Robin Hood: Men in Tights ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

My friends hosted their first Backyard Movie Night of 2015, playing a Robin Hood double feature of Prince of Thieves and Men in Tights. I kinda sorta followed along with the former from inside the kitchen, occupied by other matters, which is why I don't have a diary entry for it. I was, however, outside for the entirety of Men in Tights, which I last watched some time prior to finally sitting down with The Adventures of Robin Hood.

I mention these other screen incarnations of the story because when I first saw this parody, the only two versions I had ever seen were the 1973 Disney animated feature and Prince of Thieves. I followed along with the first third, maybe the first half, of Men in Tights as a send-up of Thieves, but only my faded recollections of the Disney version helped me keep up when the film switched gears away from the '91 blockbuster and into the mythology proper. Having now seen the '38 classic, I got a lot more out of Men in Tights than I ever got in previous viewings.

As with most Mel Brooks movies, there are two grading systems. One rates it as a parody; the other, as a comedy. Men in Tights is a fairly clever parody, offering enough fan service to appeal to viewers knowledgeable about the source material. This is something that Brooks also nailed with Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Young Frankenstein, for instance.

As a comedy, though....Yikes. There are hits, of course, but the misses are plenty, including quite a few quips that are reminders of how far we've come over the last 22 years regarding the nature of gender-based comedy. Jokes about the Merry Men's masculinity in the titular song and dance number; the core four in drag; a quip about testicles of a newt ("I guess he's a transsexual now")....

Then there's the troubling matter of Latrine's stalker-level obsession with the Sheriff of Rottingham, much of which is rooted in finding laughs in crossing boundaries of consent. Because the aggressor is the woman, we're expected to find it funny (sadly, still true in a lot of mainstream entertainment today), but it's disturbing all the same for making the argument that such things are funny. Likewise, his rejection of her plays to the tired theme of superficiality (she's too ugly to be attractive to him; Maid Marian is hot and he wants her badly). The whole thing is unhealthy, rather than amusing.

I have no idea what the hell was up with King Richard insisting on kissing Maid Marian before allowing her to exchange "I do"s with Robin at the end, claiming it as his "right" and then dipping her passionately...without anyone even seeming to be bothered by it. This was two years before Braveheart made us all think about English kings and nobility preying on women of the lower classes through codified law. If it had come out after that movie, I could have at least seen it as a (peculiar) dig at that somehow, but this...this is just rape culture for laughs. It's a particularly distasteful way to end the movie.

(Yes, I'm a social justice-minded viewer. God forbid I view the world and its entertainment through the lens of my values.)

The one positive thing I want to call out, though, is Cary Elwes as Robin Hood. I don't think he's gotten nearly enough credit over the course of his career. This movie alone is a brilliant showcase of his talents: He's entirely believable as an action hero, he exudes enough charm to be a romantic lead, and his understated sense of comedic timing is something that a lot of actors who can do either of the other two things often lack.

Elwes could easily have been the star of a straightforward Robin Hood movie rather than only a parody. That isn't often true (can anyone envision Mike Myers as the star of an actual spy movie?), but he's talented enough that for once, it is. Without him, I don't know that the parts of the movie that do work still would.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#819/1678)

Robin Hood: Men in Tights < MGM: When the Lion Roars → #840
Robin Hood: Men in Tights < Failure to Launch → #1260
Robin Hood: Men in Tights > Just Like a Woman → #1260
Robin Hood: Men in Tights < Santa Claus: The Movie → #1365
Robin Hood: Men in Tights > The Graduate → #1365
Robin Hood: Men in Tights < Feast → #1365
Robin Hood: Men in Tights > Excess Baggage → #1391
Robin Hood: Men in Tights > The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1973) →#1391
Robin Hood: Men in Tights < The Idle Class → #1394
Robin Hood: Men in Tights > The Care Bears Movie → #1394

Robin Hood: Men in Tights was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #1394/1678