Don’t You Worry, Never Fear, Robin Hood Will Soon Be Here

flynn_38 He’s been around for centuries, shooting his arrows, brandishing his sword, romancing Maid Marian and robbing from the rich and giving the loot to the poor.

He’s been portrayed in ballads, books, TV shows, theatrical productions, cartoons, cable series, softcore sex farces  and, of course, on the big screen.

He’s been portrayed by animated ducks and foxes, Frank Sinatra, the husband of Bo Derek, and the guy who played Hymie the robot on the Get Smart TV show.

Who is this unmasked man, often bedecked in green leotards and plumed hat?

Why, it’s Robin Hood, the Earl of Loxley, the swashbuckler of Sherwood Forest, perhaps the original superhero in tights.

All discussion of the gallant Robin in popular culture tends to begin with Errol Flynn, the Tasmanian devil, who brought his signature bravado to the part in The Adventures of Robin Hood, a glorious 1938 Warner Brothers dye-rich Technicolor production, filled with action, romance and high adventure. The charismatic Flynn may have made the role of Robin his own, but he did have lots of help. There was a sterling supporting cast: Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Alan Hale Sr. as Little John, Claude Rains as Prince John, Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck, and Basil Rathbone as the rapier-happy villain Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Then there was the expert staging of the duels, the rousing score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the smart and quick-paced script supervised by frequent Flynn collaborator Michael Curtiz (who replaced co-credited original director William Keighley).

The screen Robin may be most identified with the dashing persona of Flynn, but it sure doesn’t end there and it didn’t start there, either. Even now, another Antipodean readies himself to take over the throne, New Zealander Russell Crowe, the star of the elaborate new Ridley Scott version of Robin Hood.

In fact, there’ve been so many incarnations of Robin, that it’s enough to make Little John lose his balance and fall off a tree log bridge. Time will tell if Russell eats Crowe or not, so meanwhile, let us present this selective checklist of unique boys in the Hood. Tally-ho!

fairbanks_22Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922): Before Flynn, Fairbanks was silent cinema’s premier swashbuckler. No wonder; he was not only cast as Robin of Locksley during his career, but as Zorro, the Thief of Bagdad and D’Artganan as well. In this action-crammed tale helmed by the prolific Allan Dwan (Brewster’s Millions, Sands of Iwo Jima), Fairbanks makes the most of his athletic prowess, dodging arrows, jumping off ledges and battling the Sheriff of Nottingham’s guards. Wielding the quarterstaff as Little John was Alan Hale Sr., who’d actually reprise the part to Flynn’s Robin sixteen years later. The film is also surprisingly violent, with Robin choking Sir Guy (Paul Dickey) to death, and other assorted acts of non-chivalry. It’s hard to believe, but there were at least five previous silents produced featuring the Robin Hood character before this.

Will Rogers in Big Moments from Little Pictures (1924): The legendary humorist Rogers actually spoofed Fairbanks’ Robin Hood in this short that finds him also making fun of Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand and The Keystone Cops. As Robin, Rogers dazzles with goofy archery tricks and jumps off a not-so giant boulder.

Russell Hicks in The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946): An unofficial Columbia-produced sequel to The Adventures of Robin Hood (that had to have “Robin Hood” removed from its title in order to avoid angering Jack Warner), the film offers gorgeous color and some top-notch fight sequences done on a pretty chintzy budget. Here, Hicks’ Robin is an aging hero who enlists his son Robert (played by the young Cornel Wilde, a former Olympic fencing champ) to lead the Merry Men against the bad guys.  Anita Louise plays Wilde’s love interest.

Jon Hall in The Prince of Thieves (1948): All-purpose ‘40s action star Hall wielded a mean scimitar in Arabian Nights and Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and later became TV’s Ramar of the Jungle. Here, he donned the feathery cap and the archery equipment to save Maid Marian (theater star Patricia Morison) and join his Merry Men to halt Prince John’s reign of tyranny. Noted schlockmeister Sam Katzman (Rock Around the Clock, Hot Rods to Hell) produced for Columbia Studios, who were finding the Merry Men to make for merry box-office on low budgets.

John Derek in Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950): Another Columbia offering, this one posits future Ursula Andress-Linda Evans-Bo Derek hubby and Bolero director John Derek as Robin of Huntingdon, son of the notorious bandit. The original Robin has passed, but King John (George McReady) is up to his old tricks with heavy taxes and overall meanness. So Robin and Little John (Alan Hale Sr., the skipper’s father, yet again, this time in his last screen role) regroup the troops. Derek’s good looks and athleticism didn’t make him a far cry from Flynn in this stingy-budgeted saga directed by Gordon Douglas (Them!).

sword_sherwoodRichard Greene in Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960): Hammer Films got into the adventure fray with this one, with Greene returning to the role he popularized on mid-‘50s British TV. Casting Peter Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham made an interesting if not inspired choice by director Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula). Green’s stoic nature didn’t help catapult Robin Hood on the charisma ladder in this outing that marked the horror studio’s one-and-done sojourn into Robin-dom.

Frank Sinatra in Robin and the 7 Hoods (1966): The Rat Pack becomes Merry Men! Oh, they were merry all right—both on and off the set during the making of this lively musical farce helmed by Gordon Douglas (Rogues of Sherwood Forest). Frank Sinatra is Robbo, the leader of a gang that includes Allen A. Dale (Bing Crosby), Little John (Dean Martin) and Will (Sammy Davis, Jr.). (One-time regulars Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford were conspicuously absent because of a dust-up with Frank.) The setting is Prohibition Era-Chicago where a corrupt sheriff (Victor Buono) and powerful crosstown racketeer Guy Gisbourne (Peter Falk) are trying to strong-arm the Rat Packers out of their cash—which they give to the poor.   There are lots of musical numbers—“Mr. Booze” is a highlight—and Barbara Rush makes a lovely Marion.

Brian Bedford in Robin Hood (1973): Disney decided to go the all-talking animal route when they got around to animating Robin Hood (although they did do live-action versions earlier), and, while the film didn’t cause critical or financial waves when first released, it holds up pretty well today. The voices are all perfectly cast: British actor Bedford as Robin, a charming fox; Phil Harris (Baloo) as Little John, another gregarious bear; Peter Ustinov’s commanding lion Prince John; Andy Devine as the badger Friar Tuck; Monica Evans’ (literally) vixenish Maid Marion; Pat Buttram as the surprisingly homespun wolf-of-a-Sheriff of Nottingham; and Roger Miller, who supplied the infectious music, is rooster minstrel Alan-A-Dale. As expected, the animation is tops, under the direction of Wolfgang Reitherman (The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book).

Dick Gautier in When Things Were Rotten (1975): Mel Brooks must have a thing for leotards, because he’s been to the Hood twice. The first time was this short-lived but well remembered spoof of Sherwood Forest goings-on that features a great comedic theme song and a game cast. Everyone here is either goofball or completely incompetent, be it Robin himself (Dick Gautier), Friar Tuck (Dick Van Patten), Alan-a-Dale (Bernie Koppell), Maid Marion (Misty Rowe) or Prince John (Ron Rifkin).  Filled with sight gags and anachronisms, the show never clicked with the masses, but remains a cult fave decades later (and conspicuously absent on DVD).

robin_a_marianSean Connery in Robin and Marian (1976): A truly unusual take on the Robin Hood-Maid Marian story, Richard Lester’s sensitive drama (spiked with the director’s trademark physical comedy) looks at an aging Robin (Connery) returning from the Crusades and finding himself a legend—a legend dismissed by Audrey Hepburn’s Maid Marian, now a nun, because of his abandonment of her before he left to fight. Connery is perfectly suited for the aging hero role, and his scenes with Hepburn have a sense of grace, endearment and loss. At the same time, the literate script by James Goldman (The Lion in Winter) is top-notch, as is a supporting cast that includes Robert Shaw as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Richard Harris as King Richard, and Nicol Williamson as Little John.

Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991): The arrows look cool as the camera captures them in flight; was there an arrow-cam? Sure seems like it. What this film really needed more, though, was a better dialogue coach for Costner’s inconsistent accent.  That said, the film has some things going for it: all of the expensive production costs are on screen, Alan Rickman is deliciously evil (and wildly over-the-top) as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio registers as a Maid Marian with a feminist bent, while Morgan Freeman is, well, Morgan Freeman, cast as Costner’s Moor sidekick. Let’s face it: Costner should join Keanu Reeves in the “Never Do Accents or Play Period Characters” Department.

Patrick Bergin in Robin Hood (1991): Talk about bad timing! This film was slated to go into theaters, but found its thunder stolen by Costner’s epic. These events relegated this well-mounted production to a debut on cable TV. Bergin does a nice job, drawing from aspects of previous Robins and making the part his own. He gets able support from Uma Thurman as Maid Marian, David Morrissey as Little John and Jurgen Prochnow and Jeroen Krabbe as a pair of formidable bad guys. Perhaps this is the one that should have gone to theaters instead?
men_in_tightsCary Elwes in Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993): Kevin Costner’s popular Prince of Thieves gave Mel Brooks enough impetus to go back to the well again, despite When Things Were Rotten’s abbreviated lifespan. The results this time were more scattershot in the laugh department, but there are some genuinely funny moments and some nice bits from the likes of Richard Lewis as Prince John, Roger Rees as the Sheriff of Rottingham, David Chappelle as Ahchoo and Isaac Hayes as Asneeze, and Brooks himself as Rabbi Tuckman.  We particularly like the theme song, a nod to (and some may say rip-off of) Blazing Saddles’ “The French Mistake”:    �

We’re men, we’re men in tights.
We roam around the forest looking for fights.
We’re men, we’re men in tights.
We rob from the rich and give to the poor, that’s right!
We may look like sissies, but watch what you say or else we’ll put out your lights!
We’re men, we’re men in tights,
Always on guard defending the people’s rights.

We’re men, MANLY men, we’re men in tights.
We roam around the forest looking for fights.
We’re men, we’re men in tights.
We rob from the rich and give to the poor, that’s right!
We may look like pansies, but don’t get us wrong or else we’ll put out your lights.
We’re men, we’re men in tights
TIGHT Tights
Always on guard defending the people’s rights.
When you’re in a fix just call for the men in tights!


Stuart Wilson in Princess of Thieves (2001): This TV movie entry is of interest for its cast and premise. Wilson’s Robin Hood is locked up, and his daughter (Keira Knightley) takes to his cause against Malcolm McDowell’s Sheriff of Nottingham. Knightley (before she ever went adventuring in the POTC franchise and King Arthur) shows that she knows her way around bows and arrows and, as expected, McDowell makes a lively and menacing Sheriff, although Wilson’s Robin of Locksley is given limited screen time.

And lest we forget:

Ed McNamara in Rocket Robin Hood (1966-1969): Robin Hood as a spaceman? Yes sir, in this 1960s cartoon concoction from Canada, in which Fritz the Cat director Ralph Bakshi was amongst the creative contributors. A far-future descendant of Robin regroups the Merry Men to battle Prince John and the Sheriff of N.O.T.T., who are causing havoc in the galaxy. Robin and Company’s HQ is New Sherwood Asteroid, and as the series got further into its run, the villains got even meaner and scarier. The animation is limited—very limited—as it came from the same folks who gave us the Marvel Superheroes’ barely animated adventures from the same era.

Mel Blanc (as Bugs Bunny) in Rabbit Hood (1949) (Available on Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 4): Bugs is forced to tackle trouble when he’s caught stealing carrots from the Sheriff of Nottingham. This Chuck Jones production offers nonstop laughs with Bugs pulling continually pulling wool over the eyes of the Sheriff, at one time declaring him “Sir Loin of Beef, Earl of Cloves, Baron of Munchausen, Milk of Magnesia, Quarter of Ten.” Even the “original” Warner Brothers Robin Hood makes a cameo.

Mel Blanc (as Daffy Duck) in Robin Hood Daffy (1958) (Available on Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 3): The great Chuck Jones revisits Robin in animated form, this time with the exasperated mallard as the plumed adventurer, trying to convince Friar Tuck (Porky Pig) he’s the real deal. Daffy’s efforts to prove his athletic daring keep getting curtailed, and eventually he takes the sidekick role as Friar Duck.

Th-th-that’s Earl, folks!