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Sunday June 16th 2024

The Adventures of Robin Hood | 1938

Now regarded as a classic film, this colourful Errol Flynn romp cost $1.9 million yet surprisingly recouped only $1.5 million at the box office. It proved enormously expensive because of, apart from the sets, the spanking new Technicolor system used.

Set in Merrie Olde England, the film was made, naturally, in California.

‘Sherwood Forest’ is Bidwell Park, with its authentic oaks and sycamores. And its less authentic wild vines. Not to mention the Plaster of Paris trees and rocks imported by art director Carl Jules Weyl, the telephone poles festooned with foliage, and the real grass replaced with artificial turf to cut down the fire risk.

Chico, 30 miles east of I-5 and halfway between Sacramento and Redding, Northern California, is actually built around the ten-mile-long park, which was donated by the widow of city founder William Bidwell. Here is the spot where Hood’s men stage the raid on the treasure caravan of Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone).

It’s at Big Chico Creek, running through Chico Canyon in the park, Hood challenges Little John to a longstaff fight and later, in the creek, duels with Friar Tuck.

‘Robin Hood’s camp’ itself – site of the huge banquet following the treasure raid, when Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) begins to thaw out – was about a mile from the park entrance, around Hooker – called ‘Gallows Oak’ in the film – the world’s largest oak tree. 92 feet tall, 149 feet across its branches and named after, not a Santa Monica Boulevard nightworker, but British naturalist Sir Joseph Hooker.

Bidwell Park was also used for some exterior shots in Gone With The Wind.

Chico is on the Seattle-Sacramento railway line, and also on the north-south Greyhound route.

The archery tournament, where a too-cocky Hood gets arrested, was filmed in the old Busch Gardens, Pasadena. Don’t bother to look for them. The gardens, another popular film location, seen also in Citizen Kane, have long since gone the way of many great landmarks of Los Angeles. Additional shots for this scene were filmed at the Midwick Country Club.

Extra shots for the attack on the treasure caravan were filmed in the Sherwood Lake and Sherwood Forest area. No, not on a location trip to the UK. This Sherwood Forest can be found about fifteen miles west of Los Angeles, south of Westlake Village on Potrero Road just off Highway 101 near the Santa Monica Mountains. The name is no coincidence, it comes from the use as a location in the 1922 Douglas Fairbanks film of Robin Hood, but it also stood in for the 'African' jungle for Tarzan And His Mate in 1934.

The lower part of ‘Nottingham Castle’ (its upper reaches are a matte painting) was built on the old Warners’ Calabasas Ranch. This too has gone. The area is now a golf course and housing development south of Ventura Freeway on the road toward Westlake.

The streets of ‘Nottingham’ are the ‘Dijon Street’ on the Warners’ Burbank backlot, and the interiors filmed here too. If you take the Warner Bros VIP Studio Tour (and I recommend it), you might be lucky enough to see chandeliers from the production (along with other treasures such as the lamps from ‘Rick’s Bar’ in Casablanca).

This tour, unlike the Universal Studios theme park, is the real thing – a small-scale guided tour around the surprisingly unchanged and low-tech lot where Jack Warner kept his stars on a short leash and his movies on a tight budget. You need to book ahead, and you’ll find the tour entrance at 3400 West Riverside Drive in Burbank.