Saturday, 3 December 2016

A Classic

A charming spoof, Mel Brooks's Robin Hood: Men in Tights introduced the world to Dave Chappelle and extolled the virtues of form-fitting legwear. Here’s everything you need to know about the arrow-slinging 1993 comedy.

1. MEL BROOKS HAD PREVIOUSLY WORKED ON A COMEDIC ROBIN HOOD TV SERIES.


In 1974, Mel Brooks’ smash-hit genre parodies Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein became two of the highest grossing movies of the year—with Blazing Saddles beating out The Towering Inferno and The Godfather: Part II for the top spot. Having secured a lasting career for himself in Hollywood, Brooks took a break from cinema so he could pursue a new TV project. The comic joined forces with Norman Stiles and John Boni to co-create ABC’s When Things Were Rotten, a fast-paced, gag-driven sitcom that put a satirical spin on Robin Hood. Starring Get Smart alum Dick Gautier in the lead role, the show relied heavily on anachronistic pop culture references; in one episode, for example, a character named Lord McDonald of the Golden Archers dons a T-shirt reading “Over 1,000,000 Dispatched.”
When Things Were Rotten premiered on September 10, 1975. After three months of lackluster ratings and mixed reviews, the show was canceled just 13 episodes into its run. Brooks would, of course, take another stab at the legendary hero of Sherwood Forest when Robin Hood: Men in Tights was released 18 years later. Incidentally, that 1993 comedy starred a familiar face: Dick Van Patten, who plays an abbot in the film, had portrayed Friar Tuck in When Things Were Rotten.

2. A DENTIST’S KID INSPIRED THE MOVIE.

Despite its impressive showing at the box office, Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves(1991) didn’t win universal praise. Many took issue with the movie’s inconsistent tone and Costner’s half-baked attempt at an English accent. When 11-year-old Jordi Chandler saw it, he told his father, Evan, that the flick deserved to be parodied. As it happened, Evan Chandler was a Beverly Hills dentist whose clientele included Hollywood screenwriter J. David Shapiro. During an appointment, the DDS pitched the idea of a Robin Hood spoof movie to Shapiro, who loved the concept. Together, they put together a screenplay that was later sold to—and heavily revised by—Brooks.

3. MADELINE KAHN MIGHT’VE PLAYED LATRINE.

Madeline Kahn made a name for herself by starring in several of Brooks's comedies, includingBlazing SaddlesYoung FrankensteinHigh Anxiety, and History of the World, Part 1. Kahn’s family has stated that she was offered the part of Latrine—Prince John’s manic soothsayer—in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but turned the role down over salary concerns. On the other hand, Brooks himself says he didn’t cast Kahn because the character wouldn’t receive much screen time. Regardless, Tracey Ullman ended up landing the part.

4. SEAN CONNERY WANTED TO PORTRAY KING RICHARD—IN WOMEN’S CLOTHING.


Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had an all-star cast that boasted Costner, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Rickman. Sean Connery also made a brief appearance as King Richard, a part he reportedly wanted to reprise in Men in Tights. According to James Robert Parish's It's Good to Be the King: The Seriously Funny Life of Mel Brooks, Connery told the director “that he would repeat his role of the monarch—but this time in drag. However, intriguing as this comic prospect was, he wanted a $1 million salary, which he planned to donate to Scottish charities.” Unable to afford this king’s ransom, Brooks cast Patrick Stewart instead. For better or for worse, the cross-dressing angle was scrapped entirely.

5. BROOKS WROTE THE LYRICS TO ALL OF THE ORIGINAL SONGS.

From The Producers's “Springtime for Hitler” to a Sinatra-esque lounge number in High Anxiety, Brooks’s comedies are loaded with songs that the filmmaker either wrote or co-wrote himself. Robin Hood: Men in Tights continued this musical tradition. The legendary director penned the lyrics for Maid Marian’s song, the titular “Men in Tights” number, and both versions of the "Sherwood Forest Rap." Meanwhile, their melodies were provided by composer Hummie Mann. However, neither man can take any credit for “The Night is Young and You’re So Beautiful,” which Robin (Cary Elwes) belts out during a romantic scene with Marian (Amy Yasbeck). Famously covered by Dean Martin, that amorous ballad was written way back in 1937 by Dana Suesse, Billy Rose, and Irving Kahal.

6. WHEN BROOKS FIRST REACHED OUT TO CARY ELWES ABOUT PLAYING ROBIN HOOD, THE ACTOR ASSUMED HE WAS BEING PRANKED.

Early on in the Men in Tights casting process, Brooks called Elwes at his home to discuss the project. "He actually called me at home and I thought someone was pulling my leg so I hung up on him," Elwes told Den of Geek in 2014. "He called back and he said 'don’t hang up, it’s really me!' I apologized, but I couldn’t believe he was calling me." In short order, Elwes was cast as the film’s hero. Once he came aboard, Elwes helped Brooks choose an actor to play Ahchoo, Robin’s sidekick. In the end, the part went to an unknown 19-year-old comedian named Dave Chappelle. “We actually cast [him] together,” Elwes recalled. “We saw a lot of actors and when Dave came in, he was just so amazing and we knew right then and there [that] this guy was a star.”

7. IT SHARED A FILMING LOCATION WITH TWO OTHER WELL-KNOWN ROBIN HOOD MOVIES.

A body of water in Southern California’s Santa Monica mountains that was formerly known as Lake Canterbury was renamed Lake Sherwood in 1921, when a Robin Hood movie starring Douglas Fairbanks shot a few scenes on its shores. Subsequently, this same lake was utilized as a backdrop for certain outdoor sequences in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights did some filming there as well.

8. THE ACTORS ATTENDED A SWORDPLAY BOOT CAMP.

“If you put the name Robin Hood on a marquee, then it’s incumbent upon you—nay, it behooves you—to have horses and sword fighting,” Brooks declared in the HBO making-of documentary Robin Hood: Men in Tights: The Legend Had it Coming“The actors came in every weekend and they worked Saturdays and Sundays just on their sword fights,” Brooks said. These sessions were overseen by fencing coordinator Victor Paul, who also did stunt work on big-budget action films like Die Hard and Armageddon. The bladed weapon specialist found that Elwes was particularly easy to train because The Princess Bride star already had plenty of fencing experience under his belt. “All I had to do was teach him the routines, he knew how to fence,” Paul said in the documentary.
However, Elwes wasn’t quite as adept at archery. Right before the training montage, we see Robin hit a bull's-eye from a few yards away while his merry men look on. At the 2013 Motor City Comic Con, Elwes shed some light on the scene—which turned out to be a rather triumphant moment for him. “I was quite proud of the fact that I got a bull's-eye shooting the bow and arrow because there was a lot of pressure from Mel to get that in a few takes. He said ‘Okay, you’ve got three takes. Get a bull's-eye, let’s go!,'" Elwes shared during a Q&A session. “And I’m like ‘Really, Mel? I’ve only got three? Really?’ And I got it on the third one, thank god.”

9. LATE IN THE SHOOT, RICHARD LEWIS CAME DOWN WITH A 106-DEGREE FEVER.

Richard Lewis, who played the neurotic Prince John, opened up about his experiences on the set in a 2013 PBS documentary titled Mel Brooks: Make a Noise. Apparently, as production came to a close, Lewis’s health took a sharp turn for the worse. “I was almost done with the film, I had one scene left, [and then] I got Hepatitis A,” the actor recalled. Stricken with a 106-degree fever, Lewis was hospitalized. Amazingly though, this development didn’t stop Brooks from trying to complete his villain’s final scene on schedule.
Completely undeterred, the director called Lewis’s hospital room and announced an elaborate plan to lay Lewis in a stretcher, drive him to the set, and prop the immobilized performer up against some wood so that he could deliver a pair of lines. “You’ll do your two lines, we’ll carry you right back into the stretch, you’ll be back [at the hospital] in 20 minutes,” Brooks told him. “Mel,” a weary Lewis responded, “I’m dying. I think I’m dying. I have a 106 fever. I’m jaundiced.” He then hung up on Brooks, who proceeded to call him back “about 15 times with the same riff” in Lewis’s estimation.

10. THE MOVIE MADE GENE SISKEL’S “WORST OF '93” LIST.

When it came to the film critics, "most of them reamed it,” according to Lewis. “It was disappointing.” Leading the chorus of derision was Gene Siskel, who counted Robin Hood: Men in Tights among his worst films of 1993. “Movie comedy, I think, is threatening to pass Mel Brooks by,” the late critic opined. “When comedies don’t work and everybody in the audience knows it, that is about as low as it gets ... [Brooks] has clearly lost his way.”
Still, like many of Brooks’s later pictures, Robin Hood: Men in Tights has slowly developed a cult following over the years. It has even received some faint praise from a more contemporary Robin Hood: In 2016, Russell Crowe called Men in Tights “the most entertaining version” of the heroic character’s timeless story.

11. JACK BLACK ONCE SERENADED BROOKS WITH A RENDITION OF THE FILM'S THEME SONG.


Along with Bruce Springsteen, Dave Brubeck, Robert De Niro, and opera singer Grace Bumby, Brooks was named one of the 2009 Kennedy Center honorees. When asked to comment on this development, Brooks told The Washington Post, “I hope you never find my award on eBay, because you never know ... You run out of cash and wherewithal.” Seated near President Barack Obama and the First Lady, Brooks was presented with a medley of his unforgettable songs. Among other acts, this star-studded revue featured Martin Short’s take on the Blazing Saddlestheme while Richard Kind led a jazzy rendition of the Spanish Inquisition number from History of The World, Part 1. Jack Black also took the stage in full Robin Hood regalia to lead a chorus in singing “Men in Tights.” All the while, a gleeful Brooks could be seen mouthing the lyrics to every song from the audience.
MF

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