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A History of Robin Hood on Screen

May 2010

RUSSELL Crowe will likely be up there with Kevin Costner, Richard Greene and Errol Flynn for playing our legendary outlaw. Particularly as it looks like Ridley Scott will direct the gruff Oscar-winner in a sequel. That, of course, depends on the success of the film.
There have been other Robin Hoods over the years, of course. Most recently television gave us Jonas Armstrong, who survived three seasons as a young Robin for the BBC before disappearing off into the forest with just 1.7m people watching the season finale.
In the mid-80s Michael Praed grew his hair and earned pin-up status playing Robin of Sherwood, but keen not to be typecast he quit to be replaced by Jason Connery. A decade earlier, dad Sean had starred in the movie Robin and Marian.
But there have been dozens more from Bugs Bunny to Frank Sinatra. And as Maid Marian, Cate Blanchett(misspelt as Marion) follows the likes of Olivia De Haviland, Uma Thurman and Audrey Hepburn.
And these film and TV interpretations haven't always followed the traditional tale of the heroic outlaw robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
Robin Hood in space anyone? Or fighting a dragon?
The first Robin Hood on screen was in 1908 and the silent film Robin Hood and His Merry Men. Fourteen years later Hollywood produced what the New York Times said "represents the high water mark of film production", in the silent classic Robin Hood. It netted its star, Douglas Fairbank, more than half a million dollars.
But it was Errol Flynn as our dashing hero in The Adventures of Robin Hood who really fired the legend across the world, winning three Oscars in 1938.
By 1941 Hollywood was giving the morality tale a more contemporary slant with the Western, Robin Hood of the Pecos. Sherwood Forest was replaced with Texas, the bow and arrows with Smith & Wessons and the medieval era became the period just after the American Civil War. As for Robin, he was played by the famous singing cowboy of the day, Roy Rogers. Then came Robin Hood of the Range, which kept him in a Western landscape, as Steve Malone assumed a masked identity to help cattle ranchers fend off a railroad.
Although 1947's Robin Hood of Monterey had the name in the title, the hero of the next cowboy adventure was known as The Cisco Kid, "a two-gun Galahad leaving behind a trail of kissing women and cussing men!"
Disney had its first go in 1952 with a largely British cast for The Story of Robin Hood and His Merry Men. The live action family film starred Lincolnshire actor Richard Todd, with James Robertson Justice, best remembered as Sir Lancelot Spratt in the Doctor film series, playing Little John. Last Of The Summer Wine's Bill Owen also appeared.
They had more success with the fully animated Walt Disney's Robin Hood in 1973, where the outlaw was not man but fox. But that wasn't the first cartoon caper: 1949's Rabbit Hood starred Bugs Bunny.
Before the long-running British TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Richard Greene, the BBC had a mini-series in 1953 with future Doctor Who Patrick Troughton as the first Robin on the small screen.
But it wasn't to last, as Greene's series, which ran from 1955–1960, attracted millions of viewers.
The first film not to feature the hero, despite carrying the name in the title, was the British-made The Son of Robin Hood in 1958. Robin is dead and his Merry Men seek a replacement but as his son's not up to it they choose his, erm, daughter.
The 60s obsession with space travel prompted the Canadian animated TV series Rocket Robin Hood, where the medieval archer embarked on futuristic adventures with his merry men. Living on the New Sherwood Forest Asteroid, Robin's arch nemesis is the Sheriff of NOTT (National Outer-space Terrestrial Territories).
The theme song included the line: "Watch now as our rockets race here from afar. For now, with our Robin, we live on a star. Three. Two. One. Blast off!"
It was, perhaps, an indication they were running out of ideas. As were Hollywood, who reasoned that 1968 was a good time to release a musical, The Legend of Robin Hood. The Rat Pack had given the legend a musical twist four years earlier in Robin and the 7 Hoods. Starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, it was set in 1930s ChicagoBing Crosby and Peter Falk made appearances.
The Connery/Hepburn movie Robin and Marian was really the only contribution to the legacy in the 70s.
If Robin Hood as space traveller wasn't bad enough, in a surreal move it was thought Groucho Marx a suitable inspiration. Enter actor Richard Little for a 1982 TV drama in which he played every character in the style of Hollywood actors.
Talking of which, Uma Thurman donned the Maid Marian outfit in 1991's Robin Hood but that film was dwarfed by the big budget, Oscar nominated Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner.
On set some actors had referred to it as Raiders Of The Lost Sherwood Forest.
"It had to be," said Costner.
"This movie couldn't survive if it didn't have that sense of urgency and fun and newness."
Just two years later and Prince of Thieves was an obvious spur for the first successful comedy version on the big screen with Mel Brooks' spoof Robin Hood: Men In Tights.
Yet that wasn't as camp a send-up by the BBC in the children's TV series Maid Marian And Her Merry Men, which ran for five years and featured Robin as a wimpy Kensington tailor.
Last year, and largely unnoticed by TV audiences, was Beyond Sherwood Forest, in which a cursed girl who can change into a terrifying dragon is sent to find and kill Robin Hood.
Darker still is the in-production Robin Hood: Ghosts of Sherwood, which will be the first horror movie version.
It's unlikely to trouble Scott's version, which The Muppets could well have been referring to in a 1979 episode: "Well, I've seen a lot of versions of Robin Hood, but none to match this one.
"The legend of Robin Hood will never die."

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