Men of Sherwood Forest (1954)

Hammer's take on the classic Robin Hood story is a long way from their horror films but an entertaining watch. German E-M-S R2 DVD.

The Film

The story opens in 12th Century England, King Richard is being held to ransom in Germany and Prince John is attempting to usurp the throne. In Sherwood forest a man is robbed and killed by masked outlaws, the Sheriff of Nottingham makes a declaration that there is to be an even higher price on the head of the villain Robin Hood. Meanwhile, Sir Nigel Saltire (Douglas Wilmer) and Duke Moraine discuss the robbery, the man was a messenger and was carrying vital information; believing Robin Hood to be behind the crime they set off to track him down. Robin (Don Taylor), with his usual motley band, is adament that his men did not steal the trinket, but learning that it contains vital news of the King's return that could endanger Richard's life if in the wrong hands, agrees to help recover it. After some detective work they track down the men behind the crime and trace the theft back to Sir Guy Belton. Robin sneaks into Belton's castle as a minstrel, but the knight has discovered the hidden message and is preparing to ambush Richard as he lands on the coast; it is up to Robin and Friar Tuck to save the day, and the life of the King.

Obviously inspired by the sucess of Disney's The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952) with Richard Todd in the lead, Hammer's Men of Sherwood Forest is a low budget but well made film. The storyline is similar to that of the earlier film; Prince John (never seen) and his allies are attempting to stop the return of the King, although Hammer choose not to play up the Sheriff of Nottingham, instead it is a pair of the usurper's knights who are behind the treason. The story flows along at a fair clip and with plenty of twists, turns and swordfights there is rarely a dead moment. A gritty drama this is not and a very strong vein of humour runs throughout the film courtesy of Friar Tuck and his compulsive gambling (watch him teach the men Roulette and even strip poker!) - the opening third, as Robin attempts to solve the crime, play out rather like a Sherlock Holmes film. It all builds to a decent climax, although it seems slighly rushed compared to the rest of the film and possibly had to be toned down to secure the U rating.

The film's budgetary restrictions mean that the big casts of the earlier Disney movie are nowhere to be seen, but the costumes look authentic and the sets look very impressive and colourful - this being Hammer's first colour film. Direction is solid, nothing special here from Quatermass Xperiment (1955) director Val Guest but he does a good job of compensating for the small scale of the production.

The typical Hammer cast is not present here, most of the studio's big names would not come along for a few years yet. Don Taylor was an American import, presumably to aide the film's overseas distribution, although he is quite impressive. While Richard Todd gave an almost foppish performance as Robin, Don Taylor gives a much more manly take - the beard helps, few men in this period would have been clean shaven. Character actor Douglas Wilmer, making his film debut, gives a strong turn as Sir Nigel Saltire in one of only two Hammer appearances (the next being over a decade and a half later in Vampire Lovers (1970)), while the rest of the cast are strong - look out for future Carry On star Bernard Bresslaw as a bumbling castle guard.

A million miles from their later horror films, Men of Sherwood Forest is a good old fashioned adventure film but nothing more. A decent plot and some nice sets mean you don't often notice the rather small cast, but those looking for pitched battles, big medieval tournaments or a revisionist take on the legend should try elsewhere. Recommended for those looking for a classic bit of family-safe swashbuckling action.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Don Taylor - later went on to direct Damien: Omen II (1978) and The Final Countdown (1980)
Directed by anyone interesting? Val Guest - One of Hammer's early directors who also shot The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
Is it scary? No.
Any gore? None.
Any sex? No.
Who is it for?
Generally enjoyable.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen.Colour.
The print is of mixed quality: in certain scenes there is a lot of print damage, softness and grain, other parts are very dark. Most scenes are of decent quality, and the film is never unwatchable.
Audio Original English mono and a German dub track. No problems.
Subtitles German and German HOH
Run-timeFeature 1hr 14m 16s (PAL)
Extras The disc includes:
  • The Costumers episode of 'World of Hammer'. This was a 1980 documentary series, narrated by Oliver Reed, about Hammer studios. It provides some interesting clips of Hammer's various historical action films, but no interviews and little detail about the films. English. (24m 45s)
  • A gallery of lobby cards and publicity stills with soundtrack backing (1m 30s)
  • Shots of 3 German pressbooks of the film (0m 38s + 0m 42s + 1m 27s)
  • Liner notes (German).
AvailabilityGerman release. DVD Title: Robin Hood - Der rote Rächer
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? None.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 26th March 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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