great fun :-) And it's helped me figure out what I do and don't like about a lot of different Robin Hood retellings!