Fight Training

Richard Todd as Robin Hood and James Robertson Justice as Little John

Down the years Neil has contributed a vast amount of information to this blog and also has his own wonderful website dedicated to the Films of the Fifties.  He has recently discovered a fascinating article about the making of Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood (1952)It includes this very rare image (above) and an article about the training given by Rupert Evans for the fight scenes in the movie.

Neil says:

There is a new photograph [above] there of Richard Todd and James Robertson Justice rehearsing for the quarter staff fight - it is not much of a picture BUT it is yet another find ... If you look at the cart to the left - that appears in a scene where Little John  trots across with the horse that Peter Finch is going to be placed on. That was quite a set of Robin Hood s camp - I remember Ken Annakin saying that it was at least 200 ft. wide which is massive.
Look closely at the picture though and it underlines - something I have said so often - how good the set is. It looks like real woodland.

This certainly is an interesting insight into the preparation that went on behind-the-scenes at Denham Studios during the making of that wonderful film. Being behind-the-scenes at Denham in 1951 is an experience many of us fans could only dream of.

The picture above also reminded me of another image we  have seen of Richard Todd and James Robertson Justice preparing for the quarter-staff fight scene.

Richard Todd, James Robertson Justice and Ken Annakin

Neil describes the magazine article in which the picture appeared:

This article appears in an American Publication of August 1952 called 'Boys Life' and this is towards the back of the magazine which would come out just after the July 1952 release of The Story of Robin Hood in America. We had it in Feb or March of 1952 as you know..

This is what the article says:

When you see the new Walt Disney RKO live-action film, THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD - and don't miss it- you'll see hand-to-hand combats in which the actors used no doubles. Robin Hood, legendary fighter of freedom, is most famous as an archer, and the film does have some eye-popping shots with bows and arrows. But Robin and his men could also bloody the heads of tyrants with their fists, knives, swords cudgels or six foot long  quarter-staves, a speciality of the period (for the movie about 1190 A.D.)
That was the time when the good King Richard the Lionhearted, left England for the Holy Land, and his weak, greedy brother, Prince John, oppressed the people. For resisting, Robin Hood and his followers were outlawed, but they hid in Sherwood Forest, raiding and  making fools of Prince John's men. For the numerous action scenes the actors were trained by a former coach of the British Royal Marines. Richard Todd, as Robin Hood, mastered all the weapons. Todd would be a tough man to tangle with now, even if he didn't have a quarter staff along.

Back in 2010 I posted about the Tough Guy Agency. This was the organisation that supplied stunt men and fight-training for films like The Story of Robin Hood and other action films of that period. I found the article in the Super Cinema Annual 1954. It featured a piece on Mickey Wood (1897-1963) the self-defence and physical training expert who was manager of the agency Tough Guys Limited which provided stunt people for films, including Disney’s Story of Robin Hood (1952). Perhaps Rupert Evans was connected to this company. This is the piece from the annual:

"Through the leafy green thicket of Sherwood Forest came a wiry little man on a shaggy forest pony. Without pausing, the rider galloped the pony straight into a wide and deep stream which cut its meandering way through the trees. The spray shot up around them, hiding them from view for an instant. Then came the deep twang of a bow string. A long slender arrow sped through the air. With a sickening thud, it caught the rider full in the chest, even as he reached mid-stream.

He threw up his arms and fell from the pony, to land with a splash in the water. The frightened animal was left alone to struggle to the other side. The body of the man floated downstream, face upwards, arms outstretched, with the deadly arrow sticking up from his chest for all the world like a sail-less mast of some stricken ship-

Recognise this scene?

Well it was taken from ‘Robin Hood,’ that wonderful R.K.O. film which so faithfully portrayed the adventures of England’s ever-green hero of Sherwood Forest.We went to interview Mickey Wood and found him in his office in Wardour Street, the centre of all the world’s film companies in England. He is a quiet, unassuming man in his early fifties and his office walls are filled with pictures of the many hair-raising stunts which his own tough experts have performed, or have taught well known film stars to do.

Yes we can hear you saying, “I suppose that was a dummy which a good marksman shot off the pony. It was jolly well done though.”

It certainly was well done! But that dramatic scene was no fake-the man on the pony was alive and surprisingly enough, has lived to perform many other daring stunts. For the rider was none other than Mickey Wood, principal of the ‘Tough Guys Stage and Screen Agency.’

Rupert Evans with James Hayter as Friar Tuck
And yet Mickey had an operation when he was a boy which would have been enough to kill many people, if not make them permanently disabled. He was trepanned and to this day [1954] he carries in his head a silver plate as a grim relic of this operation.

But Mickey Wood refused to let this put him off. At school he became the schoolboy boxing champion, took up wrestling and self defence and later on became the light-weight champion of Great Britain. Besides self-defence, he became an expert in swimming, diving, swordsmanship and riding.

During the last War, Mickey taught the Commando troops all he knew about self-defence and many of them must have found that knowledge invaluable when they came to grips with the enemy.

Peter Finch the Sheriff with Rupert Evans

Today, his ‘Tough Guys Agency’ has about three hundred and fifty people on its books, all of them experts in their various ways-ranging through boxers, wrestlers, high-divers, fencers, archers, car-crashers, circus acrobats and many other “tough guys.” But not only men-for Mickey has a number of extremely able young ladies who are willing to risk life and limb in the cause of stunting.

Micky’s first film-fight came in a film of George Formbey’s called ‘George in Civvy Street,’ when he worked with Kid Lewis, the famous boxer. Recent films in which Mickey has taken part are ‘Robin Hood,' already mentioned, ‘High Treason,’ ‘The Wooden Horse,’ and ‘Ivanhoe.’ The latter being the most spectacular and the one in which a big team of Mick’s people were engaged.

They had to leap from the castle battlements. Take part in fierce fights with swords, maces and all amidst clouds of arrows. But don’t run away with the idea that the fights such as you see here are haphazard affairs-not a bit of it!

These stunt men and women are tough, but they have no wish to throw their lives away just for the sake of a good picture. Every fight is carefully rehearsed and, very often, when two men are engaged in combat, practically every blow is planned beforehand. This is absolutely necessary; otherwise it could easily lead to serious injury or perhaps the death of one of the combatants."

 James Robertson Justice and Richard Todd in The Story of Robin Hood

Thanks to Neil for sending in the Boys Life article.


Clement Glen said...

Another great find by Neil. Don't forget to visit his blog, 'Films of the Fifties.

Neil said...

I didn't know much or indeed anything about Mickey Wood but I am familiar with the George Formby film of 1946. The Ivanhoe film also of course - on television this week - was a big budget effort made in England and I well remember in the film magazine of the day - probably Picture Show - about the publicity surrounding a stunt man who had to dive off the castle battlements into the moat some 60 feet high in Ivanhoe. It came out around the same time as The Story of Robin Hood and had Robert Taylor in the main role - and he went on to make another two big films here of the same type Knights of the Round Table and The Adventure of Quentin Durward which I particularly remember.

Clement Glen said...

Thanks for your comments Neil. Ivanhoe is one of my favourite movies (released the same year as Disney's Story of Robin Hood) and it seems that nearly all my favourites were made in the 1950's!

I would be very interested to know if Rupert Evans was connected to Mickey Wood's company.

Neil said...

I mentioned the film earlier Knights of the Round Table and indeed it was on television a day or so afterwards. I hadn't realised - but should have known - that Anthony Forward who played Will Scarlett was in it and it came out the year after Robin Hood. Looking at his film list he seems to have made quite a few films in the early fifties. Then his career for whatever reason just seemed to fade away. He was good as Will Scarlett I thought.