A few years ago, Broadway producers decided to adapt a Mel Brooks
comedy and made a bundle. Could it happen again with 'Blazing Saddles?'
The movie already has four great songs; a half-dozen more of similar
caliber would make for a strong score. 'Blazing Saddles' has a
ready-made cast of over-the-top characters, strong audience
identification, and some minor problems for a theatrical production
(like blowing up the phony Rock Ridge) which are easily overcome.
But 'The Producers' was a cult film that never made it to Main Street and needed the second act of a Broadway musical to give it a place in popular culture. 'Blazing Saddles' could never open again as big as it did in 1974. In the summer of Watergate and Patty Hearst, here was one bit of madness people could enjoy. And it wasn't just random kookiness, but a film that broke barriers and courted controversy like no other major-release film of its time. No other movie had characters that were basically likable if stupid throwing around the 'N' word before. In fact, it hasn't happened since (and I doubt it would on Broadway today.) The whole notion of white people and black people living together was not new, but the approach of 'Blazing Saddles' was certainly new. In order to live together, we have to laugh together first. The only way this film was not a trailblazer was in that it blazed trails untaken by any film that came after.
Was Cleavon Little then a civil rights pioneer for the 1970s, in a way Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were the decade before? He's very good, bringing a lightness to the role that's equal parts Shaft and Bugs Bunny. Richard Pryor was one of the film's writers and Brooks' first choice for Sheriff Bart, but Pryor wouldn't have played the role in the same smooth way. Little is an amiable actor, one step ahead but never cocky about it. He makes for a sympathetic center, and he is flash in those corduroy threads.
Little didn't work much after 'Blazing Saddles,' which makes no sense. It was only the highest-grossing Western of all time, and Little was the lead actor in it. Maybe institutional racism wasn't the sole cause. After all, he had a distractingly rock-solid cast around him, particularly Harvey Korman as Attorney General Hedley Lamarr. Growing up in the '70s, it was a shock the first time I saw the unedited 'Blazing Saddles' with all the casual vulgarity spewing from the mouth of Tim Conway's slapstick buddy on the ultra G-rated 'Carol Burnett Show.' 'You will be only risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost-certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor,' he tells his gang before they ride off to pillage Rock Ridge. If only the Academy didn't penalize comedies so, that might have been true.
Madeline Kahn did get nominated for Lili Von Shtupp, and deserved her Laurel and Hardy handshake for sure. Her Baba Wawa meets Marlene Dietrich performance is a comic masterpiece, and it takes guts to wear that dead-weed lingerie in which she performs 'I'm So Tired.' Slim Pickens (Taggart), Burton Gilliam (Lyle), Dom DeLuise (Buddy), and Brooks himself as 'the Gov' all shine, and the level of comic acting remains high all the way to the smallest roles, like the guy playing Hitler ('They lose me right after the bunker scene') and the cowboy who chews gum in line ('I didn't know there was gonna be so many people!')
Gene Wilder is a little young and ironic for the bitter ex-gunslinger known as the Waco Kid, but he grows into the role well enough. Certainly he was in tune with what Brooks was doing more than Gig Young or Dan Dailey would have been (Brooks' earlier choices for the part, with Young making it all the way to the first day's shooting before it was discovered he wasn't just acting the part of a hopeless drunk.)
'Blazing Saddles' doesn't make the IMDb top 250, but it's still one of the most significant video titles because it rewards repeat viewings so well. The wholeness of the film's comic spectacle is too dense to be absorbed in one viewing, especially when you are laughing too hard. It's a cultural landmark, yes, but it's even funnier now than it was 30 years ago, one of the funniest comedies that exist today. Making it into a musical now would almost be demeaning, but I suspect it will happen anyway.
Action / Comedy / Western
Action / Comedy / Western
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 town where 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 plan 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
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