Monday, November 15, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special!: The Adventures of Robin Hood

Just Enough Background: Produced in England for the ITV network beginning in 1955, The Adventures of Robin Hood starred Richard Greene as Robin of Locksley, the nobleman forced to become an outlaw by the corrupt duo of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Wheatley) and Prince John (played at one time or another by Donald Pleasance, Hubert Gregg, and Brian Haynes; neither appear in this episode, so don’t sweat it).

Everybody who has a few DVDs-worth of this series to sell will tell you that Robin Hood was a great success on both sides of the Atlantic, running for three seasons in prime time on CBS and a fourth season as part of the Saturday morning line-up. They'll even tell you about the guest actors you'll recognize from other things later on. What they don’t tell you (and really, this should be as much of a selling point as anything) is that the producer hired several blacklisted writers to write for the series under pseudonyms. Ring Lardner Jr. (who was the co-writer of today’s episode) later mentioned that the series gave the writers plenty of chances for veiled criticism of the situation in Eisenhower’s America and (of course) McCarthyism, which makes this a great series to revisit for hidden messages.

The Christmas Episode: “The Christmas Goose”, written by Oliver Skene (pseudonym for Ring Lardner Jr. and Ian McLellan Hunter). Original broadcast: December 23, 1957.

Davey, a poor serf boy, is wandering through the forest with Matilda, his pet goose and dearest friend in the whole wide world, doggonnit!, when the Lord of the manor, Sir Leon (Jack Whatling), catches the child in the act. When His Lordship calls the boy down for the whipping he apparently deserves, Matilda flips out, and in the process spooks Sir Leon’s horse, throwing His Lordship flat on his…fiefdom.

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“Bwhahaha, smell ya later, jerk!”

Rather than just wring the little punk’s neck right there (that’s the goose, not the kid), he declares that the goose has a right to a fair trial and orders it to be taken back to the castle. After a fair hearing of its case, the goose would be cooked for his Christmas dinner.

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“Wait, what?” (alternately: His bail was set so high because he was considered a flight risk. *Rimshot*)

And this was an actual medieval law, by the way. You could look it up.

After seeing the inconsolable child and hearing his pitiable story, Friar Tuck (Alexander Gauge) decides to be counsel for the defense at the “trial” (with Sir Leon as the judge, of course). He makes a good case, but in the end, justice must be served…preferably with potatoes and a touch of gravy, a sentiment he delivers directly to the camera.

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I’M GOING TO EAT YOUR PET! AND THEN MABYE I’LL STEAL YOUR BIKE, TOO! YEAH, BUDDY! THAT’S ME OUTSIDE YOUR WINDOW THROWING GOOSE BONES AT THE SHRUBBERY!

With the “official” channels exhausted, the Friar returns to Sherwood Forest to plead the boy’s case to the court of last resort: Robin Hood.

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Together, they devise a cunning plan…and by “cunning” (and I don’t think I’m giving anything away here), I mean “non-violent and full of cleverness.” If you want the clash of blades and manly fists of justice, that ain’t happenin’ today, brother.

Honestly, it's not that bad a story, but there's not a lot that pegged this as a story that just had to be done as a Christmas yarn, even though the endgame takes place at the aforementioned Christmas dinner. Still, a perfectly acceptable half-hour, with nothing to do any lasting harm to the kiddos. It just feels like the type of story they'd already be doing anyway.

Spot ‘Em: Jane Asher (a long, long time before she met you-know-who) plays Sir Leon’s daughter, and Paul Eddington (who worked on this series a lot, but never in a recurring role) was Sir Leon’s baliff/toady/enabler/whatever.

Reminder That You Only Paid $5 For This Set:

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Paging quality control…paging quality control…

Our Holiday Lesson For Today:

From Robin and the Friar’s cunning plan, all I got was “If you want the milk of human kindness, sometimes you need to milk the human yourself. But make sure your hands are deceptively cold.”

But Don't Take My Word For It: Watch the complete episode right now! (Thanks, Hulu)



Next: The Bob Cummings Show! But not before I get to explain who Bob Cummings is...

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