Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Bandit of Sherwood Forest

Columbia Pictures’ “The Bandit of Sherwood Forest” (1946) is a pretty entertaining addition to the Sherwood Forest canon. It’s not as good as the Flynn or Fairbanks films, but better than the Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe entries. Fans of the “The Adventures of Robin Hood” are likely to be especially entertained, thanks to its numerous ties to that 1938 classic.

Cornel Wilde brought his real life fencing skills to the role of Robert of Nottingham, the son of the famous Robin Hood (Russell Hicks, who looks to be having a ball). Robert joins his father’s gang, including such favorites as Edgar Buchanan as Friar Tuck, John Abbott as Will Scarlett and Ray Teal as Little John, to save of the life of the Queen (Jill Esmond), and her young son the King (Maurice Tauzin) from the evil machinations of the Regent (Henry Daniell, a useful substitute when Basil Rathbone is not around).

Among other dastardly deeds, The Regent plans to negate the Magna Carta, a key story line in the Russell Crowe version.
Robert falls in love with Catherine (Anita Louise), lady-in-waiting to the Queen. It’s very interesting to see Anita Louise here, as at one time she was scheduled to play Maid Marian opposite Errol Flynn, before wiser heads cast Olivia deHavilland in what would be one of her signature roles.

There are other comparisons to the Flynn version. “Bandit” composer Hugo Friedhofer was one of the orchestrators for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Academy Award-winning score for the “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” Several of the cues do sound like they could have been included in the Flynn film. Indeed, his score is an exuberant one and is more than adequate to support the more modest scope of this version. (1946 was also the year Friedhofer won the Academy Award for Best Score for “The Best Years of Our Lives.”)

Lloyd Corrigan plays the Sheriff of Nottingham in the same buffoon fashion as Melville Cooper did. (Did the Sheriff being played for laughs begin with the Errol Flynn version?)

The biggest similarity is the final scene. I don’t think I’m giving anything away here when I say both films enjoy a happy ending, though I was surprised at how similar the endings were. Both films end with a grateful king knighting the hero and with Robin/Robert and Marian/Catherine standing before the king, who asks if the two love each other and would take each other in marriage.

Though eight years separated the films, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” was one of the most popular films in the Warner Bros. library, and was constantly being re-issued. Mindful of this, it’s no wonder Columbia Pictures saw a new Robin Hood film as a perfect vehicle for Cornel Wilde, its new contract player. Wilde was in real-life a champion fencer who was a member of the U.S. Olympics fencing team. He would have participated in the 1936 Olympics had not he left the team to pursue acting. Wilde makes a dashing hero, and his final duel with Daniell is a good one.

As masterful a villain as he could be, Daniell was no fencer and had to be extensively doubled in his dueling scenes. On “The Sea Hawk” (1940), Daniell was so ineffective that director Michael Curtiz said it took forever to film close-ups where it would appear he was dueling.
Columbia had a big hit with “The Bandit of Sherwood Forest”, which earned more than $3 million at the box office. 1946 was one of Hollywood’s biggest years ever. The war was over, and GIs were returning home to start families and carve out new lives for themselves. Going to the movies was an even bigger past time than ever, and 1946 saw attendance hit record peaks. Pretty much everything made money that year, but $3 million for a modestly budgeted swashbuckler is pretty impressive. Wilde had a huge hit the year before playing Chopin in “A Song to Remember” and was the new heart throb. In addition to the action and romance, however, I think another big factor in the film’s success was the Technicolor.
I’m not an expert on color photography, but it seems to me that Columbia and 20th Century Fox were the experts when it came to Technicolor films. Even today their color films from this period have an added vitality to them that were lacking at other studios. I can’t put my finger on it, but their colors are exceptionally vivid. (Too vivid some may say, but not me. I love my three-strip Technicolor).

The film’s credits list two directors, George Sherman and Henry Levin. I would be curious to find out what happened, as two credited directors on a film was unusual for the time. (Actually it still is today). Sherman directed a lot of B westerns at Republic, so I assume that the opening scenes of the Merry Men riding throughout the forest gathering forces as they go were directed by him.

No earth shaker but an enjoyable film, “The Bandit of Sherwood Forest” will likely retain its place in the upper echelon of Robin Hood movies.


Anonymous said...

Kevin, I really enjoyed this post. I never saw the movie, but Cornell Wilde looks very dashing in the part. I was really interested in your explanation of Henry Daniell in the dueling scenes, especially from The Sea Hawk. I know movies use doubles all the time, they even had to use a double for Errol Flynn on long shots, but it always looks so real. I totally agree that Daniell is a perfect substitute for Basil Rathbone. I always liked Daniell's nasally British voice and nasty demeanor. Thanks for an enjoyable article. OH, and P.S. I can't remember my google password, so I'm signing in as anonymous. This is actually ClassicBecky!

Kevin Deany said...

Thanks, Becky. Basil Rathbone was an expert fencer in real life, and did not require any doubling in his duel scenes. His duel with Tyrone Power in "The Mark of Zorro" has to be one of the best duels ever put on film.

Rick29 said...

Kevin, I haven't seen this movie in eons, but remember enjoying it (as well as THE SON OF ROBIN HOOD, which I think turned out to be a girl). I really enjoyed this review and the photos are absolutely awesome!

Kevin Deany said...

Thanks, Rick. Yeah, "Son of Robin Hood" has been showing up of late on the Fox Movie Channel. Need to re-acquaint myself with it. You're right, the son is a daughter in that one.