Robert Shaw did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin and Marian.
Robert Shaw once again plays the adversary of Sean Connery. Last time was in From Russia With Love as two spies both at the top of their game. Once again they're adversaries but this time as two men who are well past their primes. Shaw plays the former rival of Robin Hood The Sheriff of Nottingham, but like so many things after Robin's long return home from the crusades things are not quite how they use to be. Shaw seems perfect for the role of the villain for the film at least in how you might expect things if this were a more traditional Robin Hood film. After all Shaw may exude menace more effortlessly than any other actor. It is just an innate part of him, and Shaw utilizes this well. The Sheriff has a general menace about himself though Shaw does not make this an active part of him by any means. Shaw instead suggests the fierce some qualities of the man in part as something very much of the past. There is no question that he was once truly a menacing villain worthy to be the opponent of the Robin Hood of the songs, but the Robin Hood he faces now is not that man of songs, fortunately for Robin is that the Sheriff is not the same man either.
Shaw nicely does differentiates his work from Connery who depicts Robin as a man who is trying to gain back the glory of the past. Shaw portrays the Sheriff as a man who is far more understanding of his own reality. His opening scene is a marvelous moment for Shaw as we see the Sheriff at his castle where some men are training. Shaw depicts such a quiet though malaise as he he just looks upon the sight with the eyes of a man who has seen it again and again. The Sheriff though takes a moment to take on two of the men himself before he defeats them quite easily. In this brief instance there is just a glint off a more vibrant life in the Sheriff. Shaw manages to make all quite a somber moment though because he so naturally returns to his normal state once the brief fight is over, since it is obvious the Sheriff has no real purpose since even that fight had no real purpose. The Sheriff goes out to fulfill his duty which is to round up Marian, now the head of an Abbey, by King John's orders. Shaw shows the Sheriff proceed with this task as simple unremarkable business. Shaw depicts it with not even an hint of evil, or desire for harm, rather he presents a man just being the Sheriff since he will never be anything else.
When the Sheriff and his men come to arrest her he finds Robin there ready to save the day, even though Marian does not even desire to show any resistance in particular. Shaw's nuanced reaction in the moment where the Sheriff sees Robin is just perfect. It's not that of a man seeing an old enemy, but rather there's just a tad of nostalgic joy in the moment as though its an old acquaintance that was associated with some positive moments of the past. Shaw does not even leave this at this though as he quickly shifts it away from that as though in the moment the Sheriff realizes that it is likely Robin is going to make things difficult. Naturally this is what Robin does as he basically launches a war against King John and his men something the Sheriff unfortunately happens to be technically speaking. Shaw's terrific in the later action scenes of Robin attacking as he brings just that slight smile of remembrance to the old days, but Shaw always keeps it that Sheriff has no delusions about the past. Instead he's well aware of the mistakes of the past, and Shaw is rather hilarious in his dead pan reactions to Robin's various success as well as the failures of his own men, since he's seen it all before.
I particularly love his interactions with the unknowing and eager Sir Ranulf, as Shaw conveys such an intelligence of experience as he disregards Ranulf's confidence, as well as his incredible knowing reaction when he hears King John's ultimatum in regards to the Sheriff and Robin. This eventually leads to Robin and Sheriff finally having a showdown. Instead of having their armies go at the two settle on that the battle will be decided by champions, the champions being naturally being Robin and the Sheriff. The duel is not quite what you'd expect from a Robin Hood legend, and that's what makes it so good. It is absolutely brilliantly played by both Shaw and Connery. They wear the age wholly in their physical performances as both men clearly just do not have the grace or the ease in their sword fighting manner any more. Rather than being some sort of beautiful display of swordsmanship it illustrates the desperation in the men at this point of their lives, and you see the effort put into every swing. In addition the pain from every injury is especially vibrant due to the two actors. They each take it further though in that each man approaches it differently. Connery, though his body is fighting against him the whole way, portrays Robin Hood as still looking to the glory, and failing to see what he's fallen into. Shaw though is surprisingly moving by showing that the Sheriff has now just had enough the fantasy. He can't even call back to the past any more as Shaw depicts him as knowing the truth of the matter. Near the end of the fight when Sheriff is telling Robin to yield, it does not feel like that of a man trying to get his foe to surrender, but almost that of a friend asking his friend to finally give up his delusion. When the Sheriff falls in the battle it is rather heartbreaking since Shaw showed that the Sheriff was the one trying to bring some sense to the situation. What's outstanding about this work is that Shaw's screen time is limited yet he makes such an impact with every glimpse of his character. There is not a wasted moment as Shaw realizes such depth in the role through his great performance.