The outlaw hero arises when there is a need for social justice within a community. When there is an ethnic or cultural group that is being oppressed an outlaw hero is created to stand up to the oppressors. Some of these outlaw heroes are modern and close to factual like the outlaw hero Veerappan from India. While other outlaw heroes like Robin Hood are hundreds of years old and their stories have become convoluted with myths and folklore legends. Mel Brooks took a collection of Robin Hood sources and used them to create the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Brooks’ overall intention for his movie was to pay homage to the nineteen thirty-eight movie Adventures of Robin Hood, while also being a parody of the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Mel Brooks does follow several early sources for his retelling of the Robin Hood story yet because the Robin Hood: Men in Tights movie is a parody of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Brooks must rely on other non-historical sources for his movie. Originally in the nineteenth century Muslim characters were written into Robin Hood stories as villains. Yet the creation of Robin Hood’s Muslim companion is a new edition to the Robin Hood myth. The British television series Robin of Sherwood in the early 80s created a Muslim character that was also Merry Man. The actor Mark Ryan was originally a Muslim villain in the pilot episode but was so well liked on the set of the television show by the other actors, that the creators wrote his character into the television show, as a regular character and part of Robin Hood’s outlaw hero group the Merry Men. While the Muslim characters in the Robin of Sherwood television show and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is stoic and strong individuals that strictly followed Muslim customs. Brooks created a father and son Muslim duo that provides comic relief while not following Muslim customs.
Similar to the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves the Muslim character in Robin Hood: Men in Tights gives a speech that rallies the Merry Men around Robin Hood to fight against their oppressors. The speech given by the actor Dave Chappelle in the Robin Hood: Men in Tights movie is similar to the speeches given by African-American activist Malcolm X. Brooks uses moments like this in his Robin Hood movie to give his Robin Hood story an American flare. The Muslim characters in the Robin Hood myths were a fairly recent creation just like the idea of the Robin Hoods antagonists using witchcraft in their fight against Robin Hood.
Brooks uses the Robin Hood myth of a witch in his Robin Hood movie to conspire with Robin’s enemies; the origin of this character begins with the television series Robin of Sherwood. The witch character is only given more credence with the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie. The witch in the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is more than an oracle; like in the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie. The witch is the mother of Robin Hood’s main antagonist, and a demonic monster that participates in satanic practices. Mel Brooks’ witch character is more of a sex crazed woman than her freighting satanic counterpart in the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The witch in the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights pursues the Sherriff of Nottingham sexually just like his own overzealous sexual attempts on Maid Marian.
Robin Hood stories from authors like Thomas Peacock created a strong feminist myth of Maid Marian. This myth has probably continued because modern women cannot relate to the problems of Medieval England women that suffered from forced marriages. Originally Marian was being aggressively pursued by Prince John; Brooks uses the idea of the Sherriff as Maid Marian’s sexual antagonist because he wanted to make the Sherriff the main villain like in another Robin Hood story A Lytell Gest of Robin Hood. Some Robin Hood storytellers like Peacock have decided to create a stronger and more independent Maid Marian. The Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves movie used the Peacock version of Maid Marian where she gives the appearance of some combat training. Mel Brook’s Robin Hood story depict Maid Marian as being saved by Robin from overzealous courters Mel Brooks gives a better description of what would be expected of a medieval woman (damsel in distress) unlike the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves who portrayed Marian as sword fighting maiden that fought back against Sherriff advances.
The movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights does not just rely on modern sources for its retelling of the Robin Hood legend. Mel Brooks stays very close to the early Robin Hood legends. In the documentary on the making of the Robin Hood Men in Tights movie, Mel Brooks remarks that he is aware of the fact that the original Robin Hood did not steal from the rich and give to the poor. Brooks’ version of his Robin Hood retelling mentions that Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor, but this Robin Hood does not give to the poor, at any point during the movie. Brooks shows he is familiar with early Robin Hood myths like A Lytell Gest of Robin Hood. Brooks greatly excels in keeping with the original Robin Hood legend in his movie, by creating a very witty and charismatic Robin Hood Character.
Part of the definition of an outlaw hero, is that the hero is lovable and clever. Throughout the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights, the actor Carey Elwes delivers sarcastic witty quips with expert comedic timing, when he taunts either Prince John or the Sherriff of Nottingham. The use of the Sherriff as the regular Robin Hood antagonist is found in the A Lytell Gest of Robin Hood. The bumbling Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Men in Tights is reminiscent of the same type of character in the nineteen thirty-eight film Adventures of Robin Hood. Both the Sherriff characters in these movies are constantly outwitted by Robin Hood, this is important for establishing a good social bandit character. The movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves comes up short when trying to create a witty and charismatic Robin Hood character. The actor Kevin Costner is one of the most disliked actors to portray Robin Hood because his character lacks the same wit and charm as a Carey Elwes or Errol Flynn.
The Robin Hood stories for years have centered on the ideas of celebrations and singing, at May Day festivals in England. The music and singing of Robin Hood stories have become important to the modern Robin Hood myths. Robin Hood music became popular in operas and the movie Adventures of Robin Hood was the winner of the nineteen thirty-eight Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score. Mel Brooks also had several songs in his Robin Hood movie; one song purposely questions the ambiguous homosexuality of the Merry Men which was a scholarly belief of the Robin Hood tails. With Maid Marian singing in the Robin Hood: Men in Tights movie creates a generally more feminine role which is more in line with the old stories of Robin Hood instead of a liberal and feminist Maid Marian character that was created by Thomas Peacock.
Since Anthony Munday in fifteen ninety-eight Robin Hood stories were starting to focus on Robin Hood’s nobility. Robin Hood playwright Anthony Munday is credited with fulfilling “…the trend towards gentrification that had been clear in the chronicles Major and Grafton. Before the writer Munday there was a beginning of the gentrification of Robin Hood but Munday brought this Robin Hood characteristic into the mainstream. Before Munday and other writers like John Major Robin Hood was more relatable to the peasants culture because he was a yeoman farmer that was cast out of society and began to fight against the oppressors of the commoners. This is evident when “…a late legend marries Robin Hood to the daughter of Jack Cade who led a revolt of the commons in Kent during 1450.” While Munday may have solidified the myth that Robin Hood was a nobleman to appease his audiences of aristocrats. Some historians feel that turning Robin Hood into nobleman was needed to help re-establish the authority of the monarchs of England after the restoration. Historian Maurice Keen believes that Robin Hood had to become a nobleman. If Robin Hood was to truly lead a group of peasants in an uprising he would need to be a nobleman because a peasant would be incapable of leading other peasants in revolt.
The year nineteen ninety-three in which Robin Hood Men in Tights movie came out, America was greatly impacted by cultural and political changes along with economic problems. By nineteen ninety-two America had made a major change in its political leaders. One of the reasons for a change of leadership was reflective of some mainstream unpopular opinion of the Iraqi war. Mel Brooks attacks Bill Clinton war record when he has Robin Hood make the comment “…my father couldn’t get me into the National Guard” to the Sherriff of Nottingham.Mel Brooks also makes light of new military technology, when Robin loses the archery tournament he is allowed one more shot and decided to uses a heat seeking missile arrow to win the tournament. These and other scenes in the movie argue the idea that art is a reflection of the society it is created in. The Robin Hood myth is more than an idea of redistribution of wealth it is about a change in government control which was a very important subject in America at the time the Robin Hood Men in Tights movie came out. Another reason for political change in America came about because of economic problems.
Economically America was suffering from a recession and was the perfect time to create a movie that dealt with the idea of a redistribution of wealth. Brooks acknowledges the fact that Robin Hood originally did not rob from the rich and give to the poor, but stills mentions Robin Hood as a thief that gives to the poor in his movie. With economic trends in nineties, a movie about the poor stealing money from the rich would have been a very popular idea. But Brooks decided to stay close to the earlier Robin Hood sources like A lytell Gest of Robin Hood where “…Robin does not give what he Acquires to the poor…”
Culturally sports play an important role in American society and Mel Brooks inserted two major sports contribution to American culture in Robin Hood: Men in Tights that reflected sports fads of the early nineties with the Tomahawk Chop and the Wave. The use chants and celebratory actions in sports, is common in America and Brooks capitalizes on the two major trends in sports during the early Nineties. The crowd of Robin Hood fans at the archery contest used the Tomahawk chop and the Wave, which our two distinctly American traditions. The Tomahawk chop was used by Atlanta Braves baseball fans during the height of Atlanta Braves domination in National League baseball in the early nineties. The Wave another American creation was also used by Brooks during the archery contest. The Wave was created by a professional Cheerleader during an Oakland Athletics game. By Mel Brooks’ using the Tomahawk Chop and The Wave he was trying to take the English myth Robin Hood and connect it in someway to America.
Famous American outlaws heroes are very unlikable violent criminals like Billy the Kid or Jesse James. What Mel Brooks did in his Film Robin Hood Men in Tights was to take a distinctly British outlaw hero like Robin Hood, and Americanize his legend to coincide with the current political, economical, and cultural trends affecting America at the time. By the Robin Hood myth fulfilling most of the defining characteristics of what makes an outlaw hero, Robin Hood becomes a universal social bandit that is acceptable for most classes in society. The poor he protects, the rich who he represents with his nobility and the oppressed that he leads. The myth of Robin Hood has continued with Mel Brook’s Robin Hood: Men in Thighs but with an American flare.
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