I wish I had a good explanation for odd events, though I do try my best. I hope The Legionnaire is a testament to my desire to make sense of the current goings on by using my Catholic perspective. Movies are my vehicle for doing so, and my desire is that they help my fellow faithful (or anyone) to exist in this mad world without losing your head. Film is a blessing and a curse in this regard. It can show the best of us, and the worst of us, and bring out each of these extremes from us in equal parts. In ideal circumstances, we like heroes for which we can root. I believe this is a big reason for why there have been so many productions of the legendary character Robin Hood. He is one of the few literary characters that can claim sustained fame for the better part of a millennium. Name a few others. Go ahead. I will wait. Are you done yet? I bring all this up as a disclaimer. In my quest to watch and review all the movies about the famous bandit of Sherwood Forest, I missed The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952). My presumption was that Disney’s animated version was the Mouse’s only foray into these tales. Apparently, I was wrong. So, tighten those bow strings, slip on your green tights, and prepare (to pretend) to be merry as I give you this review. Sigh.
At least The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men is a little different in its conceptualization, though I suspect the animated version got its inspiration from this one. What does that mean? Well, the first character we meet (and meet and meet and meet) is Allan-a-Dale (Elton Hayes). Do not bother going through your rolodex of Robin Hood characters for this one, but he is a minstrel traveling (I would say haunting) the countryside, strumming his instrument, and singing of various adventures. In Disney’s cartoon, it is a rooster. I will take the rooster. At least you can eat it. Anyway, he wanders into a village somewhere, and we see Robin Hood (Richard Todd) practicing the craft by which he became famous. Hidden in a bush down range is Maid Marian (Joan Rice). Luckily, she did not look up until Robin comes to retrieve his arrow. Their giggles are interrupted when news arrives that King Richard (Patrick Barr) and his brother Prince John (Hubert Gregg) are nearby. Their ruler has come to the Midlands to recruit men to come with him on crusade. Though Robin and others in his company are able bodied, Prince John needs men to stay behind to protect the realm. You know, king speak. So, while King Richard heads off to fight, Prince John holds an archery contest (yes, that one) in order to find those best suited to serve him of those who remain. Fun twist (I guess): it is actually Robin’s arrow that is split in two by one of his compatriots. Regardless, it is decided that since Robin’s arrow is the first to hit the mark, he wins the contest. This brings Robin face-to-face with Prince John, who is already beginning to oppress the people. When Robin refuses to join the cabal that the surrogate ruler is collecting, a few of the ruffians are sent to kill him. His companion dies, but he escapes into Sherwood Forest to begin his life as an outlaw. From here, the movie has all the hallmarks you would expect from these movies. There is the obligatory bridge meeting between Robin and John Little (James Robertson Justice). You also have the soliciting of the services of the feisty Friar Tuck (James Hayter). In other words, the film is checking all the Robin Hood boxes. Prince John, seeing Robin’s band cutting into the extortion (called taxes) he is collecting, sends the Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Finch) into the woods to put an end to the marauding. He is captured, forced to swear allegiance to King Richard, and ignominiously returned facing backwards on his horse. Oh, the shame. What really shakes things up, though, is when it is learned that King Richard has been captured in Austria, and that there is a ransom demand. The king’s mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Martita Hunt), decides to travel to where her other son is reaping the rewards of his brother’s absence in order to garner the necessary funds. Maid Marian, as a lady in waiting, is in company, and sneaks away to tell Robin that the money is needed. They give of what they have stolen, intending to upstage Prince John with their contribution, who is crying poor. While the coins are publicly counted, Robin and his men sneak into the prince’s coffers and bring out the contents. Not wanting to see all that treasure leave the country, the sheriff is tasked with ambushing the convoy and make it look like it was the Sherwood gang. At the same time, he holds Marian hostage, hoping to ambush Robin when he comes to rescue her. It all backfires, of course, though Robin is wounded in the process. Fortunately, before any further damage can be done, King Richard returns. He gives Robin an earldom, orders him to marry Marian, and they all presumably live happily ever after.
History would tell of a different outcome for The Story of Robin Hood’s King Richard, but that is a separate matter. Besides, I have already enumerated the historical problems concomitant with these legends. The only other perplexing thing about this version is the way Robin’s men used arrows to convey messages. Whenever a lookout spotted trouble, they would turn and blindly fire a projectile into the air. Every time this happened, I could not help but think, oh no, somebody is about to die. Thankfully, no one is killed, but sheesh. Some innocent person could be walking through the Merrie Men’s camp and whammo, arrow through the eye socket. I know I am fighting a losing battle when it comes to historical minutiae, but I was at least gratified to see that members of the clergy were not treated like practically all its cousins do, which is to say not well. I could do without Friar Tuck, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury (Anthony Eustrel), wielding swords. A friar is somebody who takes a vow of poverty. Since such weapons were considered a mark of status and wealth at that time, it is hard to picture a simple mendicant possessing one. As for the Archbishop of Canterbury, while he enjoyed a privileged position in medieval society, it is still less believable that he would have a blade. Still, at least they are not portrayed as a bunch of greedy jerks. Friar Tuck is always sympathetic, but the high Church is almost unanimously complicit with evil in these films. Tell me a time outside of maybe the first century when the Church was ever perfect. I am not necessarily trying to excuse the evils that went on at any point in history. If there is anything that people know about Church history, it is the practice of selling indulgences. It is mentioned like it does away with all the good of the rest of Catholicism’s teachings. None of this is in the film, and to be fair, it came out at a time when casting members of the cloth in a negative light meant that your movie was unlikely to see release.
The positive bent to Catholicism in The Story of Robin Hood is about the best thing I can say about it. Truly, if you have seen any other Robin Hood movie, you have seen this one. There are a few twists on the story, but they all do that to some degree. At their core, there are obvious parallels between all of them. This one is no different, and it is perfectly fine to be seen by any audience. As for me, hopefully I will not uncover any other missing Robin Hood titles.