AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 95 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
King Richard is prisoner in Germany and his brother Price John is running the country into the ground. At the Courtenay castle, the dying Sir John de Courtenay leaves his estate in equal measure to his sons Henry and Roger, and to his nephew Robin. Angered by this, Roger kills Henry and frames Robin for the murder, but Robin escapes with Friar Tuck and they flee into the forest where they meet a band of outlaws, former landowners who were kicked out under Prince John’s brutal regime. It soon transpires that Robin is a born leader for the group, and they band together around him. Meanwhile, the scheming and clever Sheriff of Nottingham has joined Roger….
Even though it opens unpromisingly with a jet stream visible in the sky in the very first shot, while later on you can see a car on the side of the screen, Hammer’s third go at Sherwood Forest’s most famous resident – following on from The Men Of Sherwood Forest and Sword Of Sherwood Forest, and the first one to tell an origin story – is their best. It’s not necessarily one for the purists though. For example, Little John is now a wrestler in Robin’s castle whom he fights at a country fare, though having Robin a Norman who in the opening scene saves a young boy from Roger, and who is therefore already sympathetic to the Saxons even though the outlaws initially don’t like him, creates an interesting dynamic, and anyway some changes in these things can be fine as long as the nature of the source material is respected, and it is here, with even a ballad being sung in the forest which reminds us of how the Robin Hood stories begun in the first place, as songs which were handed down. On the other hand Marian isn’t really in it enough and her romance with Robin seems absurdly perfunctory, though this does mean that the film proceeds at a cracking pace, with the action mostly brief but constantly coming. A sequence of Norman knights falling into traps is rather ludicrous as the outlaws seem to know exactly where they will step, but the scaled down climactic battle is good and there’s even quite a good duel between Robin and Roger.
There are tiny spots of blood when arrows hit people in this version but it’s all very light hearted and at times approaches the joyousness of the 1940 The Adventures of Robin Hood. In that film, John Arnatt played the Deputy Sheriff of Nottingham, but here he’s been promoted to Sheriff, while James Hayter reprises his role as Friar Tuck from 1952’s The Story Of Robin Hood And His Merrie Men and, as usual, gets most of the funny lines. When trying to buy loads of Lincoln green and asked what Order wears that colour, he replies, “The Order of St. Patrick”. The two villains – Roger and the Sheriff – are different enough from each other to make an interesting pair, though Barrie Ingham is a rather colourless Robin which does let the side down a little. Black Park really gets some use here and we get to see parts of it not used by Hammer before, while the Pinewood interior castle sets are quite impressive. Lively, cheerful and rather innocent, A Challenge For Robin Hood isn’t at all a classic, but remains a nice example of a type of film we don’t really see much of today.