Blazing Saddles (1974)
May 13, 2018 8:01 AM - Subscribe

In order to ruin a western town, a corrupt politician appoints a black Sheriff, who promptly becomes his most formidable adversary.

Roger Ebert: There are some people who can literally get away with anything -- say anything, do anything -- and people will let them. Other people attempt a mildly dirty joke and bring total silence down on a party. Mel Brooks is not only a member of the first group, he is its lifetime president. At its best, his comedy operates in areas so far removed from taste that (to coin his own expression) it rises below vulgarity.

"Blazing Saddles" is like that. It's 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 Karris is knocking a horse cold with a right cross to the jaw?

AV Club: No comic trope, however musty or studded with whiskers, is off limits, including bad puns, physical shtick, pie fights, goofy names and accents, song-and-dance numbers, Jewish Indians, or just having a bunch of cowpokes farting around the campfire. Some of the jokes drop like lead, but the film's anarchic spirit carries a lot of excitement, because Brooks' anything-goes philosophy means that no comedic possibilities go unconsidered.

Paced with the manic energy of a Looney Tunes cartoon, Blazing Saddles had five credited screenwriters, including Richard Pryor, and they've stuffed a clever plot with endlessly quotable lines and colorful profanities.

Empire: Brooks' wholehearted embracing of rank vulgarity, together with his innovative quickfire sketch structure, titillated crowds more used to sophisticated Hollywood humour and, with its sheer quantity of gags, left them breathless; if one zinger misfired, there was sure to be another mere seconds away.

But there's more to Saddles than an object lesson in the comedic possibilities of intestinal gas. As the more perceptive critic Kenneth Tynan, himself no stranger to the expert employment of vulgarity, remarked, Blazing Saddles is "low comedy in which the custard pies are disguised hand-grenades".

Uniquely for a spoof, and certainly unique in Mel Brook's oeuvre, it has a darkly angry heart. It is a film about real bigotry, a phony West and the unreliability of movies as repositories for a shared history. "The official movie portrait of the West is simply a lie. I figured my career was finished anyway, so I wrote berserk, heartfelt stuff about white corruption and racism and Bible-thumping bigotry."

It's hardly surprising that, as a Jew, Brooks felt the Western to be an alienating genre. In an industry with a high percentage of Jewish people, from screenwriters to execs to studio owners, the Western was unique in allowing no place for the wit or sensibility that had helped define the industry, let alone for Jewish characters. Equally it grievously misrepresented the role of black people in the culture of the Old West, with the 9,000 black ranchworkers, cattle-hands and cowboys thoroughly invisible in the classics of the genre.

It was hardly surprising, then, that, from the film's very first joke, Brooks lays his cards on the table. A bunch of redneck gangmasters demand that the black workers engage in "a good old nigger worksong"; the assembled grafters respond with an incongruously sophisticated rendition of Cole Porter's classic, I Get No Kick From Champagne, while the potato heads wind up singing Camptown Races. It's a nifty and very funny reversal, but Brooks can't help following it up with a gag in which our black hero winds up neck-deep in sinking sand.

It's this scattershot juxtaposition of heartfelt, angry satire with dumbass slapstick, all seasoned with a fair measure of vulgarity, that gives Blazing Saddles a tone unique to film - a tone shared by the most successful comedy magazine of the times. It is, quite literally, political correctness gone Mad.


Blazing Saddles: An Old Western About Living in America Today

Mel Brooks: Why 'Blazing Saddles' Is the 'Funniest Movie Ever Made'
posted by MoonOrb (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
... when?
posted by ftm at 8:12 AM on May 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

The sheriff is near!
posted by Pendragon at 11:49 AM on May 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've only seen the movie relatively recently, and it's still incredible. Great performances all around, and it's very stupid when it wants to be stupid, and it's very smart when it wants to be smart.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:35 PM on May 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

"yeah, but I shoot with this hand." is one of my favorite gags.
posted by Query at 5:01 PM on May 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

"Where the white women at?"

posted by Sphinx at 5:24 PM on May 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

"Some get a kick...from cocayayayayaine"

Possibly the greatest American comedy. I haven't seen much Marx Brothers or "His Girl Friday" sassy frass, and I'm kind of afraid to, seeing how so many people namecheck those rather than this.

"What did you expect, 'welcome, sonny?'"
posted by rhizome at 5:52 PM on May 13, 2018

I know next to nothing about Douglas Fairbanks, but the "How did he do such fantastic stunts...with such little feet!?!?" bit is still hilarious.
posted by LionIndex at 7:40 PM on May 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know...morons.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:29 PM on May 13, 2018 [18 favorites]

My parents laughed at this movie like I'd never heard them laugh at anything. Thing is, I think they were really enjoying actually hearing familiar racial epithets and stereotypes in a *movie*. I think that it was all satire on racism and bigotry was lost on them, unfortunately.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:41 AM on May 14, 2018

That's the trouble with satire. There's always some asshole who genuinely thinks that eating Irish babies is a good idea.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:41 AM on May 14, 2018 [10 favorites]

A series of things I always want to build an essay around:

1. the American Right has been nutso for decades about misusing "postmodern" as a catchall slur against "decadent" culture and ideas they don't like.

2. The American Right also almost to a man loves Blazing Saddles as the kind of movie that couldn't be made now because those darned PC killjoys just wouldn't let it happen. One Twin Cities RW-radio-asshole-turned-congressman even used the theme from Blazing Saddles as the theme to his show.

3. Aside from all of the other ways in which they're missing the point of the movie, (I mean, see sentence #1 of point 2), these chuckleheads are totally oblivious to the fact that the end of Blazing Saddles, where the movie deconstructs itself and erupts out of its own sets to take over the entire movie studio complex, is one of the most balls-out postmodernist things ever put into a popular movie.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:41 AM on May 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

I think it's fascinating to see the evolution in the ways this movie has been bowdlerized for broadcast over the years.

Obviously you can't just bleep the bad words. You'd have 95 minutes of dialtone. So they just gave up and recorded a whole new dialog track. This has become more widespread in more recent years (Shut the front door! No YOU shut the front door!) but Blazing Saddles is the earliest example I can think of.

So there was a broadcast version sometime (I want to say) in the late 70s that replaced all the swear words, but had no issue with the racial slurs at all. So in the scene where Sheriff Cleavon Little is out walking the sidewalks and tips his hat to the sweet little old lady, her line in the theatrical release is: "Fuck off, nigger!"

In the broadcast version, she says "Out of my way, nigger!"

I have no idea what they'd do now. When's the last time this was broadcast on air? I'm pretty sure that even on cable there's no way they'd keep the "nigger." They'd be more likely to keep the "fuck off."

Basically, this movie, by being so utterly vulgar and politically incorrect, provides a kind of palimpsest (and there's a word I don't get to use very often) of how attitudes and mores toward vulgarity and political correctness have shifted over the years.
posted by Naberius at 8:16 AM on May 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

the kind of movie that couldn't be made now

Of course it couldn't be made now! Howard Johnsons is out of business! Nobody would get the joke!

Wait, are you telling me that it COULD be made now, except that you would have to adapt the jokes to fit our current culture?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:47 AM on May 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

Just choose a different hotelier. "Donald Trump is right!"
posted by rhizome at 10:07 AM on May 14, 2018

"Mongo just pawn in game of life."

Also, one of the few things a former boss and I ever agreed on was the importance of Madeline Kahn in this film. "I'm so very tired..."
posted by teleri025 at 11:51 AM on May 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

A couple years ago I saw this film at the Wilbur Theater in Boston, with a Q/A with Mel Brooks immediately after. It was one of the most fun things I ever did as before then I'd only ever seen it on a TV screen. Brooks was lively and animated and so full of joy and fun.

I still don't get the "Baby, I'm not from Havana" joke.
posted by bondcliff at 12:12 PM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I gather the "Baby, I'm not from Havana" joke refers to some old stereotype that Cubans are singularly tireless lovers.

It's like Airplane. It's okay if some of the jokes don't work. There's plenty more where that came from.
posted by Naberius at 12:37 PM on May 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

"Mongo just pawn in game of life."

I can't remember my source for this, but I read somewhere that Richard Pryor surprised everybody else who was involved with the screenplay by mostly being interested in writing lines for Mongo.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 12:43 PM on May 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

"Mongo! Santa Maria!"

Mongo Santamaria
posted by rhizome at 12:54 PM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I read someplace that "Baby, please! I am not from Havana!" is a reference to Superman, a performer who did live sex shows at the Tropicana Club in Cuba.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 2:09 PM on May 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I still don't get the "Baby, I'm not from Havana" joke.

I took it as a reference to long brown objects made in Havana that one puts in their mouth.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:55 PM on May 14, 2018

Gabby Johnson is my spirit animal.
posted by peeedro at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Authentic frontier gibberish is the official language of Metafilter.
posted by rhizome at 4:30 PM on May 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Seeing as there's three different explanations so far I guess I'm not the only one who doesn't get the joke. I think Naberius' explanation is the one I've heard before though.

Care for another schnitzengruben?

I have long had a quote from this movie in my profile, though it's not that obvious.
posted by bondcliff at 5:02 PM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Your real name?
posted by biffa at 5:13 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

When Gene Wilder passed away, AMC screened Blazing Saddles in the theater. It was great to be able to see that film on the big screen again. It's one of those films that's just so brilliant.

Excuse me gentleman, I need to walk the uh parapet.
posted by miss-lapin at 7:34 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I once watched a broadcast edit that looped in random bits of other dialogue to cover some of the slurs. Particularly unintentionally hilarious: switching "like a bunch of Kansas City f---" to "a bunch of Kansas City...HORSES!?" from "Horses? We can't afford to lose no horses."
posted by assenav at 4:07 PM on May 16, 2018

Just wanted to refer to one of my favourite lines that didn't make it into the movie. Mel Brooks explains.
posted by Start with Dessert at 8:50 PM on May 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

Somebody's gotta go back and get a shit-load of dimes!
posted by not_on_display at 12:12 AM on May 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

Slim Pickens is a real scene stealer. That line about the dimes is pretty dumb but it really makes the whole toll booth gag. I also love how "Piss on you, I'm working for Mel Brooks!" caps the broken forth wall gag. The timing and physical comedy of Taggart looking for his notebook in this scene is so simple but just done so well.
posted by peeedro at 12:10 PM on May 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Late to the party, but I have long considered the release of this movie to be the high point of human civilization, and it's all been downhill since then.
posted by mikelieman at 12:35 PM on May 20, 2018

I can't remember my source for this, but I read somewhere that Richard Pryor surprised everybody else who was involved with the screenplay by mostly being interested in writing lines for Mongo.

I recall that the role of Bart, opposite Gene Wilder was written BY and FOR Richard Pryor, and some studio idiot sent down a note saying he wasn't Leading Man enough. Full disclosure, there were a LOT of Grateful Dead shows between then and now, so I could be way off base.
posted by mikelieman at 12:40 PM on May 20, 2018

I think the story was that studio heads though Pryor had far too many substance abuse issues to be reliable (or insurable) as a leading man, and dunno, that's kinda like "harsh but fair".

(Now I was watching Cleavon Little's career, and turns out, he was on Vanishing Point, and it was him sampled on Primal Screams' alternate soundtrack)
posted by lmfsilva at 1:21 PM on May 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

While it may be harsh but fair, it's important to remember than Wilder and Pryor gave us Stir Crazy six years after Blazing Saddles so at some point someone changed their minds about Pryor's reliability/insurability.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:16 PM on May 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think Blazing Saddles was a WB gig and Stir Crazy was Columbia, so it might not have been a matter of "changing their minds" as much as one being less willing to roll the dice than the other. Both ended up giving him record deals after the movies, anyway.
posted by lmfsilva at 6:41 AM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd never actually watched this from start to finish until tonight. I'd seen a million clips and knew a lot of the jokes from Mad, but I had no idea about the ending. That was amazing.

It's so poorly made! The cameras wobble, things get cut off, their filming is erratic, but it works somehow. My son said it was like a movie he'd've made with his friends in high school, but good.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:58 PM on March 19, 2023

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