Tuesday, February 26, 2008

They Said You Was Hung. They Was Right.

By Odienator

Mel Brooks once said his films "rise below vulgarity." Witness Blazing Saddles, a film so politically incorrect it should come with a surgeon general's warning for the easily offended. The film is full of racist language, Black jokes, Jewish jokes, gay slurs, religious blasphemy and cruelty to both animals and old ladies. There are at least three jokes about rape, two jokes about improper use of cattle (one of which I've already counted in the rape jokes) , and one joke about implied masturbation between a cowboy and his bathing boss.

I've a rule about comedy which states that nothing is offensive to me so long as it's funny. Luckily, Saddles is hilarious, but every joke is a powderkeg of potential offense. Nothing is sacred in its skewering of the Old West, and I know every perverted line of dialogue in this film by heart. I try not to work in absolutes, but Blazing Saddles is easily the funniest movie I have ever seen.

When I saw Blazing Saddles in the theater, I remember seeing a sign on the doors of the General Cinemas Hudson Mall in Jersey City. It read, "Please be aware that Blazing Saddles contains material that may be considered offensive to some viewers. The management is not responsible for its content." It was as if the R-rating wasn't fair warning for sensitive viewers. I can't tell you how many people were offended by the film, but I'm sure it's plenty. As Steve Martin once said, "comedy is not pretty." I can tell you that, in 1974, I was too young to understand any of the jokes in this movie...except one. And it was a smelly, groundbreaking doozy, too.

With Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks began his career of spoofing movie genres. (The Producers is too original to truly be classified a spoof.) What made Brooks so adept at this during the '70's was his willingness to toy with the boundaries of genre characteristics. By taking the familiar and adding a clever spin to it, he managed to create parodies that stuck to the rules of the genre while poking fun at it. Blazing Saddles is definitely a Western, with scenes around a campfire, gun battle showdowns and a sheriff who wants to clean up the proverbial one horse town. Except this time, the good guy wears black. Or more accurately, he is Black.

Blazing Saddles began as a story by Andrew Bergman about a racist town in the Old West dealing with its new sheriff, Black Bart. Black Bart lived up to his name in the most obvious way possible, which doesn't sit well with the citizens. Bergman's Tex X was then fleshed out to feature length by no fewer than five writers, including Bergman, the director Mel Brooks, and comedian Richard Pryor. With such geniuses of tasteless hilarity stirring the pot, they're bound to cook up something naughty.

And naughty it is. Saddles is chock full of lines that couldn't be repeated in a family newspaper when it was released. There are also more uses of racial slurs than any movie this side of Quentin Tarantino's oeuvre. Every bad word you can think of is uttered, except the granddaddy of them all. There are F-words in Blazing Saddles but not one occurrence of the one of which you're thinking. If it were made today, it would probably be PG-13, but then again, there is no way this movie could have been made today.

In order to make a great parody, the movie needs to function as a credible example of what it is parodying. With its widescreen cinematography, gorgeous images of open spaces and obviously fake art direction, Saddles looks like an old fashioned color Western. It is even edited to feel at times like we're watching one, a feat that earned John Howard and Danforth Green an Oscar nomination. Most importantly, the story is straight from the genre, even if it's a mishmash of stories.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: a town is overrun with bad guys who want to make the townsfolks' lives miserable. Then, on the horizon, a hero appears. There's a new sheriff in town, and he's going to get rid of the thugs and clean things up. Now add the forward progress of the railroad, some corrupt politicians, and an old drunk who used to be the fastest gun in the West. Toss in Marlene Dietrich, some Indians and some musical numbers, and you've pretty much got every single cliche in the Western playbook. You could make one hell of a Western out of that. Blazing Saddles chooses to make mincemeat instead.

Saddles takes place in Rock Ridge, a fictional town where everybody's last name is Johnson. This includes Howard Johnson, whose ice cream store has just one flavor, and whose outhouse has a strangely familiar orange roof. Rock Ridge is an ideal place to live; its location is another matter. In order to be completed, the railroad needs to run through the land on which Rock Ridge stands. When the film opens, we see a historically accurate representation of railroad workers, former slaves and unfortunate men from China. My ethnic studies class taught me that they had a saying about Asians working on the railroad: "He hasn't a Chinaman's chance." The first scene in Blazing Saddles shows a Chinese guy passing out from the heat. The insensitive Lyle (Burton Gilliam) says "dock that chink a day's pay for nappin' on the job." I'm sure, in 1874, the Chinese were looked at with as much disdain (and as much racial slurring) as Black people, to whom Lyle turns to next.

"How about a good nigger work song," he asks them. The Black railroad workers get together, and one is expecting some kind of Negro spiritual. Instead, the workers, led by Bart (Cleavon Little) sing Cole Porter. Never mind that the Porter song they sing had been written 60 years later. Blazing Saddles' tagline is "never give a saga an even break," but its theme is never judge a book by its cover. Especially if it's a Black cover.

Lyle and his White counterparts are completely confused by "I Get A Kick Out of You." "What the hell is that shit?!" asks Lyle. "I mean a REAL song, like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!" The Black guys don't know that one. "Well, how about The Camptown Ladies?" he asks. They don't know that one either.

"The Camptown Ladies?" asks Bart.

"De Camptown Lay-dees sing dis song! Doo-dah! Doo-dah!" sings Lyle

It turns into a production number, broken up by the big boss, Taggart (western legend Slim Pickens). Taggart yells "what in the wide wide world of sports is a-goin' on here?!" He chastises his men for "prancing around like a buncha Kansas City faggots!" It's at this moment you realize that, despite being full of potentially offensive racial and gender humor, Blazing Saddles is out to depict the practitioners of hate in a manner as ridiculous as their beliefs and practices. Lyle and company look hilarious out there dancing and singing, and Taggart evoking a 1974 TV show in 1874 gives the hint that the film is tipping its hat toward commenting on the attitudes of that year.

For all its comedy, Saddles stays rooted in realism when depicting the prejudices of the time. When there's a rumor that quicksand may be ahead of the track they are laying, Lyle offers to send some horses down to investigate. Taggart hits him in the head. "We can't afford to lose any horses, you dummy!" he bellows. "Send over a coupla niggers." Black men are worth less than horses, but it's far far worse than that. When Lyle sends Bart and his main man Charlie (Charles McGregor) down to investigate, they ride their hand cart directly into the quicksand. (Before that, Bart says "Sir, he specifically requested two niggers. To tell a family secret, my grandmother was Dutch." Lyle sends him anyway. You know what they say: One drop of Black blood...) When Taggart and Lyle come to the rescue, Lyle lassos and pulls out the one thing that's important to them: the hand cart.

"They're going to let us die!" cries Charlie. Bart tells him not to panic, and they both make it out of danger. After they crawl to safety, Taggart tosses them a shovel. "Don't just lay there gettin' a suntan," says Taggart. "Ain't gonna do you no good no how. Here take that shovel and put it to some good use." Bart takes his advice.

"Send a wire to the main office"

"And tell them that I said"


Taggart seeks the help of Attorney General Hedy Lamarr ("that's HEDLEY," says the actor who portrays him, Harvey Korman). First, he needs permission to destroy the town of Rock Ridge so that the railroad can run through it, thereby avoiding the quicksand. Second, he wants Lamarr to hang "that uppity nigger that went and hit me over the head with a shovel." Lamarr agrees, and also approves the means to get rid of the citizens of Rock Ridge. "We'll run a number 6 on them," says Taggart cheerfully. "We'll make Rock Ridge feel like a chicken that got caught in a tractor's nuts!"

The people of Rock Ridge are roughed up and abused. But the folks in Rock Ridge aren't deterred. They wire the incompetent Governor William J. LePetomane (Mel Brooks) for a sheriff to help them fight the outlaws. Lamarr sees this as an advantage. His logic: send the citizens of Rock Ridge a sheriff who so offends them that they voluntarily leave town.

Bart is about to be hanged when Lamarr gets a brilliant idea. "Don't worry," says the one-eyed executioner to Bart "Everyone is equal in my eye." Lamarr prevents the execution and brings Bart to his boss. LePetomane is busy engaging in the kind of stuff Bill Clinton was doing in his government office when they arrive. "Who's this," asks an irritated and blue-balled Governor. "It's the new sheriff of Rock Ridge," replies Lamarr. LePetomane means to pull Lamarr to the side. Instead he pulls Bart by accident.

"Are you nuts? Can't you see this man is a nig--oh, sorry. Wrong person!"

Lamarr convinces LePetomane that this is what will immortalize him in the history books. He hired the first Black sheriff. "He won't last a day," says the Gov. Lamarr tells him that it doesn't matter. The duo sends Bart to Rock Ridge where the townsfolks are certainly not tolerant of other races. They'll get so fed up, Lamarr thinks, that they'll leave town. Since the Rock Ridgers are about as tolerant of Blacks as David Duke, the plan seems foolproof. It isn't.

Once the plot is in motion, Brooks and company go into comedic overdrive. Blazing Saddles gives us the has-been gunslinger legend out to prove himself (Gene Wilder), Indian ambushes, and a German chanteuse eerily reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich (Madeline Kahn). Never mind that the legend has superpowers of speed, the Indians speak Yiddish and Dietrich sings about how exhausted a certain body part of hers is.

First, the gunslinger. After Sheriff Bart evades being shot by the citizens of Rock Ridge, he meets the one prisoner in his jail. The prisoner's named Jim, and he's very confused to see a Black man with a sheriff's star. But the two quickly bond. "What do you like to do?" asks Bart. "I dunno," says Jim. "Play chess. (great comic pause) Screw." "Let's play chess," says Bart.

Over the chess board, Jim tells Bart his story. He was once known as The Waco Kid, the fastest gunslinger in the West. But as word of his legend spread, everyone wanted to fight him. "I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille," says Jim. But after an unfortunate accident, Jim has crawled into a bottle of whiskey and hasn't come out since.

Jim is Blazing Saddles' Sidekick Negro, though unlike any of his Black counterparts, he is actually given a side story and a chance to grow. Jim even accepts his Sidekick Negro role. He mentions to Bart that he got a letter "addressed to the Deputy Spade." However, instead of teaching our hero Soul(TM), Jim warns him about what he's facing as the one spot on the dalmatian that is Rock Ridge. Bart, who until this point has been using stereotype to keep the citizens from shooting him, tells Jim "once you establish yourself, they got to accept you." After partaking in some of Snoop Dogg's favorite lung filler, Bart leaves. He encounters an old lady. "Mornin' ma'am, and isn't it a lovely mornin'?" he pleasantly asks. "Up yours, nigger!" she tells him.

On the DVD documentary, Mel Brooks says in order for Bart's success to resonate, the old lady has to break his heart. And she does too. The next shot is of Bart looking dejected and Jim trying to soothe his wounded ego. Gene Wilder, an underrated comedian in my opinion, delivers his lines with some of the best comic timing I've ever heard.

"What did you expect? Welcome sonny? Make yourself at home? Marry my daughter? You've gotta remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know..." (long pause)


As soon as Jim's speech is finished, they hear a huge rumble. The townspeople outside know what it is before they do, and they freak out. It's Mongo, a huge, simple-minded thug sent by Hedy Lamarr to finish off Bart and terrorize the town. The town has seen Mongo before, and they're all terrified. He did in the last sheriff. Mongo (played by George Papadopoulis himself, Alex Karras) is so bad he rides into town on a yak. When an officer complains about where Mongo parked his yak. Mongo punches out the officer's horse.

Suddenly, the town that wouldn't accept the suave urbanite Bart is now begging him for help. "How do you like that?" he asks Deputy Spade. "Now they want help!" But Bart goes out and vanquishes Mongo using the device he invented, the CandyGram. "The bitch was inventing the Candygram," Bart tells Jim, "and they probably won't give me credit for it." Soon after, the old lady who insulted him earlier brings him a pie. "Sorry about the Up Yours, Nigger," she says as she gives him the pie. She thanks him for capturing Mongo, and then she cautions "you will have the good taste not to mention that I spoke to you?"

"I'm fast becoming an underground success," Bart says. "Maybe in 25 years you'll be able to shake their hands in broad daylight," says Jim.

You would think Richard Pryor wrote a lot of the Black jokes in this movie, but Brooks says that Pryor was fascinated with the character of Mongo, creating him, his dialogue and his scenes with Bart. If this holds true, then Pryor wrote my favorite line in this movie. The duo question Mongo about why Hedley Lamarr would be interested in a podunk town like Rock Ridge. Mongo has a newfound respect for Sheriff Bart--"Sheriff Bart only man whip Mongo, Mongo impressed!"--and he wants to be on Bart's team. "Dunno," says Mongo, "got to do with where choo-choo go." When Bart asks why Hedley would care, Mongo doesn't know. Then, as earnestly as he can, former football player Karras milks his closeup and delivers my favorite line:

"Mongo only pawn in game of life."

Continuing to follow the Western cliches, Brooks and company next introduce the Dietrich clone Lily von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn, another who died too young--she's fantastic in her Oscar nominated role here), the latest of Lamarr's attempts to bring down the sheriff of Rock Ridge. von Shtupp is hot, has great legs, and sings a song about how much sex she's had. So much, in fact, that according to her hilarious song, "I'm Tired," "everything below the waist is KAPUT!" She manages to un-kaput below the waist to seduce Bart. The scene plays like a "once you go Black, you never go back," endorsement, but there's something missing from it. After the famous "it's twue, it's twue" comment, the script originally had Bart say "I hate to disappoint you ma'am, but you're sucking on my arm." Warners put their foot down, saying the line was way too dirty. Unfortunately, it remained cut. One line that didn't get cut, and that I didn't get until recently, is my title.

She says schnitzengruben. We know what she's thinking...

With both Mongo and Lily on Sheriff Bart's side, Hedley Lamarr has to take matters in his own hands. He recruits a bunch of the most notorious criminals in the West to invade Rock Ridge and make it feel like a coop of chickens caught in a fleet of tractors' nuts. Jim and Bart go out to the recruitment station. Jim uses yet another stereotype ("hey, where are the White women at?") to con a pair of Klansmen into following them behind a rock. After the Klan is klobbered, Jim and Bart get recruited by Hedley and company. There's just one problem. One of the Klansmen reveals their dark brown hands.

"I told you to wash between weekly cross burnin's," says Jim as he rubs Bart's hands. "See, it's coming off."

Our heroes get away, and they hatch a plan using the bruvas and the Chinese from the railroad to help the Rock Ridge crew save their town in exchange for some land to farm. Racial togetherness in 1874 wasn't as possible as it was in 1974, but it's a message Blazing Saddles gives the audience in its own way. "We'll give some land to the niggers and the chinks," says one of the Johnsons, "but we DON'T WANT THE IRISH!" (Aside: this is one of the only explicit verbal White jokes in the film. I wonder if Pryor wrote this line.) When everyone complains, Johnson says "aw, horseshit! Everybody."

By the film's climax, Blazing Saddles certainly runs out of ideas. Not ideas in general, just ideas for spoofing Westerns. So, Brooks executes a ridiculous, daring gag wherein the film suddenly spirals so far out of control that it bursts its seams. I don't know how he manages to pull it off, but he does, and it elevates the film to an even higher status of insane comedy. As the citizens of Rock Ridge fight for their right to homestead, Brooks' camera pulls back to reveal that we're on a movie set. He then leaves the movie altogether, taking us to a gay musical. And by gay, I don't mean happy. It's all singing, all dancing, all Chelsea. The production number is called "The French Mistake," and someday, someone will explain to me exactly what the French Mistake is.

Blazing Saddles overflows into this other movie, out into the studio commissary and eventually to Mann's Chinese Theater. Hedley Lamarr breaks into the real world and tells a taxi cab driver to "drive me off this picture." But like Bart, he's trapped in the Saddles universe and subjected to the genre convention of a showdown between hero and villain. I won't tell you who wins, but someone gets shot in the schnitzengruben.

My favorite shot in the movie is a throwaway Gene Wilder one where, after returning to the movie proper after being in the audience at Mann's, he appears holding a bucket of movie theater popcorn in 1874. It's the perfect symbol of how Blazing Saddles uses its setting and timeframe to make comments on the time it was released. We're in 1874, but a lot of the same stupid shit we're laughing about onscreen is actually still happening in 1974 AND 2008. When Hedley complains to Governor LePetomane about being called Hedy Lamarr, the Gov says "this is 1874. You can sue HER." In a case of life imitating art, Hedy Lamarr sued Brooks and Warners. According to the DVD doc, Brooks convinced Warners to pay her.

The character of Bart is important to note in Black History Mumf because of how he handles things in the White-dominated world he inhabits. My uncle used to say, when he came home from the office, that he was "taking off my face for the White man." I didn't know what that meant as a teenager, but after spending 21 years in the workforce, I've learned the hard way what it means. Bart sometimes used the beliefs of less enlightened people to his advantage in order to get things done. I've learned that sometimes you have to do this, to play along while behind the scenes formulating your attack. I don't mean sacrifice your principles or shuck and jive, I mean just don't let on just how smart and with it you really are, until the moment it serves you best to reveal it. It sounds crazy, but it has to be done sometimes. I've learned this not just from my own experiences but from the numerous women, related to me and not, Black and not, who have told me about their own experiences with this. It's nice to use people's ignorance against them, and it's what makes the offensive material in Blazing Saddles go down so easily and so hilariously.

A few interesting notes about Saddles:

This was supposed to be Pryor's first collaboration with Gene Wilder, but Warners wouldn't insure him. Pryor remained a writer on the script and shared the WGA award with his four other co-writers, Brooks, Bergman, Norman Steinberg and Alan Uger. Cleavon Little gives a great performance and is perfectly cast. Nobody would have believed that Richard Pryor wouldn't have scared Rock Ridge's people half to death when he showed up.

Columbia Pictures passed on this. They objected to the farting scene, which marked the first time people farted in a mainstream movie. Columbia also passed on MASH four years earlier, because, according to Peter Biskind's book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, the management said "people don't say fuck in Columbia Pictures." Three years later, Columbia would release one of the most profane movies ever made, The Last Detail.

Mel Brooks received an Oscar nomination for the title song, which is absurdly sung dead seriously by Frankie Laine. "He doesn't realize it's a joke," one exec told Brooks. "That's why it's perfectly sung," Brooks told him.

Your homework assignment:

Excuse me while I whip this out.

Extra credit: What band leader is in the picture above?

Note: this incorporates and massively expands material I wrote back in 1998 in my Blazing Saddles review. Wait a second--it's mine, so I can do what I want with it! Why the hell am I telling you this?



Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Odie, you made my week.

Two observations, to be followed, I am sure, by others.

First, I didn't realize until I read this piece that the scenario wherein Bart gets hired as sheriff is basically the same plot as "The Producers" -- scam artists purposeful sell a plan they are absolutely certain won't work, but then it does.

Second, thanks for the analysis of the movie's sophisticated use of dumb humor, and its clever sense of what it means to be, as you put it, the lone spot on the Dalmatian. One could even go so far as to say that the true subject of "Blazing Saddles" is what happens when you integrate a previously segregated society. That and farting cowboys, of course.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Also: The Count Basie Orchestra.

Phil said...

I was not allowed/required to watch Blazing Saddles until maybe 1982. "Now that he's swearing all the time anyway, we might as well let him see the good stuff" is an approximation of the operative theory of child-rearing on that one, and I think my parents considered the film part of my inoculation against attitudes that their generation had worked to overcome.

It might seem odd, to those who experienced racism first-hand, on a daily basis, all their young lives, but as a white kid the movie got funnier and funnier as I became better educated about the history of racist attitudes and related violence in the U.S. At first, most of it was incomprehensible. Despite repeated Black History Month viewings of the Budweiser Kings of Africa poster series, recountings of Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad and Rosa Park's bus ride and Dr. King's Dream, I had no idea why all those Johnsons reflexively wanted to kill Bart. I had never known anyone who talked like Lyle (though I did meet them later on, of course), and couldn't see why it would be funny. I had to work my way back in time to 1974, sort of, to see why this was an important comedy.

Today, many of the social satirical elements in Blazing Saddles only feel more dated, and depending my on mood they can cause me to cringe with retroactive dread rather than laugh in liberation and relief. I would kill for a similarly hilarious skewering of today's more complicated crypto-racist attitudes -- a post 9/11 Blazing Saddles for the Enron Generation. If anyone could point me at one -- or, you know, get one into production -- I would be grateful.

Steven Boone said...

phil: "I would kill for a similarly hilarious skewering of today's more complicated crypto-racist attitudes -- a post 9/11 Blazing Saddles for the Enron Generation. If anyone could point me at one -- or, you know, get one into production -- I would be grateful."

Me too. I divide my time between encouraging wits like Odie to write one and making my own fumbling attempts. In recent times we've gotten groaners like The Great White Hype and Bulworth. Somebody needs to either go all-out ignant a la Saddles or devastatingly whisper-subtle. Actually, let's have one of each.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

That was my beef with "Crash." By spotlighting the most obvious, "Do the Right Thing"-type manifestations of racism in every subplot, rather than showing a spectrum of such behavior that included more subtle, even invisible versions of it, the movie gave audiences permission to congratulate themselves on not being as racist as those characters. "Blazing Saddles" not only wouldn't be greenlit today, it would be as pointless as "Crash" -- or John Singleton's idiotic college drama "Higher Learning," which assessed the racial politics of American campuses circa 1994 and concluded that the most urgent problem was gun-toting skinheads.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The production number is called "The French Mistake," and someday, someone will explain to me exactly what the French Mistake is.

I give you the lyrics, Odie, which makes it pretty clear exactly what the French Mistake is:

Throw out your hands!!
Stick out your tush!!
Hands on your hips
Give them a push!!
You'll be surprised
You're doing the French Mistake!!

"It sounds like steam escaping."

odienator said...

Phil: the movie got funnier and funnier as I became better educated about the history of racist attitudes and related violence in the U.S.

That's the point. The movie is designed to satirize the attitudes. The more you know, the funnier it is.

Even though it wasn't a great movie, I thought Bringing Down the House had a Saddles-like moment, when Joan Plowright starts singing that song. And I liked seeing Steve Martin return to being silly. But most of the stuff we've gotten has been crap. Great White Hype completely lost its nerve, and Bulworth was only on when Warren was rapping. We've also had disasters like Malibu's Most Wanted.

I don't think you want me writing a satire on race. I can see it now: My movie opens up and the NAACP joins forces with the KKK to kick my ass. It would be the N-double A-K-K-K-C-P.

You know me. I go after everybody. I'm an equal opportunity offender because if I'm so willing to ridicule myself, nothing and nobody else is sacred. Boone, you get to see the unfiltered craziness that comes from me in E-mail. America can't handle that!

odienator said...

Alan: I give you the lyrics, Odie, which makes it pretty clear exactly what the French Mistake is:

OH!!!!!!! (Enormous light bulb goes on over Odie's head.)

I knew those lyrics, but for some reason it just didn't sink in. My brain is like that--the complex stuff I get, the obvious stuff goes right over my head.

That's clever, Mel Brooks! Clever and nasty.

Phil said...

odie: "I can see it now: My movie opens up and the NAACP joins forces with the KKK to kick my ass. It would be the N-double A-K-K-K-C-P."

I think that might be the plot right there. It's a chase movie. It's a social satire. It's a how-to piece on aggravating those that have some aggravation coming. Done right, it's probably even a supernatural thriller (as opposed to a monster movie).

Let's go!

Anonymous said...

I watched this recently again after not seeing it in 25 years and I was laughing and cringing through the whole thing. When I was a kid the fart jokes would make me literally role on the ground laughing my ass off. Fart jokes are the high-point of humor when you're 10 years old.

I love Cleavon Little in this. It's a shame he didn't go onto bigger and better things. He should have been a huge star.

Ginger said...

"I've learned that sometimes you have to do this, to play along while behind the scenes formulating your attack."

That's true for women, too.

Awesome post.

odienator said...

Ginger, you're right. I mentioned that women do it too in my post. I have had conversations with my female friends and girlfriends, and they've told me stories.

Cinebeats, Cleavon Little was a talent. He worked with the guy who put words in his mouth in Blazing Saddles, Richard Pryor, in Greased Lightning. I wrote about that here.

Phil, I'll get started on that script. You can do a cameo in the movie.

Anonymous said...

Odie wrote: Your homework assignment: Excuse me while I whip this out. Sheriff Bart pulls out his appointment from his pants.

Extra credit: What band leader is in the picture above?

Count Basie.

What do I win? :>)

Phil said...

Awesome, something like "fat guy #3" or "second lawyer from left" would suit my physical presence and my command of the theatrical arts.

odienator said...

If I can ever get away from work, the penultimate day of Black History Mumf will be blessed with the review I've been waiting to write for 28 days--Mahogany! Diana Ross intercepted my DVD at Netflix, but she can't stop me. I've seen the movie before.

If I wind up missing though...

Kevin J. Olson said...

Wow ---

What a great post.

I have always loved Blazing Saddles, but I haven't seen it since I was probably 17 (I am 25 now) and all I can really remember about it then was the sophomoric Abrams-Zucker-Abrams-esque humor that I loved so much at the time (even though Blazing Saddles predated those films).

Your review made me want to go and rewatch it now, knowing more than I did when I was 15, which is more than I can say for movies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun which are horribly dated (Top Secret is still great).

I had this same feeling after reading your review of Bustin' Loose, and I just watched it the other night on On Demand and realized that it was a completely different film than I remember (again, I watched it when I was like 15) and I was able to appreciate it on a whole new level.

Thanks so much for this effort and for the films you have been reviewing, it has been a treat to read every day.

odienator said...

Kevin, isn't it great to go back to movies with more life knowledge than you did when you first saw them? Blazing Saddles was one of those movies for me, as is most of Mel Brooks' early work. There are still a few jokes in Saddles that I don't get. "Is Bismarck a herring?" "Please miss, I am NOT from Havana!" (I THINK I get that one...)

Slim Pickens' delivery in this movie is just brilliant. I'll bet people discovered Leslie Nielsen the way I did Slim Pickens, in a silly comedic role. I knew Nielsen was a dramatic actor by the time I saw Airplane, because I'd seen Forbidden Planet and the million TV shows where Nielsen played a cop. (Ed O'Neill, aka Al Bundy, was also always playing a cop before that role.) I didn't know Pickens was in all these Westerns before this movie, and was therefore perfectly cast.

"Somebody's gotta go and come back with a shitload of dimes!"

Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

This is some of the most excellent writing I have found on the internet in YEARS. You've let me relive "BS" just sitting here in front of my computer, and you've added many new aspects to my appreciation of the film. Thank you!

odienator said...

Thanks! I appreciate the comment.

Anonymous said...

I am a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural, native born, and proud American citizen despite America's less-than-perfect history of institutional racism. My family loves this movie and when we re-watch it, we laugh just as hard as we did the first time we saw it. I will go out and either rent it or buy it as soon as I get some rare disposable cash. (Hopefully this weekend) But in the mean time I need a favor, could someone post for me, Slim Picken's Taggert character's dialog verbatim, that went something along the lines of: "My forefather's didn't travel thousands of miles overseas, come over here and slaughter hundreds of thousands of Indians just so I can see a Nigger become Sheriff of Rock Ridge!" Please post this for me. I sure would appreciate it and thank you.

odienator said...

Taggart: Holy mother of pearl, it's that nigger than went and hit me in the head with a shovel! And what the hell do you think you're doing with that tin star, boy?

Bart: Watch that boy shit, redneck! You're looking at the new sheriff of Rock Ridge.

Taggart: Well, if that don't beat all! Here we take the good time and trouble to slaughter every last Indian in the West, and for what? So we can appoint a sheriff that's Blacker than any Indian! I am depressed.

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie when it came out (I was 8 years old) and it remains as one of my all-time favorites. It is still unbelievable what Mel Brooks got away with. I didn't learn until recently that Richard Pryor was co-writer, but it explains the source of the razor-sharp social commentary regarding race. Thanks for an excellent breakdown on what makes this film a must-see. Also, love your use of stills/subtitles. Well done.

PS: Mongo rides a Brahma(n) bull, although a Yak would've been funny too...

odienator said...

PS: Mongo rides a Brahma(n) bull, although a Yak would've been funny too...

Thanks for the correction! I really thought it was a yak. This is what a public school education gets you.

Anonymous said...

When it released in 1974, Blazing Saddles was a box office hit. However, anyone not familiar with Blazing Saddles, seeing it today would most likely be very offended due to its political incorrectness. The problem is that, nowadays, slapstick humor has killed satire for the younger generations. They simply don’t understand how satiric comedy is supposed to be used. Don't mistake this comedy as mere 'cheesiness.' Cheese has become the umbrella term for most ridiculous comedy today. Cheese comedy in film describes both a parodic practice and a parodic form of textual consumption. It is the production of, and appreciation for, what is artificial, exaggerated, or wildly, explosively obscene. Obviously, Blazzing Saddles fits pretty well into this definition. It was wild, it was obscene, however, it was not artificial. Though there are other films that are absurd and crude like Brooks’ works, Brooks was the only one who was able to use his humor in such a way that it was so similar to the way epithets actually talked. In a way, that made it more real, and easier to accept for its humor. It is my mission to prevent people from mistaking Blazing Saddles and satiric films like it as simple, cheesy fun instead of what it really is, a statement that needed to be said.
Those who are offended by this motion picture, need to look at it in context. It was released in 1974 when the government was trying to tell us how we should act in accordance to race (the civil rights act). At that time it was still majorly acceptable to be a racist individual. We just have to face the fact that the word ‘nigger’ hasn’t been taboo for more than thirty years. Mel Brooks once said, “Bad taste is simply saying the truth before it should be said.” This quote could be expanded to say: Bad taste is simply saying the truth at the wrong time—before or after it should have been said. Brooks’ film was within the social norms at its time, however if you push it up or down the time line, it becomes offensive and racist. The truth is, America NEEDED Blazing Saddles to be able to recognize the error of our ways. With his film, Brooks showed us how outrageous and absurd the racist characters were. In a way, he was saying “If you act like this, then you will be perceived the same,” and it worked.

JW said...

In case you were still wondering about the "Is Bismark a herring?" line...Bismark herring is type of pickled herring delicacy served in Eastern European cultures. German, Jewish, Nordic, all have ties to it.

In my family (we are Jewish), in NYC in the 1960s, we would have an appetizer plate of smoked fish, with bagels, for brunch on Saturday or Sunday, and my mother would get a little container of the pickled herring for herself (no one else liked it :) ). So, I am assuming that Mel Brooks put that in there as a cultural reference joke. (My mother is the same age as Mel Brooks, and grew up in the same place (Brooklyn), and went to the same college, probably at the same time....so her cultural background is pretty similar to his, which is why I understood that joke in the movie when I was a kid :).

odienator said...


With Blazing Saddles turning 40 this year, I was still wondering about "Is Bismawk a hewwing?" Thanks so much for this explanation!

chynakat said...

Otto von Bismarck was the first chancellor of Germany around the time period this movie was set in. So that plus the herring dish makes this another Mel Brooks multi-level joke. I appreciate Blazing Saddles because you may not get all of it at once, but years later there comes the light bulb moment. This movie has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, and I never misused hung for hanged as a result. :-)

odienator said...

Chynakat, thanks for the explanation. One day, I'll get all the jokes in this movie. I'll just have to keep rewatching it until I do.

ButcherChop said...

So far I'm a bit bored by this movie. I feel it's now dated and the racial slurs seem forced. Odd.