Our friends at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment have taken advantage of the publicity build-up for Ridley Scott’s dreadful “Robin Hood” to revive four tales of Sherwood Forest from the Columbia Pictures library. From the auteurist perspective, the most rewarding is Gordon Douglas’s 1950 “Rogues of Sherwood Forest,” another fine example of Douglas’s consistently smooth, thoughtful mise-en-scene, with his inviting depth compositions, elegant use of darkness and shadow and lively blocking that can make even an actor as stiff as John Derek (this film’s Robin, Jr.) seem like a dynamic presence. Not the least of the film’s charms is the third and final appearance of Alan Hale as Little John — a role he first played in the Fairbanks-Dwan “Robin Hood” of 1922 and returned to, most famously, in the Flynn-Curtiz “Adventures of Robin Hood” of 1938. Douglas, nothing if not versatile, returned to the material (sort of) for the 1964 Rat Pack comedy “Robin and the 7 Hoods,” which transposed the story to prohibition-era Chicago, with Sinatra as Robin and Dean Martin as Little John — after Hale, the character’s most sympathetic interpreter. More details in my New York Times review, here.
Quite a few of the reviews I’ve read of the Ridley Scott film characterize it as a Tea Party-inspired jeremiad against high taxes and big government, though I suspect that is crediting Scott and company with a little too much prescience on a project that must necessarily have originated several years ago. In any case it was Fairbanks, who wrote the story for the 1922 film under his “Elton Thomas” pseudonym, who first “Americanized” Robin Hood, turning him from a proto-socialist with a dangerous redistribution of wealth program into a committed democrat (with a reassuringly aristocratic background) fighting the despotic Prince John for the rights of the people — a thread unselfconsciously continued by the current Anglo-Australian version, as if it had been part of the legend all along.
If you haven’t seen the Fairbanks version, I strongly recommend it; clearly, they screened it more than once at Warner Brothers when they were getting up the Flynn film, though it’s a terrific movie in its own right, with a scale and expansiveness no other interpretation has matched. Kino put it out in an excellent transfer from an original print some years ago, and it remains available on their website.