Mel Brooks' wacky 'When Things Were Rotten' out on DVD
05:00 AM, Jun 22, 2013
Mel Brooks has been making people laugh out loud for more than a half century, and this year he has had plenty of reasons to smile. The producer — one of the few artists to receive a Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony — continues to collect accolades for his ability to tickle the funny bone.
In May, he was saluted in the documentary American Masters Mel Brooks: Make A Noise, which premiered nationally on PBS and is now available on home video (2013, Shout! Factory, G, $20). It traces the life of the zany genius behind such films as Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs and TV’s Get Smart. It includes interviews with the likes of Nathan Lane, Cloris Leachman, Joan Rivers and Matthew Broderick.
Earlier this month, the 86-year-old director was honored with the American Film Institute’s 41st Life Achievement Award and feted by a broad range of Hollywood stars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. And, his directorial debut, The Producers, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, is out on Blu-ray July 2 in a two-disc combo pack (1968, Shout! Factory, PG, $30).
This week, a sometimes overlooked piece of the Brooks legacy is out on DVD: his short-lived, but critically acclaimed TV sitcom, When Things Were Rotten (1975, CBS, not rated, $25). The 13-episode series, which is available on demand via Amazon, is a wacky parody of the Robin Hood legend. Richard Gautier takes the lead role as the somewhat smarmy hero, who’s always got a scheme to embarrass or outwit the fiendish Sheriff of Nottingham (Henry Polic II) and his brattish ruler Prince John.
Robin’s Merry Men — stalwart Little John (David Sabin), forever-feasting Friar Tuck (Dick Van Patten) and urbane Alan-a-Dale (Bernie Kopell) — are always ready with a sarcastic quip or sight gag. Renaldo (Richard Dimitri) was also part of the crew and gets plenty of laughs at the expense of twin brother Bertram (also played by Dimitri), who is the sheriff’s toady. Misty Rowe — who starred on Hee Haw for 19 years — plays Maid Marian.
Patten would go on to greater fame as the patriarch on the family sitcom Eight Is Enough, and Brooks casted him as an abbot in his 1993 film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Kopell would play the doctor on TV’s long-running romantic comedy The Love Boat. Both Kopell and Gautier had previously had roles on Brooks’ Get Smart.
The scripts had more zingers than Robin had arrows, and the show was noted for its anachronistic and literal humor. Many of the jokes are in keeping with cultural references of the 1970s, rather than 15th-century England. And the cast got plenty of comedic help from the guest stars, including Sid Caesar, Lainie Kazan, Ron Glass, Dudley Moore, Joe E. Ross and Steve Landesberg.
It all added up to some of the nuttiest comedy on TV. It didn’t last long, but while it did (as the silly theme song says) there was reason to sing, “Yay for Robin Hood!”