“The Legend Had It Coming.”
It seems that pretty much every decade has had its screen version of Robin Hood; sometimes it’s on television. Robin Hood is one of the most popular characters in film, and there have been plenty of versions, each with their own particular take on the multiple legends that have made up the character over the centuries. Currently Ridley Scott has just released his own epic version of the tale with perfectly-cast Russell Crowe in the title role. In the early 1990’s there were two films on the subject released. The first was the disaster that stared Kevin Costner, so abysmally cast as the titular hero. It was only inevitable that following one of the worst attempts to portray Robin Hood, Mel Brooks would see his chance to lampoon the legend. After Costner’s film, the legend truly did have it coming.
By the time of Robin Hood: Men In Tights, Mel Brooks no longer had the film parody genre to himself as he practically had for decades. By now Airplane, Naked Gun, and even the Wayans Brothers had just started to step into the genre. It was no longer the novelty it used to be. Could Brooks and his “old school” methodology compete in a changing world at Hollywood? The answer was a simple: of course he can. In fact Brooks was needed more than ever to step in and show these newcomers how it was done. Robin Hood was the perfect character to bring Mel Brooks and his particularly peculiar brand of comedy to a new generation of filmgoers.
Men In Tights goes the route of the Robin Of Loxley rather than Huntington path. As the film opens, Robin (Elwes) has been captured while fighting in the Crusades. He is being chained in a dungeon where he meets Asneeze (Hayes). The two manage to break out of the castle dungeon. Asneeze asks one favor in return for his assistance. He has a son back in England named Ahchoo (Chappelle). It’s a joke that Sanford And Son already did 25 years earlier. Robin promises to find this son and look after him. And so Robin begins the long swim from Jerusalem to England, where he finds that his family, including the pets, are all dead and his land has been confiscated for back taxes by the King’s tax collector H.R. Blockhead. The only thing remaining is the family’s faithful and quite blind servant Blinkin (Blankfield). Robin is told of the tyranny England has suffered by Prince John (Lewis) while his brother King Richard (Stewart) has been away fighting the Crusades. Robin decides to pay a visit to the castle of the Prince and serve notice that he will oppose his tyranny. Robin is also given a box on a chain that is intended from his father to reach him. Inside it contains the “key to the greatest treasure”. Meanwhile we see Maid Marian bathing; she wears an Everlast chastity belt with a solid padlock. She’s singing a song asking where here hero who holds the key might be. We pretty much know where this is going. But Maid Marian is desired by the evil Sheriff of Rottingham (Rees) who has the Prince’s favor and is about to get what he wants. And then along comes Robin, and all bets are off.
A lot of the traditional elements can be found here. While there is no Friar Tuck in Robin’s band of Merry Men, Brooks makes one of his classic appearances a couple of times as the Rabbi Tuckman, who travels around the Kingdom selling Sacramental Wine and providing circumcisions with his miniature guillotine. The cast doesn’t include quite as many of the Mel Brooks standard players here. This is one of the few Brooks films without Madeline Kahn. In fact, only Dom Deluise is present from many other Brooks films. Here he provides his Marlon Brando imitation as the Don Giovanni, hired to take out Robin Hood. It’s a great gag and makes me wonder why Mel never tackled The Godfather for a spoof. DeLuise would have been the perfect candidate for the lead. Speaking of leads, I have to say I found Cary Elwes rather weak in the title role. He played it with enough flair, but he doesn’t have the great screen presence that Brooks usually found in his leads. At the time he had come off The Princess Bride and had a good amount of buzz going for him. Richard Lewis is so miscast as Prince John that it was a brilliant move. He plays the part quite subtly. Brooks pokes some fun at continuity guys with a mole on John’s face that moves throughout the film. One of the best roles here was Roger Rees as Rottingham. For most of us he’ll always be the snobbish Lord John Marbury from The West Wing, who was a great foil for Leo. He plays that kind of Englishman again here. You won’t really recognize her at all, but that’s Tracey Ullman under all of that makeup as the witchy Latrine. Mark Blankfield as Blinkin is priceless. Patrick Stewart delivers in what is basically a cameo as King Richard at the end of the film. Finally, a few nods should go to Amy Yasbeck as Marian. It’s hard to imagine she never really worked a ton after this film. She had chops and looked rather good in the role. Most guys have had the bathtub scene burned into their brains since they first saw the film.
Men In Tights is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25 mbps. The movie actually looks older than it is, at least as far as the print is concerned. There appears to be a bit of dust or dirt throughout. This is also not exactly the kind of title that screams for you to replace in high definition. Still, there is a lot to be said for the image presentation. The color is quite impressive. The costumes really stand out. There’s this nice rich blue tunic that Lewis wears as Prince John that displays beautiful color and texture. There isn’t quite the level of detail you might be used to. Brooks wasn’t one for elaborate set design. It takes away from the gags. There are moments where the detail appears to break through. I hate to bring up the bathtub scene again, but it really is a sharp-looking image. It’s one of the cleanest on the film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is really a pretty basic track. The musical numbers aren’t terribly dynamic, but then again, that’s not really the point of them being there at all. Dialog is fine, and you really shouldn’t expect more from what amounts to a basic comedy. There is a notable exception. The opening credits feature a fiery arrow gag that is downright superb in the audio presentation. The surrounds are put to incredible use, and the sound is very rich, for about the only time you’ll catch some nice bottom out of your subs.
There is an Audio Commentary that was taken from the laserdisc version of the film, which I also own, so, I’ve heard it before. It also shows up on a DVD release. Mel explains all and gives a lot of detail while patting himself on the back a bit much. It’s entertaining, however, and worth an extra spin around the block to take in.
The features are in Standard Definition.
Funny Men In Tights – Three Generations Of Comedy: (13:49) Cast and crew look back many years later at working on the film and particularly working with Mel. Mel himself offers plenty of stuff, but you heard most of that in the commentary. There are also some vintage reflections of the cast and crew taken from the set of the movie.
HBO Special – Robin Hood: Men In Tights – The Legend Had It Coming: (26:14) Cary Elwes hosts this vintage look at making the movie. It’s filled with a ton of gags.
This was the first of three Mel Brooks films I revisited on Blu-ray all on the same day. It was a pleasant afternoon and evening. I have become quite jaded about parodies and spoofs. I can watch so many of these modern affairs and never even crack a smile. Watching Brooks at his best only made the others that much more pitiful. I guess when it boils right down to it, “It’s good to be the king”.