Trail of Robin Hood
A Forgotten Gems Column by Bill Levy
© Bill Levy 2013
To celebrate the holiday season, this critique focuses upon an enjoyable holiday-related movie that isn’t as well-known as White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop’s Wife, the various versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, or It’s a Wonderful Life. This “Christmas Forgotten Gem” is Trail of Robin Hood (1950).
This motion picture has nothing to do with the legendary bandit of Sherwood Forest. There’s a sheriff, but he’s a minor character in the storyline; there’s a marksmanship contest, but it involves rifles not bows and arrows; and there’s a character named Sir Galahad, but he’s not a noble knight but a pet turkey. Instead of a sequel to Errol Flynn’s greatest adventure, Trail of Robin Hood is a likeable Roy Rogers B-western that features a Christmas theme, several Christmas songs, lots of action, and an abundance of entertaining silliness.
The plot of this Republic Pictures film involves a retired silent movie cowboy star (Jack Holt) who wants to sell Christmas trees to the needy at cost. A greedy timber baron (Emory Parnell), his manipulative daughter (Penny Edwards), and their evil lumber camp foreman (Clifton Young) attempt to sabotage Holt’s operation, but their schemes are thwarted by a U.S. Conservation agent (Rogers) assisted by Trigger, Bullet, a simpleton-handyman (Gordon Jones) and his young spunky sister (Carol Nugent), and a posse of well-known B-western movie stars including Rex Allen, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Monte Hale, and Ray “Crash” Corrigan.
In his encyclopedia of western films, “The Western,” Phil Hardy describes Trail of Robin Hood as, “one of the most surreal of serial westerns, and all the more charming for it.” This is certainly a bizarre movie. In addition to its irrelevant title, the movie is filled with zany inconsistencies like cowboys prancing around wearing six-shooters like it’s the 1880s while Roy’s romantic interest drives around in a modern convertible. And then there’s Sir Galahad. The film abruptly switches from an action horse opera with numerous fist fights, fires, and chases on horseback (filmed in California’s Big Bear Lake area and the San Bernardino Mountains by Rogers’ favorite director, William Witney) to a musical with Roy and The Riders of the Purple Sage abruptly singing “Home Town Jubilee,” “Get a Christmas Tree for Johnny,” and “Ev’ry Day is Christmas in the West.” Then the movie changes to a comedy with Gordon Jones (Mike the Cop in the Abbott and Costello television series) as the bumbling sidekick before the action resumes, and then, suddenly, it’s a Christmas melodrama with Roy and his buddies risking their lives to help those in need enjoy their Christmas. But somehow it all works.
The first “Christmas Forgotten Gem” I ever wrote was John Ford’s Three Godfathers (1948). Although Trail of Robin Hood does not feature John Wayne’s strong presence, Ford’s creative direction, Winton Hoch’s majestic photography, or any significant Christmas symbolism, it does offer four things that Three Godfathers doesn’t: “The King of the Cowboys,” “The Smartest Horse in the Movies,” a wintry Christmas snow scene, and that unforgettable pet turkey.