A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967) ***

British studio Hammer made a second valiant attempt at reviving the moribund swashbuckler – six years on from Sword of Sherwood Forest. More in the way of an origin story, this explains how a nobleman turned into an outlaw and how the merry band was formed. For in this tale Robin Hood (Barrie Ingham) is a Norman nobleman framed for murder, Will Scarlet (Douglas Mitchell) and Little John (Leon Greene) are castle servants (also Normans) while Maid Marian (Gay Hamilton) is in disguise. Some liberties are taken with the traditional version – there is no fight with Little John, instead, as noted above, they are already acquainted.

There are a couple of excellent set pieces and although the swordfights are not in the athletic league of Errol Flynn they are more inventive than the previous Hammer outing and there is enough derring-do to keep the plot ticking along. Robin’s cousin Roger de Courtenay (Peter Blythe) is the prime villain this time round, the sheriff (John Arnatt), although involved up to the hilt at the end, content to offer acerbic comment from the sidelines.  

When Robin and Friar Tuck escape the castle by jumping into the moat, Will Scarlet is caught and later used as bait. Meanwhile Robin’s archery prowess and leadership skills have impressed the Saxon outlaws hiding in the forest and he takes over as their head. The picture follows the swashbuckler template with clever ruses, jousting, Robin disguised as a masked monk, torture, and a pie fight.

Being plucked from obscurity and turned into a star was a standard Hollywood publicity story from the 1930s and 1940s, but the notion survived well into the 1960s – and “A Challenge for Robin Hood” was proof for one lady. Liverpool-born Sheila Forrest had won the “Girl in a Million” competition organized by the ABC cinema chain as a promotional gimmick for “One Million Years B.C.” Fifteen regional finalists had been judged at Elstree film studios by a panel including Martine Beswick, a supporting actress in “One Million Years B.C.,” West Ham footballer and World Cup winner Geoff Hurst, and “ABC Film Review” editor Peter Haigh. As well as the £1,000 first prize, Sheila won a role in a forthcoming Hammer film, which turned out to be the Robin Hood picture, known at that time as “Legend of Robin Hood,” and she appeared in a photoshoot for “ABC Film Review” (August 1967, p12) dressed as a lady-in-waiting and pictured with star Barrie Ingham (mispelt as Barry Langham in the fan magazine) and James Hayter. Unfortunately, the role was not large enough to receive a credit and as far as I am aware that was her only film..

Director C. M. Pennington-Richards had some swashbuckling form having helmed several episodes of The Buccaneers and Ivanhoe television series but his big screen experience was limited to routine films like Ladies Who Do (1963) with Peggy Mount. This was a departure for scriptwriter Peter Bryan, more used to churning out horror films like The Brides of Dracula (1960) and The Plague of the Zombies (1966), and he has invested the picture with more wittier lines and humorous situations than you might expect. It’s certainly Saturday afternoon matinee material and unless compared to the likes of The Pirates of the Caribbean or the classic Errol Flynn adventure it stands up very well on its own.

 Many of the films from the 1960s are to be found free of charge on TCM and Sony Movies and the British Talking Pictures as well as mainstream television channels. Films tend to be licensed to any of the above for a specific period of time so you might find access has disappeared. But if this film is not available through these routes, then here is the link to the DVD and/or streaming service.