Some links first off before I get started. Yesterday we had a Snippet Sunday post at our joint blog. Eve wrote about acupuncture. Cheryl had some unknown flowers that require identification. And Krisztina had Hallowe'en treats at her blog.
Now then, moving on with the second in this series of Robin Hood film reviews, and we turn to the silly version.
“Robin of Loxley? I’ve just come from Maid Marian, the woman whose heart you’ve stolen, you prince of thieves, you! I knew her parents before they were taken in the plague, Lord and Lady Bahgel. You know, you two were made for each other. I mean, what a combination. Loxley and Bahgel! It can’t miss!” ~ Rabbi Tuckman
“Oh, they call me Little John, but don’t let my name fool you. In real life, I’m very big.” ~ Little John.
“I’ll take your word for it.” ~ Robin Hood
“You know, this wasn’t a very smart thing to do, Loxley. I’ll pay for this... you’ll pay for this.” ~ Sheriff of Rottingham
Last time out I featured a classic take on the Robin Hood story. This time we find ourselves dealing with a film that lampoons the story mercilessly, along with lampooning previous versions of the story, particularly one that had come out a couple of years before. Robin Hood: Men In Tights is the 1993 parody of the Robin Hood story from director Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles). It turns convention on its head, as you might expect from Brooks, and goes for every laugh it can get along the line.
We first meet Robin (Cary Elwes) escaping from prison in Jerusalem during the Crusades. A fellow inmate (Isaac Hayes) asks him to look for his son Ahchoo (Dave Chapelle) in England. He returns home, only to find out that Prince John (Richard Lewis) has taken control of the land, including his family home; needless to say, this annoys him. Along with Ahchoo, Robin recruits Little John (Erik Allan Kramer) and Will Scarlet O’Hara (Matthew Poretta, and yes, you read that name right) into a band of outlaws to oust Prince John. Rabbi Tuckman (Brooks) completes the ensemble.
Robin also must find time to flirt shamelessly with Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck), who’s on the lookout for the man who’ll win her heart and remove her chastity belt. And he has to deal with the nefarious Sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees, chewing the scenery), who has a peculiar way of speaking and a nasty disposition.
As can be expected from a Mel Brooks film, the entire story is beyond irreverent (this is a good thing). While it doesn’t quite have the same energy as his classics Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, the film is an effective spoof in and of itself. It brings in musical numbers for no reason (which, strangely enough, was a common thing during the Golden Age of cinema). It references other films, particularly in this genre, tweaking its nose at the Costner version in particular. Robin reminds everyone that unlike other Robin Hoods, he speaks in an English accent. It pokes its head through the Fourth Wall- at one point the characters find themselves taking out the film script, for instance. And it even turns the appearance of King Richard on its head by casting an unlikely Richard, but one just right for the role, in the form of Patrick Stewart.
As is the case in any Robin Hood story, the casting is essential. The comedian Tracey Ullman turns up as the repulsive witch, an advisor to Prince John who’s thoroughly repugnant, and yet we can’t help but laugh at just how repugnant she is. Richard Lewis, the stand up comedian who’s made a career out of being neurotic, is essentially playing himself as Prince John, but he’s armed with good dialogue for a whining character who’s out of his element and frustrated. Roger Rees gets to have a lot of fun as the sheriff. As an actor he’s appeared in comedies and dramas, and mostly as people who are rather unsympathetic. Here he’s a thoroughly rotten blighter with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, just the sort of person you want as a villain in a send up of the Robin Hood story.
Mel Brooks, having had spoofed the whole genre as a director, adds in his own performance as Rabbi Tuckman- a different take than making him a friar. His rabbi is a man who likes to talk (a lot), and yet is a pleasant, affable fellow. Amy Yasbeck plays Marian with a comedic sense of timing; she would work again with Brooks in his Dracula parody a couple of years later. Her Marian is less virtuous than the classical take on the role, with more adult needs and opinions; she's pretty much horny and desperate for relief.
Cary Elwes is well cast as Robin. He brings some of the same qualities to the role that he brought in The Princess Bride. He’s dashing and quick witted, calm under pressure, and he can improvise. While giving the character a rich sense of humour, he maintains a straight face throughout, something that’s rather essential in a parody like this.
And unlike other Robin Hoods, he can speak with an English accent.