US Release Date: 02-07-1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
- Cleavon Little, as
- Gene Wilder, as
- Slim Pickens, as
- Harvey Korman, as
- Hedley Lamarr
- Madeline Kahn, as
- Lili Von Shtupp
- Mel Brooks, as
- Governor William J. Lepetomane / Indian Chief
- Burton Gilliam, as
- Alex Karras as
Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little in Mel Brook's Blazing Saddles.
Blazing Saddles is a send up of old western films. It most notably rips on Destry Rides Again. Although it is truly a funny film, it is mostly remembered for it's blunt racist dialogue.
The plot is quite simple. A railroad company wants to put tracks through the middle of the small western town of Rockridge. A black man is made sherif of the town in order to scare off the residents, who by virtue of being white are innately racist.
It was written by four different men, including Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor. It features some of Brooks's usual cast members, like Gene Wilder and Harvey Korman. The standout though, is Madeline Kahn. She imitates Marlene Dietrich, with an exaggerated German accent. Her performance of "I'm Tired" is one of her best moments. "God damn it, I'm exhausted!" She could add so much to a line with the inflection of her voice. Although her screen time is very limited, it earned her an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.
I have heard many people describe this movie as being offensive to everyone, but it centers mostly on the race issue. This is all made obvious by the frequent use of the word "nigger." The most famous scene, and one of the funniest, is when the black sherif politely greets an old woman, who responds, "Up yours, nigger!" When discussing this movie with friends, the use of "nigger" is the one thing they all remember about it. Blazing Saddles also has some derogatory gay stereotypes. The most offensive line being when Slim Pickens says some men look like, "Kansas City faggots!"
Although this movie was made more than 30 years ago, it could not possibly be remade today. The word "nigger" has been given such importance that it cannot even be spoken out loud. Anyone who has ever seen Oprah, can attest that she refers to it as the "N" word, as if saying "nigger" out loud is just to offensive.
Let me share a wee bit of wisdom. The more you complain about something, the greater it's power becomes. Let me put it this way. A KKK speech succeeds if it attracts protestors. It fails if it does not. If we as a society get to a point where the word "nigger" is just a word, then it no longer has the power to offend. When we do get to that point though, Blazing Saddles will lose much of it's humor.
Slim Pickens and Harvey Korman in Mel Brook's Blazing Saddles.
It's true that the word "nigger" is used many times in this movie, which does seem shocking in today's self-censored, politically correct world. And while, it's probably true that it is the thing many people remember most about it, that's really doing this movie an injustice as there are far more jokes in it than just the ones involving the casual use of "nigger".
Eric, you mention Madeline Kahn as the standout and I agree that she is great in the part and well deserved her nomination. I wish more comedians could be recognized by the Academy. Why are we so quick to praise those who make us cry, but belittle the ones who make us laugh?
However, I've always thought that Harvey Korman was the man who stole this movie, and given what a talented and funny cast he's surrounded by, that's really saying something. His interactions with Slim Pickens are some of the best and funniest scenes. I love this exchange between the two of them, "My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives," Korman's Hedley Lamarr says, to which Pickens' Taggart replies, "God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore." Korman also gets some very funny moments with Brooks as the Governor. They could have made a movie just about the two of them.
Although, to be honest, I almost feel that it's unfair to single any of the cast out as they are all so perfect. One wonders though, if the cast couldn't have been even better had the studio allowed Richard Pryor to play the part of Bart. Reportedly, they wouldn't allow him to because of his well known drug habit. Cleavon Little does a fine job as Bart, but as they proved later in their careers, Pryor and Wilder make a great team.
One other moment I must mention that never fails to make me laugh is when Alex Karras as the strong, but mentally weak, Mongo is asked about Lamarr's plans and he replies with concentration in a voice that would be suitable for a caveman, "Mongo only pawn... in game of life." It doesn't seem funny just reading it, but his delivery is hilarious.
Mel Brooks was definitely at the top of his game with this movie. The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein will always be his holy trilogy. His History of the World Part 1 has flashes of brilliance, but everything he's made after that has been derivative of his previous work.
So far both The Producers and Young Frankenstein have been adapted into Broadway Musicals. There are rumors that there's a Broadway bound version of Blazing Saddles in the works. You have to wonder just how the language will be changed, but knowing Brooks, he'll probably find a way to make a joke about it all.
Madeline Kahn and Cleavon Little in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles.
I always thought this movie’s most famous scene was where they sit around the campfire eating beans and then start farting up a storm. And yet neither of you even mentioned it. I agree that this is one of Brooks’ funniest movies, almost as good as The Producers and Young Frankenstein. Those movies had more cohesive plots and less surreal humor.
Blazing Saddles, with its strange mix of anachronistic humor, clearly influenced Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was released a little more than a year later. The endings seem especially similar. Some of the funniest lines happen when the characters step out of the time era of the story.
Like when Gene Wilder’s Jim states, “I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille.” Or when Harvey Korman’s Hedly Lamarr tells his hired guns, “Now you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.” There is also a spoof of the most famous line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre when a Mexican bandit says, “Badges? We don't need no stinking badges.”
Madeline Kahn, as the Marlene Dietrich inspired Lily Von Shtupp, is hilarious as my brothers both mentioned. Her Elmer Fudd speech impediment cracks me up, “A wed wose. How womantic.” And I always laugh hardest during her big number when she asks a cowboy in the audience if he is in show business. He replies no and then she says, “Then why don't you get your fwiggin' feet off the stage?”
Cleavon Little (why didn’t he become a big star?) has several funny moments as well. My favorite is when he is up on the bandstand in front of the whole town and he reaches into his pants and says, “Excuse me while I whip this out.” The whole town gasps and women scream until they realize he was just going for a piece of paper.
Yes this movie is an equal opportunity offender as this next line attests. It is spoken by one of the townspeople after Rock Ridge has been saved by the minority railroad workers. “All right... we'll give some land to the niggers and the chinks. But we don't want the Irish!” Actually, as Eric hinted, this movie is most offensive to small town whites as they are uniformly shown as ignorant bigots. Blazing Saddles is a hilariously offensive comedy. If only it had a slightly better plot it would be a 4 star classic.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures (1974)