Robin Hood was always one of my favorite childhood stories. I loved the message of stealing from the evil and corrupt rich and giving to the poor and those abused by the wealthy. However, despite it being one of my favorite books to read, prior to this release I don’t recall seeing a single Robin Hood film other than the Disney animated one. Robin Hood Origins is a collection of four different Robin Hood tales from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s (and one random Black Arrow story for some reason). The most classic Robin Hood films aren’t included here (outside of maybe the Hammer film Sword of Sherwood Forest) but there are still some decent films in this set along with a few dull ones. I would say three of the five films are worth watching, one is slightly below average, and the last one isn’t worth your time. To find out which film is which, read on as I break down all five films in the set.
The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946)
Even though I loved Robin Hood as a kid, going into this release I was a little bit worried that the older films in this set would be kind of dull for today’s audiences. My parents weren’t even alive when most of the films in this set were released and while I do enjoy many older films, I’ve also been bored by a few of the ones I’ve watched due to their slower pace. Thankfully, my fears were overblown as The Bandit of Sherwood Forest is actually pretty exciting at times. The only problem is the film slows down considerably in the middle and end of the movie. This is one of those films that starts off strong but gets weaker as it goes on (because the director for some reason wanted to turn the endgame into a stealth mission instead of an exciting battle).
The Bandit of Sherwood Forest actually includes two Robin Hood characters, Russell Hicks as the real character and the very charismatic Cornel Wilde as his son Robert of Nottingham (and Robin Hood in training). This film takes place after the fall of Prince John. However, tyranny has managed to return to Nottingham in the form of William of Pembroke (Henry Daniell), who withdraws the Magna Carta and resumes taxing and ruling over his citizens. His actions force the Queen to escape the castle and she enlists Robert to get her son (the boy king) safely out of the castle.
While there is some exciting action in this film, it doesn’t really last as the script slows down in the middle and end of the film. The Bandit of Sherwood Forest does somewhat redeem itself at the end with a pretty exciting final fight though. If this film was trimmed a bit more (from 86 minutes to a 75 minute run time or so), I think I would have liked this movie quite a bit. Still, outside of some dull scenes there’s nothing particularly wrong with this film either. It’s just pretty average, which is a bit disappointing considering the strong start to the film.
Overall, I would say The Bandit of Sherwood Forest is the second best movie in this set (after Sword of Sherwood Forest). It’s the longest film in the bunch and the middle and end aren’t as good as the early stages of the movie, but it is very watchable and only slightly behind Sword of Sherwood Forest in terms of quality. 3/5
The Prince of Thieves (1948)
Unfortunately, while The Bandit of Sherwood Forest was more exciting than I was expecting, The Prince of Thieves is exactly the type of film I was worried that most of the movies in this set would be. Despite being just 71 minutes long, The Prince of Thieves still managed to bore me. It’s so unmemorable and dull that even though I am writing this review just a few days after watching the film, I already barely remember anything about this movie. It is definitely the worst film of the five and the only one I wouldn’t recommend at all.
None of the films in this collection have any continuity with each other but this one does use many of the same sets as the prior film. The Prince of Thieves finds Robin Hood (this time played by Jon Hall, who actually looks quite a bit like Cornel Wilde from the first film in this set) playing protector when Sir Allan Claire (Michael Duane) comes home to marry his betrothed Lady Christabel. Unknowingly, her father has agreed to marry her to another against her will and Allan finds himself under attack by assassins. Robin Hood and his Merry Men must protect Allan and free Lady Christabel so the two can be married as they both wish.
Unfortunately, this film just doesn’t work. While there is the usual political plotting, sword-fighting, and other hallmarks Robin Hood films are noted for, none of it is very interesting in this one. The actors are much more dull and the plot is even more boring. The only things really going for The Prince of Thieves is that its a bit more comical than some of the others in this release and the run time is super short at just 71 minutes long. Other than that, there’s really nothing of interest provided by this film. I would say The Prince of Thieves is only for Robin Hood completionists, as most other viewers are going to be bored out of their mind by this film (like I was). 2/5
The Black Arrow (1948)
The Black Arrow is sort of an odd inclusion in this release as it technically isn’t a Robin Hood film at all. There is no Robin Hood in this film and all of the other characters are replaced by thinly-veiled copies of their Robin Hood counterparts. I’m guessing the reason for its inclusion is due to the obvious inspiration it took from Robin Hood tales. The Black Arrow is a slight improvement on The Prince of Thieves, but still definitively the second worst film in this set.
The only black-and-white film included in Robin Hood Origins, The Black Arrow stars Louis Hayward as Richard Shelton and Paul Cavanagh as John Sedley. Richard returns home from the War of the Roses to find out his father was murdered by the outlaw John Sedley. Of course, the people telling him this information (his uncle and others) are the ones who actually perpetrated the act. The Black Arrow helps Richard become aware of this conspiracy and how to do something about it.
My reaction to The Black Arrow was very mixed. The film does some things well but also has some serious detriments. I would say the main positive of the film lies in the movie having some of the better sword fights in this collection. The film even ends with an exciting jousting match. However, while there is a lot of good swashbuckling action in this film, some of the other fights are quite dull. On top of that, the story is the second least interesting in Robin Hood Origins. The Black Arrow is watchable and slightly more exciting than the prior film in the collection but I would say it is still slightly below average overall. 2.5/5
Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950)
This was the last film I watched in this collection (I watched Sword of Sherwood second to space out some of these older films) and at this point I was getting a little sick of swashbuckling films (after watching four others in the same week). Still, even with my interest in these films waning, I found Rogues of Sherwood Forest to be a pretty significant step up from The Prince of Thieves and The Black Arrow.
Rogues of Sherwood Forest takes place after the death of Richard the Lionheart, with the evil King John resuming his old ways by taxing his subjects ridiculous amounts. To do so, he attempts to take the new Robin Hood out via a joust (by having his opponent use a fake protective cap on his lance). When this fails and King John’s cronies start harassing the people of Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood brings his father’s old gang back together to fight the power.
There isn’t much archery in this film but there is a heck of a lot more action in it than the last two films I’ve written about. On top of that, this is easily the most cutthroat version of Robin Hood in these five films. This Robin Hood is not afraid to kill people. One thing that I like about this film is that much more justice is dealt out. There are several scenes of Robin Hood and his Merry Men fighting off the king’s men and saving the poor from unfair taxes. I like Robin Hood because he takes down corrupt and greedy people and this film spends the most time dispensing justice of the five included in this set. The script is once again the weakest element of the film as the movie does drag a bit between action sequences. However, Rogues of Sherwood Forest is good enough for me to recommend it and the movie sits snugly in the middle of these five films in terms of quality. 3/5
Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)
The last release on the set (and the newest release even though it is almost 60 years old at this point) is my favorite. Sword of Sherwood Forest is a Hammer Films production that sees the return of Richard Greene to his old role (he was Robin Hood in the classic 1955-59 TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood). In this film, Robin Hood winds up getting himself involved in an assassination attempt on the Archbishop of Canterbury. He quickly finds out that the Sheriff of Nottingham (played by Hammer legend Peter Cushing) is involved among other noblemen.
I think the reason I prefer Sword of Sherwood Forest over the other titles in this release is twofold. First, unlike most of the movies in this collection it actually takes some time to include some archery scenes. Most of the other films in this set focus on swordfights and things like that, Sword of Sherwood Forest includes some awesome archery trick shots like hitting a pumpkin through a spinning wheel, shooting a falcon out of the sky, and a nearly impossible angled shot. Most of the “battles” still involve swordfighting (I get it, archery battles aren’t the most interesting thing to watch) but at least they spent some time on Robin Hood’s archery skills in this film.
As the “newest” film in this set, Sword of Sherwood Forest also feels like the most “modern” film in this release. I don’t mind watching older films but they do tend to drag (even though a lot of them are only 70-80 minutes long). That’s the case with a few of the films in this set, they do some good things but ultimately wind up being a bit boring because very little happens. Sword of Sherwood Forest is quite a bit better in this regard, once a scene starts to get boring we move onto something else instead of focusing on melodramatic scenes for ten minutes at a time. Sword of Sherwood Forest is still much slower than today’s releases but it is much more tolerable for younger viewers.
Overall though, Sword of Sherwood Forest is still a pretty average film. While the archery shots are pretty impressive, the swordfights are much less so (some are even quite weak). The acting from Greene, Cushing, and the gorgeous Sarah Branch (Maid Marian) is solid but unremarkable. Unlike some of the other films in this release though, I would definitely recommend it for Robin Hood fans and aficionados of the genre. 3/5
Video Quality, Final Thoughts, and Recommendations
As all of these films are over 55 years old, I really wasn’t expecting great video quality from any of them. However, most of the films in this collection look decent for their age. The Prince of Thieves and the black-and-white The Black Arrow are the worst looking films in this set but even they are passable. They are a bit compressed (the first three films are on the first disc and the second DVD holds the last two) but I doubt they would look much better without the compression anyway.
In terms of prior availability of these films, the best of the lot (The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, Rogues of Sherwood Forest, and Sword of Sherwood Forest) were already released on DVD and are available for very reasonable prices on Amazon (as is The Prince of Thieves). Sword of Sherwood Forest is actually even available on Blu-ray. The only film in this set that is a bit pricey on Amazon is The Black Arrow, the second worst in the set in my opinion. Still, Robin Hood Origins is a good value release since you get five films for less than $10. They are compressed onto two discs so they probably don’t look quite as good as the solo releases but with films as old as these, the difference isn’t going to be that major.
Overall, while none of the films in Robin Hood Origins are must-sees, there are three films I feel are worth watching (Sword of Sherwood Forest, The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, and Rogues of Sherwood Forest), one that has some good moments but is ultimately slightly below average (The Black Arrow), and one that I wouldn’t recommend watching (The Prince of Thieves). The price is definitely right on this release so I recommend it as long as you are a fan of Robin Hood and swashbuckler films (and can tolerate slower-paced movies).
Robin Hood Origins was released on DVD on January 8, 2019.
Buy Robin Hood Origins on Amazon: DVD
We would like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the review copy of Robin Hood Origins used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.