The 1993 spoof of all things Robin Hood is certainly not one of the Brooks classics, but nonetheless I feel it’s more than a little underrated. Yeah it’s a little dated and not every joke works, but it’s still a lot of fun, gets more than enough laughs, and has the smarts and character that’s been missing from spoof movies since.
While Mel Brooks’ last number of films had been parodying whole genres (Spaceballs had a Star Wars focus but also took on sci-fi films the like of Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and Alien), Men in Tights returned to a focus on something more specific, along the lines of Young Frankenstein. While mostly this film was capturing the Zeitgeist of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, it also took shots and paid homage to the classic Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. The set design, scenes, romanticism, costuming, even Cary Elwes’ moustache hearken back to that earlier film and just like Young Frankenstein the closeness of the imitation and understanding of the source really makes for some great comedy at the expense of the medieval setting, the swashbuckling tropes, while also maintaining more modern surreal humour like iron chastity belts, Mafia bosses and circumcision salesmen.
And Cary Elwes is really funny in this! He can play Robin Hood both serious and goofy, and has that leftover charisma from The Princess Bride. It also helps that he’s actually English considering so few Robin Hoods are, something he does address in the film. I feel like this is the kind of leading man Brooks wanted in Spaceballs but didn’t get -Bill Pullman was fine but he wasn’t really natural in the comedy (thankfully we had Rick Moranis for that!). Elwes throws himself into the role and has a lot of fun with it. Another under-appreciated performance is the late Roger Rees as the Sheriff of Rottingham in a delightful send-up of Alan Rickman’s role in Prince of Thieves. Even as Robin Colcord on one of my favourite shows Cheers, Rees though sarcastic and occasionally witty, was usually playing just an asshole foil for other characters. But in this film he really gets to let loose with his comedic chops getting some of the funniest lines and scenes. Richard Lewis is as ludicrous a Prince John as you’d expect and Mark Blankfield gets some really great slapstick in as Blinkin the blind man. The film also gives us Mel Brooks as a rabbi (of course), Dick Van Patten as a priest, and Patrick Stewart doing a slight Sean Connery impression as the most awesome King Richard. And let’s not forget this is the movie that introduced the world to Dave Chapelle. Playing the black merry man Ahchoo, he steals every scene he’s in with his hilarious dialogue and personality making me want to revisit his stand-up! Brooks really compiled a great funny cast from the leads to even the minor parts -who WAS that screaming kid?
In addition to the grand pomp of this film’s style, it has decent music. The song “Marian” is intentionally dumb, but it’s nice and relaxing to listen to. The Sherwood Forest rap is a great spoof of how ridiculously out of place that Bryan Adams song for Prince of Thieves was. “The Night is Young and You’re So Beautiful” is freaking hysterical and one of Elwes’ highlights; and the “Men in Tights” song has stuck with me since I first saw the movie (I probably even know most of the lyrics). The choreography for it is pretty good too.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights was one of the last good spoof movies and I think it should be appreciated for that. Though there are awkward moments and jokes that don’t work, and because it’s making fun of Prince of Thieves which was such a 90’s movie, it’s not as timeless as Young Frankenstein. There’s not much to the plot which is very basic Robin Hood, and I’d be lying if I said it couldn’t be smarter at times. Also, it’s lacking in funny female characters; the one exception is Tracey Ullman as this witch obsessed with the sheriff, but Megan Cavanagh’s Broomhilde is one-note and Amy Yasbeck is given little material as Maid Marian. This is a film that needed someone like Cloris Leachman, or Madeline Kahn, or even Daphne Zuniga. But as far as Mel Brooks films go it’s a hell of a lot better than Dracula: Dead and Loving It, the killer of his career; I’d probably place it just on the outskirts of his best four. It knows its material and makes fun of it skilfully, it looks terrific, and gives us a number of great comedic performances. I think Robin Hood: Men in Tights deserves more credit and considering the state of spoof movies of the last two decades, you may find that it does too.