Merrie Christmas

I would like to send out a Merry Christmas - or should that be Merrie Christmas to all my readers! Many thanks to Neil, Geoff, John, Laurence, Mike, Peter and all those who have so kindly contributed to this blog down the years and continued to find interesting topics on Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952).

I have now reached 825 posts on this site, but I could not have achieved it without your continued support. So a big thank you to everyone of you!

" I'll give you a health! To you and all your families. God grant you all health and a long life! And bring confusion on all your enemies. Be they peasant or prince!” [Loosely based on Robin’s toast to King Richard].

The Dream of Peter Finch

Peter Finch as the Sheriff of Nottingham

This is a section from the biography Finch Bloody Finch, written in 1980 by Elaine Dundy, about the film star Peter Finch (1916-1977). Peter played the part of the Sheriff of Nottingham for Walt Disney in The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952), a role by him that is often overlooked by film critics. But in my opinion, was a stand-out performance, like many actors in this Technicolor masterpiece. I am sure my readers will find this interesting.

Dundy begins:

“ Immediately after Captain Carvel closed, Peter worked forty-eight hours round the clock, learning a huge role in order to take over the lead from Dirk Bogarde in a mediocre Anouilh play, Point of Departure, in the middle of its run. Next he found himself bewigged and bearded as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Walt Disney’s film Robin Hood. For research, he went to Nottingham, studied ninth-century records [?] and roamed around its Sherwood Forest for days. Peter made such an impact on the early rushes that he ended up with a part three times its original size.
The filming of Robin Hood was noteworthy for Peter mainly because during this time he suffered a major artistic disappointment. “ Most actors want to play parts they are not suited for,” says Peter’s friend Alan White, “ but the parts that Peter burned to play, Till Eulenspiegel, Peer Gynt, Robert Louis Stevenson and Don Quixote - were all parts he would have been magnificent in. They were all, like him, seekers after the romantic quest.” To play Don Quixote had always been Peter’s most cherished artistic dream. He had often talked about it to John Kay during the Mercury days in Australia and to Olivier in England. Now he talked to the producers of Robin Hood. They listened to Peter with interest and, watching Peter’s work, they daily became more enthusiastic about the project. Beautiful colour stills were taken of Peter as Don Quicote in full costume and make-up with James Hayer as Sancho Panza. If it is possible for one to judge how good an actor is going to be merely by stills (and it is surprising how often it is), Peter would have been “brilliant” as Don Quixote.

The Sheriff (Peter Finch) displays the King’s ransom money

When the producers saw the stills they became more enthusiastic. Peter himself was now in a state of high excitement as his dream seemed to be taking the shape of reality. All the project needed to get underway was the O.K. of the great Walt Disney who was shortly arriving in England to view Robin Hood.

Peter Finch as the Sheriff

At last the all-powerful Disney arrived in London. He was given a special private showing of the rough-cut Robin Hood. And ... and ... he was observed to be drumming his fingers throughout! It was the Emperor’s thumbs down.

Don Quixote was abruptly cancelled. It’s death, still born, marked Peter’s first realisation that Australia did not have a monopoly on artistic frustration.

After chasing Robin Hood around Sherwood Forest for four months Peter, suffering from exhaustion and disillusionment  was fervidly planning on a long rest to catch his breath. Sir Laurence, however, had different plans for him which was equally fervid. He had managed to capture that elusive magic balloon Orson Welles and tether him down to appearing as Othello at the St James Theatre for a limited engagement for nine weeks. Peter Finch, Olivier had impressed upon Welles, would be his perfect Iago”.

(Finch Bloody Finch, A Life of Peter Finch by Elaine Dundy, published by Holt McDougal in 1980)