The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955 – 1959)

Compared with some other classic characters, like Sherlock Holmes or Zorro, fairly little Robin Hood material appears to exist at the Internet Archive. There is Douglas Fairbanks’ classic 1922 film, but apart from that my only significant find is parts of the 1955 British TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood.

The Adventures of Robin Hood was the second ever Robin Hood TV series. The first was a six-part live production from 1953, also of British origin. But that first series has no complete preserved episodes, making The Adventures of Robin Hood the oldest Robin Hood TV series still in existence.

Archie Duncan as Little John and Richard Greene as Robin Hood facing off in the episode Dead or Alive from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955)

The series lasted for four seasons, until 1959. There were some changes in the cast along the way, but the title character was played all the way through by Richard Greene, an actor who I do not associate with any other role.

Richard Greene may not have the charm or charisma of either Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn, nor does he have half of their skill with a sword. But he is not a bad actor, and carries something personal and unique to the role. Greene’s Robin is perhaps a bit more thoughtful and calculating than most other interpretations, though he can still get that mischievous gleam in the corner of his eye.

The complete series is 143 episodes. The following list contains those that I have found at the Internet Archive. There may be more that I have missed. The episode numbers given at the Internet Archive is often at odds with those in the episode guide at Wikipedia. I have here used the numbers from Wikipedia.

      1. The Coming of Robin Hood
      2. The Moneylender
      3. Dead or Alive
      4. Friar Tuck
      5. Maid Marian
      6. The Inquisitor
      7. The Knight Who Came to Dinner
      8. The Challenge
      9. Queen Eleanor
      10. Checkmate
      11. The Ordeal
      12. A Guest for the Gallows
      13. The Highlander
      14. The Wager
      15. The Betrothal
      16. The Alchemist
      17. A Husband for Marian
      18. The Jongleur
      19. The Brothers
      20. The Intruders
      21. Errand of Mercy
      22. The Sheriff’s Boots
      24. The Ladies of Sherwood
      25. The Deserted Castle
      26. The Miser
      27. Trial by Battle
      28. The May Queen
      30. The Vandals
      31. The Byzantine Treasure
      33. The Youngest Outlaw
      34. The Traitor
      35. Tables Turned
      36. The Thorkill Ghost
      37. Secret Mission
      38. Richard the Lion-Heart
      39. The Scientist
      40. The Prisoner
      41. Blackmail (3D version)
      42. A Year and a Day
      44. The Goldmaker
      47. The Hero
      48. Isabella
      50. Outlaw Money
      55. The Dream
      57. The Final Tax
      59. The Bandit of Brittany
      60. The Goldmaker’s Return
      61. Flight from France
      62. Fair Play
      63. The Secret Pool
      65. The York Treasure
      66. The Borrowed Baby
      67. The Black Five
      68. Food for Thought
      72. The Little People
      93. A Village Wooing
      126. Goodbye Little John

As with any series, the quality of the episodes vary. The first half dozen or so are all good, so if you are looking for a few episodes to try out, I would recommend starting from the beginning.

The series became very popular, both in Britain and in the US, and it spawned several similar series. At least two, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot and The Adventures of William Tell, can be found at the Internet Archive.

This series is best enjoyed if you like vanilla Robin Hood. There are no surprises here in the characters’ portrayals or backgrounds.

Richard Greene as Robin Hood, Archie Duncan as Little John, Alexander Gauge as Friar Tuck and Bernadetet O'Farrell as Maid Marian in the episode Checkmate from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955)

The Adventures of Robin Hood
Download link (episode 1)
Years: 1955 – 1959
Running time: Approx 25 min per episode
Directors: Ralph Smart, many others
Stars: Richard Greene
Image quality: Acceptable for most episodes
Resolution: Medium to High for most episodes
Sound quality: Acceptable for most episodes

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Quatermass II (1955)

In my review of Quatermass and the Pit, I wrote about the scientist Professor Quatermass, who was the hero of a trilogy of excellent British made-for-TV science fiction series. Professor Q. is a very well developed character, and if you are only slightly interested in well-written sci-fi, you should not miss the two preserved series (only two episodes of the original series, The Quatermass Experiment (1953), still exist, though all episodes were remade in 2005). In addition, Hammer films remade the entire trilogy a few years after the originals in good but somewhat different movie renditions.

The spaceship in Quatermass II (1955)

The second series was aptly named Quatermass II (episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), and was originally broadcast exactly 60 years ago (the final episode was televised sixty years ago this Thursday). The title was the first time the number two was appended to the title of a sequel, though the roman numeral refers not to the series as such, but to the spaceship Quatermass II, which is an important plot object. It has been suggested that it inspired others to use similar numbering for sequels in later film series. It has even been suggested that the spaceship name was just made up as an excuse to smack the “II” label on the title, though that explanation feels a bit far-fetched.

In Quatermass II, Professor Q. battles invading aliens who are jettisoned from an asteroid orbiting earth, and upon landing take control of human bodies. This idea was not new in literature. See for example The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein, available (parts 1, 2, 3) from the Internet Archive. But as far as I know, it had not previously been used on screen. The following year, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released, which is one of the most famous examples in the movies.

This film is best enjoyed for the story (brilliant throughout) and actors (uneven, but mostly very good). Frankly, though, other aspects of the production, such as sets, special effects and camera work, feel very cheap and sometimes amateurish by modern standards. Even so, the positive aspects weigh so heavily that I can only recommend watching it.

John Robinson in Quatermass II (1955)

Quatermass II
Download links: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Year: 1955
Running time: 3 h 6 min
Director: Rudolph Cartier
Stars: John Robinson
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (512×384)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack

Atlantic Flight (1937)

In one of my first posts on this blog, I wrote about the 1937 film Non-Stop New York, and how that film had been influenced by real-world events, namely the first commercial transatlantic roundtrip, made by pilot Dick Merrill.

Merrill became something of a hero and celebrity after his flight, and Non-Stop New York was not the only film based on his trip. In fact, Merrill starred in the film Atlantic Flight. Not only did he play the pilot Dick Bennett on a mission which is suspiciously similar to his own celebrated flight, but his real-world co-pilot played his fictional co-pilot as well, and they even used the same plane for some scenes. The character Bennett was perhaps named after the airfield Floyd Bennett Field, where Merrill landed after his return flight.

Dick Merrill as Dick Bennett in Atlantic Flight (1937)

Merrill actually made several transatlantic flights, and the first two are often confused with one another. The first was called the Ping-Pong Flight, because thousands of ping-pong balls had been crammed into empty spaces in wings and fuselage in order to make the plane float if it had to land on water. The balls were later sold as memorabilia. The second flight, Coronation Flight, was that first commercial roundtrip flight. The cargo was news photos of the Hindenburg disaster (going east) and George VI’s coronation (going west), allowing newspapers on both sides to scoop their competition, since photos could not be sent by cable back in those days.

As far as I understand, the flight dramatized in the film is a mashup of the two flights, using dramatic elements from both. The purpose of the movie flight, however, is entirely original, involving bringing back a serum to save a person’s life. The film’s rather thin plot centers around this achievement.

It has often been stated as a fact that actual in-flight film from Merrill’s real flight was used in the making of the movie, but even if that is true, it is only a matter of a few seconds of film from the take-off and/or the landing. The rest is mostly model and studio shots, along with some stock footage. All in all, the flight scenes must be considered to be acceptable considering the film’s budget and production time, but they would not be reason by themselves to watch the film.

This film is best enjoyed for its connection with historic events. Frankly, it is not a good film, and Frank Merrill is terrible in his role, acting with the entire repertoire of a brick. Non-Stop New York, while also a B movie, is a far better movie, but Atlantic Flight remains an interesting film because it is much more closely interwoven with Merrill’s real flight. If you want even more of the real historical connection behind the film, the Internet Archive contains a Pathé news reel which not only covers the George VI coronation and the Hindenburg disaster, but also news about Amelia Earhart’s fateful last flight. Earhart went missing around the same time that Atlantic Flight was produced, and she used the exact same model aircraft (Lockheed Model 10E Electra) as Merrill did for Coronation Flight, though both planes had been considerably altered.

Lockheed Model 10E Electra in Atlantic Flight (1937)

Atlantic Flight
Download link
Year: 1937
Running time: 59 min
Director: William Nigh
Stars: Frank Merrill
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (698 M)

Zorro’s Black Whip (1944)

The movie serials of the 1930s through 1950s are very interesting. The plots tend to be formulaic, the acting is usually terrible, and the characters and situations reek of cliché. Yet they can be very entertaining, as long as you do not expect a terrible lot of originality. They are also interesting because of their role in shaping modern popular culture.

Among the clichés are heavily cemented gender roles. The earlier serials of the silent era, as well as some from the early 1930s, often contain strong female characters. Sometimes, the entire plot centered around a female heroine, such as in The Hazards of Helen, several episodes of which are available at the Internet Archive. (I may come back to that serial in the future.)

Linda Stirling in Zorro's Black Whip (1944)

But by 1944, Zorro’s Black Whip, starring Linda Stirling as a female “Zorro” (though that name is never used in dialogue; she is known by the alias The Black Whip), was something truly unique. By that time, female roles in serials had been trivialized to love interests and kidnapping victims. Just what caused the degradation of women is unkown to me, though I understand that with the coming of sound film and a more commercialized movie business, all of Hollywood became more of a men’s playground. Perhaps World War II paved the way for at least this one return to a strong leading woman, but the world was not yet ready for more.

Of course, The Black Whip could not be made too strong and independent. To begin with, she could not create the secret identity herself. She inherited it from her dead brother, and throughout the serial has to pretend to be a man in order to continue her brother’s fight for freedom in 19th century Idaho. And while she turns out to be an expert with the whip and revolver, she naturally cannot fight with her fists, so she needs a strong and able sidekick, government agent Vic Gordon, to act as her proxy in this respect. Oh, and of course he is also her love interest. There can be no 1940s serial without romance. (Vic Gordon was played by George J. Lewis, who was to play Zorro’s father in the Disney TV series over a decade later.)

This serial is best enjoyed for its unusual gender roles. It is a nice and somewhat original take on the Zorro theme, though I would personally hold that the previous serial Zorro Rides Again is better. Especially the ending, which is the weakest part of Zorro’s Black Whip. All things considered, though, this is good watching, and if you like serials it is highly recommended.

Linda Stirling and George J. Lewis in Zorro's Black Whip (1944)

Zorro’s Black Whip
Download link (first chapter and links to the other eleven)
Year: 1944
Running time: 3 h 2 min
Directors: Spencer Gordon Bennet, Wallace Grissell
Stars: Linda Stirling, George J. Lewis
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (636×476)
Sound quality: Acceptable

The 39 Steps (1935)

About two thirds of Alfred Hitchcock’s production from the 1930s is available at the Internet Archive. There are also a handful of his 1920s silents, but only the rare oddity from later in his career.

Those 1930s films are an odd bunch. Some films, such as the historical drama Jamaica Inn or the comedy Waltzes from Vienna seem like very surprising choices of scripts and themes compared with the films that have become his true legacy. Others clearly point the way to his great Hollywood thrillers. This is especially true for The 39 Steps.

Robert Donat on a train in Alfred Hitchcock's  The 39 Steps (1935)

The 39 Steps is arguably Hitchcock’s best 1930s film. The production values are higher than his earlier productions and some of those immediately following, partly due to a higher budget. Hitchcock had a sometimes unfortunate love for sound stages, rear projections and scale models in favour of outdoor shoots, things which are far less conspicuous in this production.

Hitchcock here for the first time manages to combine two of his favourite themes: spies and the innocent man on the run. This is definitely an essential work in his career, foreboding many of the films to come. It is not known to me why this shift came about, but there can be no doubt that this was the kind of story that Hitchcock liked to work with.

The film is also famous for a segment where Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll (playing the hero and his very unwilling lady) have to make a getaway while handcuffed to one another. Even though this part of the film is little more than ten minutes in length, it feels much longer due to Hitchcock’s expert way of making the most out of the situation’s drama.

This film is best enjoyed with good image and sound quality. Several versions are available at the Internet Archive, and I haved naturally linked to the best one. When I first saw the film myself it was from a very poor quality DVD, which was not as enjoyable as I would haved liked. This version is much better and has actually helped to raise my esteem for this movie to even greater heights.

Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat handcuffed in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935)

The 39 Steps
Download link
Year: 1935
Running time: 1 h 26 min
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (804 M)