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Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles (1974) is a satiric Western comedy film directed by Mel Brooks. Starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder, it was written by Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Al Uger, and was based on Bergman's story and draft. The movie is considered one of the great American comedies of all time, coming in at number six in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs list.

Brooks appears in multiple supporting roles, including Governor Le Petomane and a Yiddish-speaking Indian Chief. Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, David Huddleston, and Brooks regulars Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, and Harvey Korman are also featured. Musician Count Basie has a cameo as himself. The film, which came out only a few years after the Civil-Rights Movement, uses the ethnic slur "nigger" 17 times (usually used by whites) but was nevertheless a tremendous success.

Plot summary

The story is set in the American Old West of 1874 (though it is filled with anachronistic references). Construction on a new railroad runs into quicksand; the route has to be changed, which will require it to go through Rock Ridge, a frontier town where everyone has the last name of "Johnson" (including a "Howard Johnson", a "Van Johnson" and an "Olson Johnson".) The conniving State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Korman) — not to be confused, as he often is in the film, with actress Hedy Lamarr — wants to buy the land along the new railroad route cheaply by driving the townspeople out. He sends a gang of thugs, led by his flunky Taggart (Pickens), to scare them away, prompting the townsfolk to demand that Governor William J. LePetomane (Brooks) appoint a new sheriff. The Attorney General convinces the dim-witted Governor to select Bart (Little), a black railroad worker who was about to be hanged, as the new sheriff. Because Bart is black, Lamarr believes that this will so offend the townspeople they will either abandon the town or lynch the new sheriff.

With his quick wits and the assistance of alcoholic gunslinger Jim (Wilder), also known as "The Waco Kid" ("I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille!"), Bart works to overcome the townsfolk's hostile reception. He defeats and befriends Mongo (Karras), an immensely strong (but with barely enough intelligence to qualify him as human) henchman sent by Taggart, and bests German seductress-for-hire Lili von Shtupp (Kahn) at her own game, before inspiring the town to lure Lamarr's newly-recruited and incredibly diverse army of thugs (characterized by Lamarr as ideally consisting of "rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, half-wits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswagglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass kickers, shit kickers and Methodists" in addition to nearly every other kind of stock movie villain) into an ambush. (In the later scene where Lamarr conducts his hiring event, the candidates in line for consideration include stereotypical bikers, banditos, crusaders, Nazis and Klansmen).

The resulting fight between the townsfolk and Lamarr's army of thugs is such that it literally breaks the fourth wall; the fight spills out from the film lot in the Warner Bros. Studios into a neighboring musical set (being directed by DeLuise), then the studio commissary where a pie fight ensues, and finally pouring out into the surrounding streets.

The film ends with Bart shooting Hedley Lamarr in the groin at the 'premiere' of Blazing Saddles outside Grauman's Chinese Theater, saving the town, joining Jim inside a theater to view the end of the movie, persuading people of all colors and creeds to live in harmony and, finally, riding (in a limousine) off into the sunset.

Cast

Production

Blazing Saddles was Mel Brooks' first movie shot in anamorphic format. To date, this film and History of the World, Part I are the only films Brooks has shot in this format.

Brooks repeatedly had conflicts with studio executives over the cast and content. They objected to both the highly provocative script and to the "irregular" activities of the writers (particularly Richard Pryor, who reportedly led all night writing jams where loud music and drugs played a prominent role in the creative process). Brooks wanted Richard Pryor to play the sheriff's role, but the studio objected. Warner executives expressed concern about Pryor's reliability because of his heavy drug use at the time and the belief that he was crazy. Pryor was, however, hired as one of the film's screenwriters. In a similar vein, Gene Wilder was the second choice to play the character of the Waco Kid. He was quickly brought in to replace Gig Young after the first day of filming because Young was suffering from delirium tremens on the set due to his alcoholism.

After screening the movie, the head of Warner Brothers Pictures complained about the use of the word "nigger", the campfire scene and the punching of a horse, and told Brooks to remove all these elements from the film. As Brooks' contract gave him control of the final cut, the complaints were disregarded and all three elements were retained in the film with it holding the distinction of being the first film to display flatulence. Mel Brooks wanted the movie's title song to reflect the western genre, and advertised in the trade papers that he wanted a "Frankie Laine-type" sound. Several days later, singer Frankie Laine himself visited Brooks' office offering his services. Brooks had not told Laine that the movie was planned as a comedy, and was embarrassed by how much heart Laine put into singing the song.

In an interview included in the DVD release of Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks claimed that Hedy Lamarr threatened to sue, saying the film's running "Hedley Lamarr" joke infringed her right to publicity. This is lampooned when Hedley corrects Governor Le Petomane's pronunciation of his name, and Le Petomane replies with "What the hell are you worried about? This is 1874, you'll be able to sue her!". Brooks says they settled out of court for a small sum. A very similar gag, with a male character named "Peter Hedley Lamar, Jr." occurs in the 1941 Buster Keaton short "General Nuisance." In the same interview, Brooks related how he managed to convince John Wayne to read the script after meeting him in the Warner Brothers studio commissary. Wayne was impressed with the script, but politely declined a cameo appearance, fearing it was "too dirty" for his family image. He is also said to have told Brooks that he "would be first in line to see the film, though."

Influences

The film, town, and many of the scenes, music, and themes in Blazing Saddles were parodies of the classic Gary Cooper film High Noon. The church scene in particular was imitated down to the costumes and 'murmuring' of the townsfolk. Brooks' The Ballad Of Rock Ridge uses motifs and melodies that echo "Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'", performed by Tex Ritter.

Madeline Kahn's role, Lili Von Shtupp, is a parody of Marlene Dietrich's in the 1939 western film Destry Rides Again, while "I'm Tired" is a parody of Dietrich's "Falling in Love Again (Can't Help It)", a song written by Frederick Hollander for The Blue Angel (1930). 'Shtup' is a Yiddish vulgarism for sexual intercourse, perhaps from German stupsen ‘nudge’, or possibly German stopfen 'stuff'. (When broadcast on television, Lili's last name is usually shortened to "Shhhhhh...," but is still written normally on the title card.)

The bead work on Brooks' Indian headdress in the movie poster says "Kosher for Passover" in Hebrew (kosher l'pesach) (although jokingly misspelled; it actually reads "Posher for Kassover" (posher l'kesach). When Brooks is speaking 'Indian', he's actually speaking Yiddish.

Right before the "I'm Tired" scene, after Jim tells Bart about Lili Von Shtupp, the tune that is playing in the background is the theme from the fictional play Springtime For Hitler which appears in Mel Brooks' first film The Producers. Another reference to the previous film is when Governor Le Petomane echoes Max Bialystock's line "Hello Boys!" Another reference to Brooks' films is in the scene when Hedley is comforting Taggert when a horse and rider are being executed. The song Hedley hums to calm Taggart is the melody used later in Young Frankenstein to soothe the monster.

The name of Harvey Korman's character, Hedley Lamarr, is regularly mispronounced by others as Hedy Lamarr (in reference to the actress). In History of the World, Part I (a later Mel Brooks film), he plays Count De Monet (Mo-nay) another character whose name is often mispronounced as "Count Da Money".

One of Mel Brooks characters, Gov. William J. Le Petomane, is named after Joseph Pujol, Le Pétomane who was a turn of the century artiste in France. Pujol's stage performance consisted of controlled displays of flatulence. Extraordinary control of his abdominal muscles and rectal sphincter allowed him to draw air and water into his rectum and so create a wide range of sounds at will.

The scene involving the executioner outside the window is used in a larger fashion by the same actor in Brooks' later comedy, Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

The extensions to the ISO 9660 standard for Unix Filesystem attributes are named as Rock Ridge extensions after the movie's town.

Nominations, awards and honors

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1975 (Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Madeline Kahn, Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Original Song) and two BAFTA awards (Best Newcomer for Cleavon Little and Best Screenplay).

The film won the Writers Guild of America Award for "Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen" for writers Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, and Alan Uger. In 2006, Blazing Saddles was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The American film critic Dave Kehr queried if the historical significance of Blazing Saddles lay in the fact that it was the first film from a major studio to have a fart joke.

Reception

While the film is widely considered a classic comedy today, critical reaction was mixed when the film was first released. Vincent Canby wrote:
Blazing Saddles has no dominant personality, and it looks as if it includes every gag thought up in every story conference. Whether good, bad, or mild, nothing was thrown out. [[Woody Allen|Mr. [Woody] Allen's]] comedy, though very much a product of our Age of Analysis, recalls the wonder and discipline of people like Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. Mr. Brooks's sights are lower. His brashness is rare, but his use of anachronism and anarchy recalls not the great film comedies of the past, but the middling ones like the Hope-Crosby "Road" pictures. With his talent he should do much better than that.

Roger Ebert called the film a "crazed grabbag of a movie that does everything to keep us laughing except hit us over the head with a rubber chicken. Mostly, it succeeds. It's an audience picture; it doesn't have a lot of classy polish and its structure is a total mess. But of course! What does that matter while Alex Karras is knocking a horse cold with a right cross to the jaw?

TV pilot

A television pilot was produced for CBS based on Andrew Bergman's initial story, titled Black Bart, which was the original title of the film. It featured Louis Gossett Jr. as Bart and Steve Landesberg as the drunk sidekick. Mel Brooks had little if anything to do with the pilot, as writer Andrew Bergman is listed as the sole creator. The pilot did not sell but CBS aired it once on April 4, 1975. It was later included as a bonus feature on the Blazing Saddles 30th Anniversary DVD.

Musical adaptation

With the success of his musical adaptations for The Producers (musical)} and Young Frankenstein (musical), rumors have spread about a possible adaptation to Blazing Saddles. Brooks joked about the concept in the final number in Young Frankenstein, in which the full company sings, "next year Blazing Saddles!." Tony Award-winning choreographer, Jerry Mitchell mentioned hearing of Brooks talking about the possibility in an interview with Broadway World. However, no one has confirmed whether a show is in the works.

Soundtrack Release

After nearly 35 years, the first-ever official, studio-licensed release, in any format, of the full music soundtrack to Blazing Saddles finally came out from La-La Land Records on August 26, 2008. Remastered from original studio vault elements, this Limited Edition CD features the classic songs from the film as well as composer John Morris' score. Bonus tracks on the album include special instrumental versions of all the songs, and the disc features exclusive liner notes featuring comments from Mel Brooks and John Morris. It has been released as a "limited edition" of 3,000 units.

Footnotes and references

External links

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