Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 8 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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I might have mentioned this in a review before, but comedy films usually aren’t “my thing”. Sure, I love having a good laugh while watching a fun movie, but films labeled as “comedies”  I usually actively avoid, with a few notable exceptions. Prior to discussing this movie on my podcast, I had only seen it once and had paid it very little attention because I was working on homework at the time (I was 17 or so), but I was certainly willing to give it a try, and, thankfully, it’s a fun movie and better than many other comedies I’ve seen.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights is a Mel Brooks film that tells the story of the man we all know, Robin Hood (Cary Elwes), who famously steals from the rich and gives to the needy. We see very little of that side of him in this movie and are instead treated to song and dance numbers and slapstick antics, as well as a cast of side characters that brings the laughs in thick as we follow Robin and friends on a journey to retaliate against the power-hungry Prince John (Richard Lewis) and to win the heart of the beautiful Maid Marian (Amy Yasbeck).

This movie never quite takes itself seriously, and in the select few moments when it does, it’s to emphasize the ridiculousness of something else that is going on or is about to happen. For example, at the very start of the film, we witness a village being attacked and set aflame. The scene seems to be gruesome and violent, but then the villagers start to complain about how “every time they make a Robin Hood movie, they burn [their] village down”, and they go on to call Brooks out by name, asking him to leave them alone. And there you have it: a seemingly serious moment used to tell the film’s first joke by breaking the Fourth Wall.

The film isn’t the only thing to not take itself seriously; each of the characters has their moment to be hysterically funny at some point before the end credits roll. The obvious standout is Cary Elwes, who played Westley in The Princess Bride (my review), and his portrayal of our eponymous hero almost feels like an extension of his character from that film. He has the same sort of humor and general personality, but at no point does Robin seem like a rehash or clone of Westley. In fact, in this movie he gets the opportunity to be straight-out funny rather than hiding behind the more dry, straightforward delivery of his Farm Boy counterpart. He knows when he’s being funny, and he milks it for all it’s worth. At one point, he cheekily turns to the camera to tell the audience that unlike some actors who play Robin Hood, he can speak with an English accent – an obvious jab at Kevin Costner’s portrayal of the same character in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He has many moments like this that caused me to laugh out loud while watching. Elwes has a fantastic sense of timing with his joke delivery and knows just how to deliver his line for maximum hilarity.

I won’t dwell on other characters for too long – listen to the podcast for that! – but I will mention my favorites. Roger Rees as the Sheriff of Rottingham is often hysterical, many times due to the way he jumbles up his words, often switching starting consonants (“spoonerisms”) but once or twice becoming so enraged that he’s simply unable to form a coherent sentence. Mark Blankfield played the blind Blinkin, and he is the character who makes me laugh the most, especially during a particular fight scene where, in an effort to aid his friends in battle, he feverishly and unknowingly hacks away at a wooden post for an embarrassingly long time, thinking it to be a legitimate enemy. The last character I’ll mention is actually just a simple cameo, and I don’t exactly want to spoil it for you, so I’ll let you watch the movie for yourself…just be ready for the awesome cameo in the last five minutes of the film!

I don’t have much to say regarding the score or music in general except that it does its job of furthering the purpose of the film – to make you laugh. At the start of the movie, we watch an Indiana Jones-style travel scene by map, accompanied by a rousing orchestral rendition of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, which is of course ridiculous in the best of ways. There’s also a fantastic choreographed dance scene to a song called (what else?) “Men in Tights”, and it’s hilarious enough that it was the only part of the movie I remembered from my first viewing several years ago.

Mel Brooks has made his mark on the comedy genre through his many beloved films – SpaceballsBlazing SaddlesYoung Frankenstein, to name a few – but, as guest host Mikey Fissel said on Episode 8 of The Cinescope Podcast, none are as accessible or universal as Robin Hood: Men in Tights, so it serves as a perfect jumping-off point for exploring the rest of Brooks’ filmography. The story is a simple one that we all already know, so the real focus of the movie is the ache in your side you’ll get from laughing throughout.

-Chad

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MPAA: PG-13 – for off-color humor

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