MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.
ROBIN HOOD. (1977)
PUBLISHED IN 2019 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’
Did’st thou hear the one about the minstrel who bought his wife a musical chastity belt and then couldn’t find the right key?
Robin: So, thou would’st join me in Sherwood Forest?
Will Scarlett: Well, we can either go there or back to my place. I’m not fussy.
Robin: And can’st handle a weapon, good Will?
Will Scarlett: I’ve never had any complaints so far.
Robin: Then thou art most welcome to come live with me in merry Sherwood.
Will Scarlett: Well, there’s no need to get that involved, is there? I mean, a quick one in the bushes’ll do me fine.
Everyone loves a nice bit of Robin Hood. He cuts such a romantic figure, doesn’t he, in his green tights and tunic and the jaunty little hat with the feather in it, swashbuckling his way with sword and bow and arrow through Sherwood Forest, with of course his faithful Ye Olde Merrie Men at his side.
Errol Flynn is probably most people’s idea of a favourite screen Robin Hood (1938 with Olivia De Havilland, Claude Rains and the magnificent Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisborne), and I agree that he made a terrific Robin Hood, but me, I always fancied the arse off Michael Praed from the ’80s TV series ROBIN OF SHERWOOD, featuring the fabulous theme tune, Robin, The Hooded Man, by Irish band Clannad.
He had such beautiful long mullety hair, this Robin, and I always felt that I was much better suited to him than that ginger-haired long drink of water they cast opposite him as Maid Marian. Humph. I wanted so badly to do a Miss Piggy on her every week. Hi-yah…! Heh-heh-heh.
The latest script-book of screenwriter, actor and director Michael Armstrong’s to roll off the presses at his publishers,’ PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS, is a fantastically funny spoof of Robin Hood, surely as thoroughly English a subject as Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES or Shakespeare’s plays about the English Kings, two of which figure in Ye Olde Tale of Robin Hood. Here’s how Michael’s Narrator opens the story:
‘Tis merry England in ye twelfth century. Upon ye royal throne sitteth good King Richard ye Lionheart. It wath a time of much trouble and strife for ’twas a country torn betwixt two peoples: ye Saxons and ye Normans. But a far greater shadow was looming up o’er ye horizon- ye Saracens had gotten Jerusalem. And so it was that good King Richard called for a crusade; a call which stirred the very heart of his people; responding in that manner so typical of ye British man when facing a national crisis…’
So, the bumbling, somewhat thick-as-a-plank King Richard goes off to fight the Crusades- I’m never quite sure why it’s any of his business but never mind, lol- and rather unwisely leaves his treacherous brother John to keep his throne warm for him in his absence:
Richard: Brother John, into thy hands do I entrust this fair land of England. Rule wisely over her till I return.
John: Don’t you worry about a thing, Dickie. You just stay out there as long as you like and have yourself a good time. Get a nice suntan, fight a few battles, all that sort of thing. No need to rush back.
Then, a bit later during their goodbye scene:
Richard: Dear brother John- ever so honest and true. How it comforts me to know I’m leaving England in safe hands. Keep up her high moral standards, brother, and don’t drop ’em for anyone.
Well, of course it would suit the snake-in-the-grass John perfectly well if Richard never came back, as he quite fancies the throne for himself, the dastardly sneak. Backed up by the oily, unctuous Sheriff of Nottingham, his toady, he plans to cripple the peasants of England with more taxes and tariffs (Prince John: Right! Right! Screw ’em for every penny!- Dirty rotten peasants.) and to grab all the power of the throne and the crown for himself.
Egged on and even manipulated by the Sheriff, he also intends to marry the lovely Maid Marian to the truly odious man-beast, Sir Guy of Gisborne, one of their minions, so that they can claim her father’s wealthy estate. Marian, of course, is madly in love with Robert of Locksley, aka Robin Hood, who now robs from the rich to give to the poor, so she won’t be one bit happy about that. No-one likes a forced marriage.
Meanwhile, Robin Hood, already an outlaw with a price on his head, is gathering to himself a little band of followers who are prepared to back him up in his attempts to shaft the soldiers and tax collectors of Prince John’s and the Sheriff’s at every opportunity.
Still known as Robert of Locksley, he’s also trying to come up with a suitable name for himself and his men. Here’s a conversation he has with Allan A Dale, MC of a local nightclub and Bella Stark, the sexy hostess of same:
Allan: Er… Robert?… Robbie, love… let me get this straight. You say you’re going to rob the rich?
Robin: You got it!
Allan: So far I like it. Great idea!… It’s the next bit I didn’t quite follow?
Robin: I rob from the rich and give it to the poor.
Allan: Give it to the poor… yes. That’s the bit I don’t quite-
Robin: Look, it’s very simple. The money I steal from-
Allan: Yes, yes, the stealing bit I understand. It’s the giving away part that I don’t get.
Bella: Is it some kind of tax dodge?
Robin: No, no. Listen- I live in Sherwood Forest and get myself a band of men together-
Allan: You’re gonna form a band? Robbie, you’ll need proper representation.
Robin: Not that kind of band. I’ve told you what we’re gonna do. Robert Fitzooth and his Merry Men! Sounds good- huh?
Allan: Fitzooth, Fitzschmutter! What’s the difference? It’s a lousy name. What kind of bookings are you going to get with a name like that? It’s gotta be something that’ll grab the attention. Something that’ll really stand out on a ”Wanted” poster. Something like Clint Travolta or Dustin de Niro.
Bella: Dustin de Niro and his Merry Men?- For a hood who’s robbing people?
Allan: Hood! That’s it! Dustin de Hood!
Shirley: Sounds like he’s running a car cleaning agency.
Robin: What’s wrong with my own name?
Allan: Robert?- Too old-fashioned. The kids’ll never go for it.
Bella: Well, if he’s gonna be robbing people and he’s a hood- why not call him Robbing Hood?
Allan: Robbin’ Hood! That’s it! Robin Hood!
They got there in the end…! This book, even more so than the others, is jam-packed with hilarious puns and one-liners and witticisms, many of them pertaining to the culture of the day (the late 1970s) because, as every good writer knows, spoofs set in Ye Olden Times are funnier when you bring in characters and situations and slang from Ye Moderne Times. (Think Blazing Saddles!) The scenes where Prince John is watching DALLAS and KOJAK on the ‘television’ are especially funny.
And the characters in ROBIN HOOD are frequently breaking the fourth wall and saying things like: ‘How come Errol Flynn (or Basil Rathbone) never had these problems?’ (That was Robin.) With so many plays-on-words and general merriment on nearly every page, the book zips along at a rip-roaring pace. Here’s a touching meeting between the two romantic leads:
Marian, on her balcony: Oh, Robin, Robin, wherefore art thou, Robin?
Robin: I’m down here behind the bushes.
Oh, the beautiful, painfully doomed romance of it all! And later, in the same scene:
Robin: And now, sweet Marian, ’tis time I headed back to leafy Sherwood. Methinks the cock hath already risen.
Marian: I’m bloody sure it did, you randy sod!
Snigger. Such delicious naughtiness. I love it. Anyway, Robin gathers to himself his crew, as I said, in the form of Much Jr., the disturbingly flatulent Stutely, the outrageously camp Will Scarlett, Little John (a super-cool black guy formerly known as Akunt-Akunta; this wicked pun has its ‘roots’ in a popular television series of the day), Friar Tuck the Flasher (‘During Communion, it wasn’t just the wafer he’d stick in your mouth.’) and Allan A Dale, his PR guy:
Allan: Ah, Robin, love- the very man I wanted to see. I need to get your okay on these. (He hands Robin a green tunic, on the front of which is printed his picture. Robin looks at it, bewildered.)
Robin: Er- great. What is it?
Allan: Official Robin Hood T-shirts. We’re planning to put them on the market by the end of the week along with horse and cart stickers and these ‘I’m merry and proud of it’ badges.
Allan: I’m telling you, Robbie, you’ve become the hottest thing since King Arthur and Camelot. I’ve even had NBC on, wanting exclusive video rights to your next robbery.
Robin Hood is now the biggest thing since the Beatles. The cult of Robin Hood makes Beatlemania look like a fassing pad. I mean a passing fad. Excuse my Spoonerism. The teeny-boppers love Robin. In between signing autographs and working on firming up the Robin Hood brand, how will he ever find the time to enter the evil Sheriff of Nottingham’s archery contest, specially rigged to catch Robin the outlaw? Here’s what the contest’s News commentator has to say about it:
NEWS COMMENTATOR: And now we’re taking you over to Centre Court for live coverage of ye olde archery contest and this- the first match of the day- is between the number one seed, John Muckyrow of ye yet to be discovered United States-
(And a John McEnroe lookalike stands there, unloading a veritable arsenal of longbows from neat little zipper-bags.)
NEWS COMMENTATOR: -and Bjorn Bouf of Sherwood Forest, seeded 1,642.
(Which proves to be none other than ROBIN; no longer dressed in a Harlequin costume but now sporting a perky little Wimbledon tennis outfit in Lincoln Green. Their respective names appear on the scoreboard while the archery version of ball-boys crouch down in readiness.)
So now, the game is on. Will Robin come up to the mark? Will he get the girl, having first to rescue her from the clutches of the ape-like Sir Guy of Gisborne? Will King Richard come back and foil Baldrick’s- I mean, the Sheriff’s- cunning plans for world domination?
There’s loads more to come before the finale, including an hilarious torture scene, an even more hilarious scene in which Prince John’s castle is attacked by a very, very small army, a scene straight out of MACBETH and an unintentionally funny and prophetic reference to… ahem… Jimmy Saville. Ahem. I’ll get the eye-wash so you can pretend you didn’t read that bit, lol. Share it around now. The eye-wash, I mean.
Anyway, even JAWS himself makes an appearance in this, the funniest and wittiest of all Michael Armstrong’s script-books to date. It’s like MONTY PYTHON meets BLACKADDER meets MAID MARIAN AND HER MERRY MEN (Baldrick’s absolutely marvellous TV series on this exact subject!). Would I advise that you buy it? Verily, forsooth and, erm, loads more Ye Olden Times talk. Run and get it now. You’ll bloody well love it.
E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL, THE MAZE and ROBIN HOOD are available to buy now from Michael Armstrong’s website and also from his publishers, Paper Dragon Productions. Don’t waste any time. Go get ’em!