Sword of Sherwood Forest (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (28th August 2022).
The Film

Britainís best-loved outlaw gets the Hammer treatment in Robin Hood at Hammer: Two Tales from Sherwood Forest.

For 1960ís Sword of Sherwood Forest, Richard Greene (The Blood of Fu Manchu, The Castle of Fu Manchu) reprises the role he made famous in the classic television series The Adventures of Robin Hood. Directed by Terence Fisher (The Gorgon, The Revenge of Frankenstein), and starring Peter Cushing (The Devilís Men, Corruption) as the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham, the film sees Robin Hood thwart a plot to assassinate the Archbishop of Canterbury (Jack Gwillm, Jason and the Argonauts, The Curse of the Mummyís Tomb). The film also boasts an uncredited early role for Oliver Reed (The System, The Damned).

In 1967ís A Challenge for Robin Hood, Barrie Ingham (The Day of the Jackal) dons the Lincoln green as he and his merrie men hide out in Sherwood Forest after his cousin (Peter Blythe, Frankenstein Created Woman) frames him for murder. This action-packed adventure features acting support from Gay Hamilton (Barry Lyndon, The Duellists) and Leon Greene (Adventures of a Private Eye, Adventures of a Plumberís Mate).

This 2-disc Limited Edition set contains a double-sided poster, an 80-page book, and extensive new and archival extra features, including the much-loved Childrenís Film Foundation film Robin Hood Junior (1975), starring Keith Chegwin (Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, Cheggers Plays Pop) as the diminutive hero.

Video

Hammer had made one Robin Hood adventure prior to Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), which had actually been their first colour production: Val Guest's Men of Sherwood Forest (1954). Sadly, the rights to that entertaining little film lie elsewhere (Network?). Hopefully we'll see a restored BD at some point.

The Sword of Sherwood Forest was made as a spin off from the popular ITC television series The Adventures of Robin Hood which had lasted for 143 25 minute episodes between 1955 and 1959. It had been a global success and was considered the definitive TV portrayal in certain quarters (at least until the 1983-85 Robin of Sherwood series). This enjoyable film essentially stands alone and only has the programme's Robin Hood ported over, the fore-square, charismatic Richard Greene. Sadly, all other lead roles were recast. That said, the film's cast are topnotch.

The film premiered on Boxing Day 1960 (coupled with the brisk espionage drama Visa to Canton) and was a perfect tonic for stressed families to pack off the small fry to the cinema for the afternoon thus granting the adults some peace and quiet after the Christmas festivities of the previous few days. Terence Fisher, one of Hammer's primary directors, uses the widescreen frame extremely well, filling it with colour and spectacle. The cast are all excellent, Alun Hoddinott's score the perfect accompaniment to Fisher's well-staged action set pieces. A gem, filmmaking from a more innocent era when the grim sat side by side with humour, adventure, wit and most importantly they rarely outstayed their welcome with bloated running times (Sword runs a mere 80 minutes).

Lincoln Green never looked so vivid! After the monochrome 1.37:1 antics of the TV production this widescreen MegaScope, full-colour feature must've blown many little minds. Hammer were known for their vivid colour cinematography, colourful production design and locations. Their swashbucklers were all shot in anamorphic widescreen processes and MegaScope was the one chosen for Sword. To quote the American Widescreen Museum:

There are two different versions of this particular format. If 'anamorphic' is listed in parentheses directly afterward, then the film was shot in 4-perf 35mm anamorphic. If 'spherical' is listed directly afterward, that means the 2.35:1 image was extracted from an Academy frame and printed 4-perf 35mm anamorphic. Where no such designation is given, that means the photographic configuration is unknown and the entry will be marked with an asterisk, awaiting confirmation one way or the other.


In the case of this film, they list it with the 'A' for anamorphic, se we're dealing with a 4-perf, 35mm production shot using anamorphic lenses. There are some telltale signs of mild distortion towards the left and right edges of the wide frame but technically minded viewers will know this, others need not worry as they're very mild and most wouldn't notice them.

Colours are vivid but green is especially noteworthy, outfits, trees, grass ... all very lush. Flesh tones are warm, primaries such as red (check out Desmond Llewelyn's cloak!) are striking and it's all very well defined with no bleed. Purples such as the sherif's men's outfits are velvety and textured. This is a beautifully shot film given a fabulous Sony master and a beautifully encoded transfer. Despite what some reviewers have reported black levels and contrast are perfect creating an image that almost has 3D qualities. Grain and grain management are filmic and provide the widescreen image with a lovely texture.

About as good a presentation of this film as I have seen and I've watched it many times starting with panned and scanned television broadcasts, sell thru VHS releases and DVDs ('A').

1080p24 / MPEG-4 / BD50 / 2.35:1 / 79:56

Audio

English LPCM 1.0 (48kHz)
Subtitles: English HoH

A strong, clear mono track that has been restored as well as the image. It lacks range and depth obviously but it's robust, dialogue is very clear and sound effects and score never intrude on clarity. When cranked up loud in volume distortion only occurs with large musical crescendos, but nothing to get het up bout. Pretty standard for a soundtrack of this vintage and budget. The usual excellent hard of hearing subtitles are provided and they translate every shred of dialogue and nuance, at least in the sections I sample ('B+').

Extras

Audio commentary by historians Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby (2022)

Lyons and Rigby work well together weaving a tight tapestry of factoids and trivia covering all the usual subjects one would expect cast, crew, locations and production itself. Love the Barrie Ingham anecdote about the physical nature of the role and getting thirsty on the job! Presented in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

"The John Player Lecture: Onstage discussion chaired by John Russell Taylor at the National Film Theatre, London in 1971, with contributions from Michael Carreras, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher, James Needs, Anthony Nelson-Keys and Jimmy Sangster" plays as an alternate audio track over the film (61:08)

To my mind this is the greatest extra on the set as we have an interview with participants who were all dead and gone (bar Sangster) by the 21st century Hammer DVD revolution, so consequently the comments are very fresh. Keys (1911-85) was even dead by the time the BBC made their wonderful documentary Hammer: The Studio That Dripped Blood, screened in the summer of 1987 as part of the celebrations of thirty years of Hammer Horror. Needs has not been interviewed for any documentary that I'm aware of. A lively discussion that rises some interesting things with Taylor (36 at the time) even stating that Mary Shelley's novel is overrated. I was also surprised at hearing him dishing out strong praise for Dracula and Revenge of Frankenstein (both 1958) a reevaluation that I though didn't come about till the '90s. Hugely valuable and very enjoyable. Presented in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with some hiss.

"The British History Entertainment Project (BEHP) Interview with C. M. Pennington-Richards: Conducted by Alan Lawson and Colin Moffat" 1990 interview that plays as an alternate audio track over the film (96:30)

A valuable career spanning discussion with the lively Pennington-Richards (1911-2005)who comes over as a likeable character and has plenty of tales to tell about his long career in the film business (1937-77). Presented in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

"Sherwood on Screen: Kim Newman on the Film and Television Portrayals of Robin Hood" 2022 interview (24:44)
"Songs from the Hood: David Huckvale on Composer Gary Hughes and A Challenge for Robin Hood" 2022 interview (11:23)
"An Excuse for Action: John Gugolka on A Challenge for Robin Hood" 2022 interview (11:13)


47:20 worth of new interviews that kick off with Newman discussing portrayals of the legend in cinema and television right up to the 21st century. Huckvale covers the career of composer Hughes and actor Gugolka (who plays Marion's young brother in the film) tells us his memories of how he got the role and what it was like shooting it in the summer of 1967. All are in 1080p24 1.78:1 with uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo sound.

Theatrical Trailer (1:57)

Vintage trailer presented in 1080p24 1.66:1 with lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 sound.

A Challenge for Robin Hood Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (125 images)

A stacked HD gallery which is extremely welcome accompanying this most unsung of Hammer productions.

"Robin Hood Junior" 1975 short film (with optional 2022 audio commentary with Vic Pratt) (60:45)

Another welcome and enjoyable Children's Film Foundation (CFF) short this time starring the late Keith Chegwin (1957-2017) that tells the Robin Hood story from a different perspective. It's also accompanied by another detailed and passionate commentary by Vic Prat who is a big fan of the CFF and has been involved in many DVD and BD extras packages. Presented in 1080p24 1.37:1 and with uncompressed LPCM 1.0 sound. Image is generally excellent although there is some brief print wear with minor speckles throughout and some water damage late in the game.

An 80-page liner notes book by Frank Collins, an article on Richard Greene, archival materials, contemporary reviews, and film credits

The usual superb hardcopy companion in which A .challenge for Robin Hood is obviously covered extensively throughout along with Hammer's other Robin Hood projects although the two main films and Robin Hood Jr. get the lions share of the coverage. There's also a fine article on the real Robin Hood legends.

A limited edition exclusive poster

Alas, this wasn't provided for review but having had some of Powerhouse's posters in the past it's on good quality paper, great colour reproduction.

Packaging

At the time of writing, unknown.

Overall

Disc one of Powerhouse's superb and very welcome Hammer Robin .hood double bill is one of the discs of the year fo me. I have always loved Hammer swashbucklers and the two on this set are among their very best. Sword of Sherwood Forest is one of the earliest TV spinoffs, a subset of filmmaking Hammer excelled at (Quatermass to On the Buses). The film looks and sounds superb considering it's modest origins and age. This sounds like Im damning with faint praise, but I'm not. The transfer here is demo level for an early '60s period action spectacular and the fine locations and production values look a peach. I wouldn't be surprised to find that modern children would be surprisingly captivated by this jolly outing. Extras are absolutely topnotch and of the highest quality with vintage screen-talks rubbing shoulders with a superb commentary and a clutch of mainly new interviews (and one priceless vintage one) all lf which are essential for Hammer buffs. Highly recommended!

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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