(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on December 20, 2011.) Despite the title, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is definitely a Christmas movie. The whole plot centers around Christmas trees, after all! It seems that retired actor Jack Holt (father of Tim Holt, by the way) has a Christmas tree farm where he plans to sell his trees at such low prices that every family can afford to have one. This plan doesn't sit well with the bad guys who own the neighboring Christmas tree farm, so they set out to sabotage Holt's operation and run him out of business. This attracts the attention of forest ranger Roy Rogers, who comes to Holt's aid along with his sidekick Splinters McGonigle (Gordon Jones) and Splinters' tomboy little sister, who decides they need more help so she summons a whole passel of cowboy movie stars including William Farnum, Tom Tyler, Rex Allen, Rocky Lane (later the voice of Mr. Ed, the talking horse), Monte Hale, Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, and Tom Keene. Even George Chesebro, who always played dog heavies, shows up and has a nice line about how he gets to be one of the good guys for a change.
Yes, the plot's pretty silly, but look at that cast! In addition to all those cowboy stars, Penny Edwards plays the girl (Dale Evans was semi-retired by then), and Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage provide the music, including several Christmas songs like "Every Day is Christmas in the West". Best of all, though, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD was directed by William Witney, and one thing you could always count on in his movies was that you'd get plenty of great action, no matter how far-fetched the plot, and that's certainly true here. The climax is especially spectacular, with wagons full of Christmas trees racing over a burning bridge while Roy fights a battle royal against the baddies. I absolutely love this stuff. Modern viewers might watch this and other Roy Rogers movies and be utterly baffled as to their appeal, but I grew up on 'em, and looking back on them now, I definitely think they had an influence on my writing. Those wild, action-packed, over-the-top climaxes that Witney always provided show up again and again in my Westerns, and some of that has to come from watching Roy Rogers movies on TV nearly every Saturday when I was a kid. TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is a good one. It was released on December 15, 1950, and if you want to see a Christmas movie that's not one of the old standards, give it a try.