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"Outlaws Have Their Uses...",
This review is from: Sword of Sherwood Forest [DVD]  (DVD)
As a child, I had a beautiful book of Robin Hood stories which I used to read by torchlight under my bedclothes when my parents thought I was asleep. It was a big, hardbacked book; filled with brightly colourful pictures and printed in fine romantic Gothic. As a result - as well as shocking eyesight - the wronged Sir Robin of Loxley, defiant elf, became an early hero of mine.
That won't mean anything to you, bargain hunter, but believe me when I tell you that 'Sword of Sherwood Forest,' of all the Robin Hood movies I've seen, is the one that comes closest to capturing the spirit and stylised sumptuousness of my glorious book.
Hammer movies always look good, like they were following an imaginary brief to make up for low budgets with Constable-worthy scenery - but this one is truly exceptional.
Richard Greene plays Hood as a stereotypical, square-jawed hero, and Sarah Branch is delicious as a (VERY) reluctant Marian - but it's the villains on this vivid stage that make the work interesting. Peter Cushing is superb as the conniving Sheriff of Nottingham; a role pre-empting one of his best performances as the similarly shady and conspiritorial Dr. Namaroff in 'the Gorgon'. Richard Pasco (CBE, Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre and, fascinatingly, husband to Barbara Leigh-Hunt of Hitchcock's 'Frenzy') as his accomplice, the shifty-faced Earl of Newark; and a young, squeaky-voiced Oliver Reed as the nasty back-stabber Lord Melton. And this is probably why 'Sword of Sherwood Forest' was filmed on location in Ireland rather then Bray Studios: the amount of scene-chewing these three get through would've endangered the next batch of production.
Cushing in particular, is a riot. No act is too despicable: he awards Martin of Eastwood a free pardon AFTER he's shot him dead; plots a similar fate for Robin after lying through his teeth to a spiky-but-dense Marian; before finally orchestrating a 'Soldier Blue' style attack on some thatch-roofed cottages - hiding well back in the bushes himself, of course.
Pasco is determination personified as "a ruthless man of intrigue !" and Ollie squints dirtily, hisses like Peter Lorre, and only bellows once - when Robin nonchalantly shoots down his soaring peregrine.
Any road, the plot is uncomplicated to say the least - various nobles plot to assassinate a Lord Chancellor - but it doesn't matter a great deal. Simply a foil for the visuals.
Directed by Terence Fisher, 'Sword of Sherwood Forest,' unsurprisingly, never resorts to back-slapping singalongs around the fire after jolly venison hunts (there is one atrocious ballad sung by jazz great Dennis Lotis), but instead concentrates on unpleasant images of floggings, dry-gulching and village burnings, instead. Even Friar Tuck (Niall MacGuinness) is a less frivolous figure than usual; solemnly wandering the countryside with nary a rosy cheek nor raucous guffaw.
Effortlessly, Cushing and co and the main reasons for the 'Sword of Sherwood Forest' dvd. The beautiful transfer helps; lit magnificently by the interesting Ken Hodges in intriguing 'MegaScope'(!), rural Eire never looked so sharp - even when it's posing slightly unconvincingly as the East Midlands !
Look out for Sarah Branch's repulsed look when she's called upon to kiss Richard Greene. He'd either halitosis...or was as sexist and condescending in real life as he was in character.
Either way, it's fun.