Thank God for Mel Brooks. Still, one might wonder why there would be a need to spoof Robin Hood movies. Was it because shortly before the 1993 release of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, there had been two films released about the subject? Then again, did anyone (save for myself, unfortunately, though only recently) see the British version? I am guessing that the majority saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), and for the most part that is the subject of Men in Tights’ parody. Nothing is sacred to Brooks as he mercilessly lampoons pretty much every aspect of his production’s dramatic cousin, from the shoddy camera work to the fact that the main character (Cary Elwes) can actually speak with a British accent. These are funny, but not my favorite moments. I will get to them as we go along. In total, though, they make for a hilarious comedy that, aside from a few dated jokes, is still chuckle worthy today. Or perhaps my laughter was the result of an onset of madness triggered by all the Robin Hood movies I have been watching.
Instead of beginning with terrified peasants and an opening crawl talking about how terrible things are in late twelfth century England, Robin Hood: Men in Tights sets up its story with a rap. Okay, it does those other things first, but then the peasants get annoyed with Mel Brooks for going in this direction, and tell him to leave them alone! We are then introduced to Robin of Loxley, who had gone on Crusade with King Richard I (Patrick Stewart), in prison in Jerusalem. His escape is assisted by the Muslim Asneeze (Isaac Hayes), who sends Robin swimming on his way back to England with the promise to look after his son Achoo (Dave Chappelle). Robin finds Achoo almost immediately. Achoo is being beat up by some of the Sheriff of Rottingham’s (Roger Rees) men, though Achoo is able to stop the fight for a moment to pump up his sneakers. With Achoo rescued and the Sheriff’s feathers duly ruffled, Robin and his new companion next set out for Loxley castle. They get there just in time to see it being towed due to his family owing back taxes. In a lower toilet they find the Loxley’s blind servant Blinkin (Mark Blankfield), who informs Robin that in addition to the money he owes, his entire family and all their animals are dead. Moving on from this place of woe, Robin next encounters Little John (Eric Allan Kramer) guarding a tiny creek. Despite Achoo demonstrating the absurdity of fighting over a body of water that can be crossed in a stride, Robin and Little John have it out with increasingly tiny bits of wood. Robin triumphs, saving an inexplicably drowning Little John flailing in a puddle, and thus Robin has the start of his famous Merry Men. Robin’s next move is to visit Rottingham castle, and in a scene that is more reminiscent of Erol Flynn than Kevin Costner, fights Prince John’s (Richard Lewis) guards. In the midst of the sword swinging, Robin has time to make acquaintance with Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck), though any further consorting is broken up by her vigilant servant Broomhilde (Megan Cavanagh). After the party, Robin sets to training the Merry Men in earnest to do what folklore says they should be doing. This, of course, becomes a problem for the Sheriff, and they plan the legendary archery contest to trap Robin. This time, though, the Sheriff consults with Jersey mafioso Don Giovanni (Dom DeLuise) to plot Robin’s demise. Don Giovanni offers the services of his Clint Eastwood lookalike personal assassin Filthy Luca (Steve Tancora) to await Robin and shoot the outlaw with an arrow. Marian hears of the trap and goes to warn Robin, but her appeals go unheeded. Instead, on the appointed day Robin shows up dressed as an old man, followed closely by Achoo, Blinkin, Will Scarlet O’Hara (Matthew Porretta), and Little John, all dressed as women. It becomes apparent after Robin’s second shot that he is not the old man that he is dressed as, promptly discarding the concealment to reveal his true self. Filthy Luca takes this opportunity to make his shot, but it is intercepted by Blinkin. After winning the contest with his “Patriot” arrow, the guards rush Robin. What prevents him from being instantly executed is the intervention of Marian, who agrees to marry the Sheriff in order to spare Robin’s life. Sensing that they need more men to effect Robin’s rescue, Blinkin comes up with the idea of sending a “fox” to all the villagers to come and confront their oppressors at Rottingham. They show up just as the wedding is about to take place, though the Sheriff takes Marian to the castle tower anyway. They are soon followed by Robin, who summarily defeats the Sheriff and claims Marian as his bride. Their wedding promptly takes place, officiated by circumcision enthusiast Rabbi Tuckman (Mel Brooks), and the two go on to live happily ever after with Richard’s blessing . . . if they can just get the key to Marian’s chastity belt lock to work.
This last bit is part of a running gag in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Marian literally has iron underwear that are kept under lock and key. When Robin reunites with Blinkin, Blinkin gives his master a key to what is referred to the greatest treasure in all the land. Even though the key will not turn at the end, and there is no way that Mel Brooks intended it in this manner, Marian’s chastity is, indeed, a great prize. Not that it is treated as such throughout the movie. At every spare moment when Marian is with Robin, they are trying to find ways of being, let us just say, less than chaste. The film is not vulgar, though there are copious shots of cleavage and a rather revealing bath scene with Marian. What stops the two lovebirds from even kissing is the constant interjection of Broomhilde. If only all our unmarried people could have such a person looking out for their sexual interests. Actually, many Christians, in an effort to free themselves of the burden of pornography, enlist the help of a sort of Broomhilde/chastity belt rolled into one in the form of an accountability partner. Most of the time, this person sets a password on all the electronic devices of those they watch over, preventing their charge from accessing objectionable material. It may sound absurd, but neither does Mel Brooks take the benefits of being chaste seriously. I have nothing against him. I enjoy his films. At the same time, some of these aspects in his productions I feel can be toned down as well.
Where Robin Hood: Men in Tights shows its age is in some of the fat and gay shaming that goes on in the film. Broomhilde’s size is made fun of, and the Merry Men and their tights is initially seen as a sign by Rabbi Tuckman that they are all “faygeles,” a made-up Yiddish word for homosexual, among other negative references. Hopefully, these are not the moments that cause you to laugh. Instead, find mirth with the many funny moments with Blinkin, the Sheriff’s spoonerisms, and the mock awful camera work. Despite some problems, there is still plenty of great comedic material.