Blazing Saddles is a 1974 satirical Western comedy film directed by Mel Brooks. Starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder, the film was written by Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Al Uger, and was based on Bergman's story and draft. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards, and is ranked No. 6 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs list.
Brooks appears in multiple supporting roles, including Governor William J. Le Petomane and a Yiddish-speaking Indian chief. The supporting cast also includes Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, and David Huddleston, as well as Brooks regulars Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, and Harvey Korman. Bandleader Count Basie has a cameo as himself.
The film satirizes the racism obscured by myth-making Hollywood accounts of the American West, with the hero being a black sheriff in an all-white town. The film is full of deliberate anachronisms, from theCount Basie Orchestra playing "April in Paris" in the Wild West, to Slim Pickens referring to the Wide World of Sports, to the German army of World War II.
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Reception
- 5 Awards and honors
- 6 Legacy
- 7 References
- 8 External links
In the American Old West of 1874, construction on a new railroad led by Lyle (Burton Gilliam) runs into quicksand. The route has to be changed, which will require it to go through Rock Ridge, a frontier townwhere everyone has the last name of "Johnson" (including a "Howard Johnson," a "Dr. Samuel Johnson," a "Van Johnson" and an "Olson N. Johnson"). The conniving State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) wants to buy the land along the new railroad route cheaply by driving out the townspeople. He sends a gang of thugs, led by his flunky assistant Taggart (Slim Pickens), to scare them away, prompting the townsfolk to demand that Governor William J. Le Petomane (Mel Brooks) appoint a new sheriff. The Attorney General persuades the dim-witted Le Petomane to select Bart (Cleavon Little), a black railroad worker who was about to be hanged. (Bart had hit Taggart in the head with a shovel after Taggart ignored him and his black friend sinking in quicksand, deciding to save their handcar instead.) Lamarr believes a black lawman will so offend the townspeople that they will either abandon Rock Ridge or lynch the new sheriff, with either result paving the way for him to take over the town.
With his quick wits and the assistance of drunken gunslinger Jim (Gene 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 (Alex Karras), an immensely strong, slow-thinking (but surprisingly philosophical) henchman sent by Taggart and Lyle to kill Bart, and then beats German seductress-for-hire Lili von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn) at her own game. Lamarr is furious that his plans keep failing and decides to destroy Rock Ridge with a newly recruited and diverse army of thugs (which Lamarr characterized 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").
Bart now has 24 hours to come up with a "brilliant idea to save our town." He gathers the town, along with the railroad workers, 3 miles east of Rock Ridge to build a fake town as a diversion. The workers labor all night to complete their task. The sun rises on a fake town that's a perfect replica, down to the orange roof on Howard Johnson's outhouse. Bart realizes the town has no people in it, so it won't fool Lamarr's villains. Bart orders the townspeople to make "exact replicas of themselves," and leaves with Jim and Mongo to execute a plan that will slow the villains "to a crawl." The three construct a tollbooth labeled "Le Petomane Thruway," requiring Taggart's crew to pay 10¢ each to pass on their horses. ("Now what'll that asshole think of next?" snaps Taggart.) Since no one in the raiding party has any change or enough common sense to walk around it, Taggart sends someone back to town to "get a shitload of dimes."
Once through the tollbooth, Lamarr's villains attack the fake town populated with dummies, which Bart boobytrapped with several dynamite bombs. Bart tries setting off the bombs but is unsuccessful as the detonator does not work. Jim is given the task of exploding the bombs, and fires his pistol at them. After the bombs explode, launching villains skyward, the Rock Ridgers attack the villains.
The resulting fight between the townsfolk and Lamarr's army of thugs breaks the fourth wall, literally. The fight spills out from the Warner Bros. film lot into a neighboring musical set being directed by Buddy Bizarre (Dom DeLuise), then into the studio commissary, where a pie fight ensues. Taggart is knocked out when Mongo smashes his head on a cash register, and the fight finally pours out into the surrounding streets (specifically, Olive Avenue in Burbank). The citizens of Rock Ridge chase the villains back to town to destroy them, but Lamarr takes a taxi ". . . off this picture." He arrives at Grauman's Chinese Theatre to watch the "premiere" of Blazing Saddles. Unfortunately, he sees on the movie screen that Bart has arrived outside the theatre. Bart ends up killing Lamarr by shooting him in the groin. Bart and Jim then go into the theatre to watch the end of the film. The film ends with Bart leaving Rock Ridge, much to the sadness of the townspeople and the railroad workers, for his work there is done. He intends to fight injustice in other parts of the world, which the townspeople and the railroad workers, in unison, dismiss as "bullshit," and Bart admits it's simply getting dull around there. As he rides off, he finds Jim (who still has the popcorn that he bought at the theatre), and the two decide to go off to "nowhere special." They ride a short distance out of town, then hand their horses off to the movie's wranglers and are driven away in aCadillac limousine into the sunset.
- Count Basie appears as himself in a cameo, with his band, which plays "April in Paris".
- Mel Brooks also appears in a cameo as one of Hedley Lamarr's thugs, wearing sunglasses and a bomber jacket. He also dubbed the voice for one of the German chorus boys backing Madeline Kahn's performance of "I'm Tired", speaking lines such as "Give her a break!", "She's not a snake" and, "Don't you know she's pooped?!"
In the DVD commentary, Brooks explains that the original title of the film, Tex X (as in the name of Black Muslim leader Malcolm X), was rejected, along with Black Bart and Purple Sage. Finally, Brooks concocted the title Blazing Saddles while taking a shower.
Brooks had repeated 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). Brooks wanted Pryor to play the sheriff, but Warner executives expressed concern over Pryor's reliability because of his heavy drug use and the belief that he was mentally unstable. While he kept Pryor as co-screenwriter, Brooks worked with Cleavon Little as Bart. In a similar vein, Gene Wilder was the second choice to play the Waco Kid. He was quickly brought in to replace a sick Gig Young after the first day of filming.
After screening the movie, the head of Warner Bros. complained about the use of the word "nigger", a flatulent campfire scene, and Mongo punching a horse, and told Brooks to remove those scenes. Since his contract gave him control of the final cut, Brooks disregarded the complaints and these elements remained. What was removed was a scene in which Bart responded to Lili's attempt to seduce him in the dark by quipping, "I hate to disappoint you, ma'am, but you're sucking my arm." Brooks was asked about the use of "nigger" in the movie in an interview that appeared in the summer 2012 issue of the DGA Quarterly, the official magazine of the Directors Guild of America. He said that if a remake of Blazing Saddles were to be made today, they would have to leave out the controversial word, but during filming, he had received support for its use from writer Richard Pryor and lead actor Cleavon Little.
Brooks wanted the movie's title song to reflect the western genre, and advertised in the trade papers for a "Frankie Laine-type" sound. Several days later, Laine himself visited Brooks' office to offer his services. Brooks had not told Laine that the movie was a comedy: "'Frankie sang his heart out... and we didn't have the heart to tell him it was a spoof — we just said, 'Oh, great!'. He never heard the whip cracks; we put those in later. We got so lucky with his serious interpretation of the song."
In an interview included in the DVD release of Blazing Saddles, Brooks claimed that Hedy Lamarr threatened to sue, saying the film's running "Hedley Lamarr" joke infringed her right to privacy. 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, in 50 years, you'll be able to sue her!". Brooks says he and the actress settled out of court for a small sum. In the same interview, Brooks related how he managed to persuade John Wayne to read the script after meeting him in the Warner Bros. studio commissary. Wayne was impressed with the script, but politely declined a cameo, 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".
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. 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 gave the film four stars and called it 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?"
The film grossed $119.5 million in the box office becoming only the tenth film in history up to that point to pass the $100 million mark.
In the scene where Lamarr addresses his band of bad guys, he says, "You men are only risking your lives, while I am risking an almost-certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor!" Harvey Korman did not, in fact, get an Oscar nomination, but the film did receive three other Academy Awards nominations in 1974: Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Madeline Kahn, Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Original Song. The film also earned two BAFTA awards nominations, for Best Newcomer (Cleavon Little) and Best Screenplay.
In 2006, Blazing Saddles was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. 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.
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 his drunkard sidekick, a former Confederate officer named "Reb Jordan". 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 Saddles30th Anniversary DVD and the Blu-ray disc.
With the production of musical adaptations of The Producers and Young Frankenstein, rumors spread about a possible adaptation of Blazing Saddles. Brooks joked about the concept in the final number in Young Frankenstein, in which the full company sings, "next year, Blazing Saddles!" In 2010, Mel Brooks confirmed this, saying that the musical could be finished within a year. No creative team or plan has been announced.
The first studio-licensed release of the full music soundtrack to Blazing Saddles was on La-La Land Records on August 26, 2008. Remastered from original studio vault elements, the limited edition CD (a run of 3000) features the songs from the film as well as composer John Morris's score. Instrumental versions of all the songs are bonus tracks on the disc. The disc features exclusive liner notes featuring comments from Mel Brooks and John Morris.