As King Richard is away fighting the Crusades, England has been left to fend for itself, with Nottingham under the Norman Sir John de Courtney (William Squire) who has mostly allowed the law of the land to be handed over to his errant son Sir Roger (Peter Blythe), a man who thinks nothing of executing the Saxons under his command for the crime of poaching. The trouble is, he has ensured there is little food to be had for the people and they are forced into dire straits which Roger's cousin Sir Robin (Barrie Ingham) is now caught up in when he rightly accuses him of corruption...
That's right, Robin Hood was a Norman in this Hammer telling of the tale, which as it turned out was their final entry in the British swashbuckler field they had dominated for a number of years, though by this point they were heading out of fashion as tastes in cinema changed. You could argue they were out of fashion for a time before this was released, but many have happy memories of catching A Challenge on television and finding it surprisingly enjoyable. Obviously any Robin Hood movie had to live up to the Errol Flynn version, which pretty much all of them did up to this stage by recreating scenes from it thereafter.
Well, it was the legend they wanted to pay homage to, but they must have been aware Errol was going to be very difficult to knock off his perch as the greatest Robin Hood of all time, and Barrie Ingham didn't provide much of a threat to him. That said, he was suitably dashing not to embarrass himself even in those doublet and hose, handy with a sword and whatever weapon was within reach, and believably a leader of men, Merrie Men in this case, when he is falsely accused of killing Sir Roger de Courcey - sorry, de Courtney's brother and has to flee to Sherwood Forest to draw up his plans for fighting back. He takes with him the only witness to the crime, a fruity-voiced James Hayter as Friar Tuck, one of the most enjoyable performances.
Hayter's tones would be familiar to anyone who had heard him shilling for a particular brand of exceedingly good cakes on television adverts, making him now, when looked back on, probably the best known of the cast, though Ingham's voice was recognisable too, for his leading role as Basil in The Great Mouse Detective, a cult eighties Disney cartoon feature. Back at the plot, there were hints of what the pop culture climate was like even in an apparently historically-based yarn such as this, with Robin now a nobleman but doubling as an anti-establishment hero, not quite James Bond or John Steed, perhaps closer to some hippy version of those - he did live among the flowers, after all. Trees, anyway.
Another example of the era was that Robin could still fire an arrow into a piece of cloth held by a pigeon flying overhead with a hood over his head - hey, who can't? - but instead of an archery competition as a setpiece we had a wrestling one at the fayre, echoing the huge popularity of the sport on television: imagine Robin as Jackie Pallo and you had an idea of what they were aiming for. As a result, all this roistering left the Maid Marian role neglected, even though the writers played a trick on the audience by making us think she's backing the wrong side, so this was strictly a boys' adventure with Robin only smooching his leading lady for a couple of seconds at the end. If you could forgive the problem of having the hero tied up for over half the finale, you would find this amusing enough, and it did contain a hefty dose of energetic staging which carried it through some very familiar plotting, even with the variations. If you got bored, you could always try and spot the car driving past in the background of one shot. Music by Gary Hughes.