Trailer Park Boys in the Tradition of the Comedic Criminal
This is the tradition of Robin Hood, who first appeared (in rhyme) in 1377 C.E. He remained a popular figure in Scottish lore, appearing in ballads and in plays (many lost to time).
But it took over a century of adventuring for Robin Hood to begin his most famous practice, his saving grace; stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.
It was in Elizabethan England’s 1600s that Robin became a noble thief, returning Norman plunder to the good English people of British sovereign Sir Richard the Lionheart, then abroad on crusade. Around this time Robin also took on the moniker Sir Robin.
Robin made his first appearance in published print in 1838 and remained popular through more serialized adventures, where Maid Marian entered the legend. More English novels followed. Howard Pyle’s 1883 The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire, is considered a classic children’s book.
Robin remained the star of page and stage until he became the screen hero we imagine today. The first Robin Hood short was released in 1908. Five more had been produced by 1914. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. virtually owned the character with his 1922 hit Robin Hood until the classic 1938 Warner Brothers film, The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn. Flynn was so effective and beloved as Robin that later productions presented The Son of Robin Hood or other related characters instead of recasting to replace Flynn.
None of this indicates a comic tradition. Robin Hood is an adventure character, not a comedic character, his vehicles are not considered comedies.
But when you look at the tradition of the comedic criminal, time and again you see a retelling of the Robin Hood legend. This is because everything about the Robin Hood stories works in the comedic world: A likable but imperfect fellow who thwarts a corrupted power system; an antiestablishment rebel who is a criminal by virtue of his stance against the corrupt system, not because of any innate evil or personality flaw; a rascal who delights in overturning the status quo of the rich and beautiful, happily doling out justice on behalf of the common man or woman who, without him, would have no way to overcome.
As we will see, comedic stories about criminals are Robin Hood stories virtually without exception.
But let’s not be so fast to cast Robin Hood off as a character without vast comedic possibilities. Daffy Duck played Robin to superb comic effect; portraying him as a lazy, pompous bungler, while Porky Pig’s Friar Tuck did the heavy lifting.
In the 1970s, Disney made an animated Robin Hood film, presenting him as a wily fox to outwit Peter Ustinov’s idiot Prince John. Comedic, if not exactly comedy gold.
One of the rare instances of a situation comedy with a criminal as the central character is the Mel Brooks-created When Things Were Rotten, starring Get Smart’s Dick Gautier and Bernie Kopell as Robin Hood and Friar Tuck.
Robin Hood returned to television in a Canadian hour-long fantasy drama, which has little place in our discussion of comedy. It wasn’t Robin’s first stint as a dramatic lead on television. The 1950s black-and-white The Adventures of Robin Hood was directed squarely at kids. The half-hour adventure series was a popular format with kids, including the hit shows Superman, Sky King and many others.
Thereafter society’s favorite outlaw hero has enjoyed several big-screen adaptations. One great modern Robin Hood film is Robin and Marian, featuring James Bond Sean Connery, Breakfast at Tiffany’s Audrey Hepburn and Jaws’ Robert Shaw as the aging Robin, Marian and Sheriff of Nottingham,.
Mel Brooks took a second swipe at the Robin Hood legend, giving it a big-screen parody treatment with 1993’s Men In Tights to unspectacular artistic and commercial success.
But to find a comedic retelling of this paradigm, one needn’t go directly back to Robin Hood, only indirectly.
Let’s take a look at a few stories in the tradition of the comedic criminal and see if the Robin Hood legend doesn’t lay just beneath the surface.
As a control, here’s the Robin Hood story in a nutshell: Good-hearted outlaw Robin Hood, with his lady love Marian and his band of Merry Men, enlists the peasants of Sherwood Forest to thwart the evil schemes of invading Norman Prince John and his local representative, the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Here’s director Alan Parker’s 1976 musical comedy Bugsy Malone: Good-hearted gangster Bugsy Malone, with his lady love Blousey and his allies Fat Sam and his boys recruits the down-and-out depression-era denizens of the city to thwart the evil schemes of invading gangster Dandy Dan.
Here’s John Landis’ 1980 film comedy The Blues Brothers: Good-hearted musicians Jake and Elwood Blues, with their band, recruit the …