What could possibly be better than Robin Hood battling some filthy, scurvy-ridden pirates? Teaming up with some filthy, scurvy-ridden pirates to fight the evil douche who killed his dad and stole the Earldom of Sherwood!
And while no one can deny that trading Little John for a eye-patch wearing pirate called One Eye who actually has two good eyes is a monster upgrade, the movie would have been merely been solidly entertaining if it had stuck solely to its “pirates standing in for the Merry Men” angle.
But it in a stroke of either genius or complete tastelessness, this Italian version of Robin Hood (with German film legend and former Tarzan Lex Barker) adds a bit of sauce to the mix by giving us Sweet Pea, a sassy full-figured black woman, prone to singing spirituals and alternately beating on One Eye and declaring her love for him!
All of this craziness is easily explained though. Robin was kidnapped on his way to fight in the Crusades by the pirates and was being held for ransom. A big storm blew up and sank the pirate ship allowing Robin to escape. Everyone washes up on shore in Sherwood (Robin immediately knows this due to the sign in Italian announcing the location), including Sweat Pea and the rest of the female captives the pirates were holding. (Though referred to as Saracens, Sweet Pea especially didn’t look like any Saracen I’ve ever seen. She did remind me of Nell Carter from TV’s Gimme a Break though!)
While the pirates and Sweat Pea squabble on the shore, Robin heads back home to find exactly what anyone who has ever seen an early 1960s Italian costume adventure would expect: good guys dead or imprisoned, effeminate scum bag on the throne, the hero’s hottie girlfriend (Kareen) being forced to marry the ugly mug now in charge (Brooks), and an evil sexy babe (Lizbeth) who hates the good hot chick and wants Robin for himself! Which way to the shipwreck again?
Robin stops an execution, complains about how everything has gone to crap, gets into a fight with some soldiers and ends up diving off the castle into the ocean to make his escape in thrilling fashion! This is only an example of how super cool this Robin Hood is. He follows it up by waltzing on into the pirates camp to enlist their help even though he is an escaped hostage of theirs! He sensibly explains that with his dad dead, there isn’t anyone to pay the ransom, but if they help, they can have the bad guy’s stuff instead!
One of the things that makes this movie so great is that a lot stuff that might have been settled by talking instead gets settled by frequent bouts of violence! For instance, instead of just signing on and going straight to plotting an attack on Brooks, One Eye starts fighting with Robin for the leadership of the gang! And with Sweet Pea and everyone else laughing as they brawl in the surf while Robin repeatedly kicks One Eye in the ass! I bet you didn’t get that from Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe!
Robin, One-Eye, and another pirate with a hook for a hand called Hook invade the castle to rescue Kareen from Banks. Robin interrupts Banks’ dinner and fights him all over the dining room, while Hook and One-Eye help themselves to some grub!
Obviously the movie isn’t deadly serious about all this business (Hook uses his hook to stroke One-Eye’s hair while they both watch Robin and Kareen make out), but the comic relief is never so overwhelming as to turn obnoxious. Even a character like Sweet Pea who could have very easily been unimaginably annoying or offensive comes off, not as a shuck and jive nitwit, but as a strong woman with more guts then the pirates when she is the only one who won’t quit on Robin Hood at the end of things!
In a final desperate bid to put down the rebellion that always backfires, Brooks captures Kareen and sentences her to be executed for treason. The idea is that Robin will be forced to come back to town to save his beloved and that’s when Brooks will get him! And it works! Except that once Robin comes back, just as he gives himself up, the pirates appear to join the battle! You just knew that One-Eye wasn’t going to sacrifice his access to Sweet Pea’s sweet booty by letting down Robin!
Plenty of action including a catfight between Kareen and Lizabeth that has slapping, whipping, and rolling around on the ground, a healthy dose of humor (there’s even a parrot who isn’t used nearly enough!), and the good looking, self assured Lex Barker doing his best to somehow look like a strong leader while standing around in his silly-looking Robin Hood hat and costume, make Robin Hood and the Pirates that rarest of all Italian adventure films with kick ass titles – one that actually delivers on the kick ass title’s promise.
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