Tuesday, January 23, 2018


TALES OF ROBIN HOOD was a collaboration between two budget-minded producers, Robert Lippert (best known for Lippert Pictures and later the B-unit at Fox--we reviewed his WILDFIRE here a while back) and Hal Roach Jr. Both had experimented with “streamlined” features running in the 40-55 minute range, and Roach was a pioneer of early television (which was essentially even more “streamlined” 25 minute B-movies), responsible for such classics as RACKET SQUAD, DUFFY’S TAVERN, MY LITTLE MARGIE, and THE STU ERWIN SHOW. Lippert had also experimented with hour-long films in two parts so they could be separated for easy television showings after a token theatrical run (he did three excellent features in this vein with Hugh Beaumont as detective Denny O’Brien in 1951). Therefore, the two were natural allies when it came to creating a Robin Hood TV pilot that might also have theatrical exhibition possibilities on the side (the opening credits read R&L PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS, meaning Roach and Lippert)...and one that could be made quickly and inexpensively.

Roach had access to sets from the 1948 film JOAN OF ARC (an RKO release, which starred Ingrid Bergman and Jose Ferrer), which are used A LOT in the film, so all that was needed was minimal outdoor shooting and some faux-outdoor sets (for instance, the fight between Little John and Robin Hood, when they first meet and do not know each other’s identity, where they both wind up falling into a small pond, was clearly shot at a studio pool, dressed with some brush around it). The end result is quite impressive visually, especially for a low-budget film. The many and varied scenes on large castle sets give the film a “big” feel and a convincing atmosphere.

It’s amazing how much of the Robin Hood backstory and legend are crammed into a one-hour film, but rarely does it seem that characters are mouthing exposition in their dialogue, and when it does, it still seems natural to the scene. You could be from Mars and never have heard of this Robin Hood fellow, and in an hour you’d know his personal history as Robin of Locksley, how he evolved into his role as doer-of-good and righter-of-wrong, how he assembled his group of Merry Men, how the major members of his group joined the band, how Maid Marian came into his life, etc. etc. And all of this is provided in addition to an exciting plot involving kidnapping, an archery contest, the quest to win Maid Marian’s hand away from the evil man to whom she’s been promised, and the quest to topple Sir Guy of Clement, who had Robin’s father killed and who has been abusing the locals.

Robert Clarke, who plays Robin, devoted a few pages to this film in his excellent autobiography TO “B” OR NOT TO “B”, and it seems the principal photography was done in FOUR DAYS! With that kind of schedule, the production needed professionals who could work quickly with no re-takes, and you’ve got a lot of them here. Clarke, who later became known for low budget sci-fi and horror films, had been a contract player at RKO and worked with many greats there, and he starred in two of the prestigious indie films directed by Ida Lupino a year or so before this film. He’s handsome, athletic, projects an upbeat vibe throughout the film, and his fencing does not seem to have required a double. In addition you’ve got the urbane Brit Paul Cavanagh, a man with 162 IMDB credits, as the evil Sir Guy; comedic movie gangster and BTC favorite Ben Welden (a man with a devoted following because of his 8 guest appearances on the 50’s Superman TV show) as Friar Tuck; and Whit Bissell (the doctor in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF) as Will. Low budget filmmaking requires talented character actors who can command your attention, and either charm you or make you hate them, and these pros (among many in the cast) do that very well. Four days isn’t even a full work week, and the next week these folks would be in some other film or TV episode, and giving THAT the same efficient professionalism, probably at or near SAG/AFTRA scale.

Had I stumbled in to see this film at my local neighborhood or small-town theater in 1951 at the end of a long work week dealing with cranky customers and a cranky boss, I would have been totally entertained. Also, because the film was shot for TV exhibition, it has a lot of medium shots and close-ups (except for when they want to show of that gigantic Joan of Arc set, and then the camera pulls back, and yes, it IS impressive), so you really get to know the actors, as they are, literally, in your face a lot.

For me, characters like Robin Hood or Tarzan or Hercules (or ANY character from comics!) belong in “B” movies, not in bloated studio epics. There were no spoiled diva stars in this film....to get that many scenes done in four days, you had to be quick and professional, and that speed gives a kind of breathless feel to the film’s pace and performances, and if you think about it, Robin Hood had to be in a relatively breathless state to get done all the derring-do necessary to defeat the evil ruler, save Maid Marian, and re-claim his rightful place as Robin of Locksley....and especially to get it all done IN ONE HOUR. We should be giving an award to this cast and crew who could put together such an exciting and good-looking low-budget film....actually, a TV pilot that was not picked up....so efficiently. If you ever needed an example of old-fashioned American ingenuity using the modest materials at hand, TALES OF ROBIN HOOD is it. If I had a sword, I’d raise it in honor of Robin Hood and Robert Clarke....since I don’t, I’ll raise a tankard of ale instead!

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