Plot: The notorious Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Cushing) has shown no mercy to those who find themselves on the wrong side of his law, so it is no surprise when some of his lackeys continue his methods. As a man tries to run from the Sheriff’s forces, he is shot in the back with an arrow and gravely wounded, only to somehow escape and take shelter in the woods. But these are no ordinary woods, but Sherwood Forest, home to the bandit king Robin Hood (Richard Greene) and his merry men. Robin does find the wounded man and his actions to help the fugitive are seen by Maid Marian (Sarah Branch), who strikes up a friendship with the likable rogue. She wants to see Robin given a pardon and even arranges a meeting with the Sheriff, who offers Robin a handsome sum of gold plus a full pardon. Of course, Robin turns down the offer, which sparks a more intense hunt than ever, as the Sheriff tries to end the merry men and their do-good antics, while Robin seeks to thwart the Sheriff’s various plots.
Entertainment Value: This one of Hammer Films’ journeys to Sherwood Forest and while not the lone Robin Hood adventure the studio crafted, Sword of Sherwood Forest is likely the one with the highest profile. The story has a familiar texture and feels like a Robin Hood yarn, but doesn’t get bogged down in origins or what not, it promises some adventure and delivers. The tone leans on the light side, so there’s not much real tension and it feels more like a friendly rivalry between Robin and the Sheriff. The two still clash of course, but it isn’t one of the Robin Hood adaptations that is fueled by social politics or heavy handed messages. This wouldn’t be an issue, but the movie just isn’t that much fun and since it isn’t keen on the serious side of the drama, it fails to spark much of a reaction at all. I would have liked to see the film embrace one aspect or another, be it the social elements or the high adventure or just embrace the campiness, but it tries to walk the line and winds up as a middling experience. I mean, just Peter Cushing as a scene stealing Sheriff could have worked wonders, but no such luck. But fans of the Robin Hood myth and Hammer Films devotees should be able to appreciate some of Sword of Sherwood, so that’s the main interest likely rests.
This movie has a solid lineup of talent, though the material doesn’t exactly give them room to do their best work. I have to think the Hammer connection will make Peter Cushing the main draw for most first viewers, especially in a role like the Sheriff of Nottingham, which has so much potential. I found Cushing to be solid, as always, but he simply isn’t given the chance to shine and what could have been a memorable effort is stymied. I would have loved to see him really play up the villain and chew up the script, but instead he is restrained and more proper. Not a knock on Cushing at all, as he does what he can, but the material seems restrictive. Richard Greene is an affable Robin, but doesn’t have the kind of charm or charisma associated with the role, nor the nimble, roguish presence. His performance is fine however, especially in the sparks of mischief that are present at times. The cast also includes Nigel Green, Niall MacGinnis, Desmond Llewelyn, and Oliver Reed.
The Disc: Twilight Time’s Blu-ray treatment looks good, which is a relief, as the movie has some gorgeous landscapes and locations. The image is sharp and shows solid detail, much more refined than previous home video editions I’ve seen. The lush greens come across well, so colors have a bright and natural texture, while contrast is fine, if a little light at times. In short, this is a rock solid visual presentation that allows fans to leave their DVDs in the past. The extras include the isolated music & effects, as well as the film’s trailer.