Wednesday, December 31, 2008

#4 All-Time Favorite Film: Blazing Saddles

When I first saw this film, I was 12 years old; I thought that it was going to be a normal western. I had no idea who Mel Brooks was and I was in the mood for a hero to save the town film. After the film was over, I kept thinking, I can never tell my parents that I watched this film.

On Monday I went back to school and asked my classmates had they just seen this crazy film on HBO, called "Blazing Saddles"? I could tell very easily who had and had not because this film was those who saw exactly what I had seen were trying to explain it to those who did not and , to be very honest, we were not doing a very good of job at it.

At 12 years old, I had never seen anything quite like what I had just seen over the weekend. It was funny, I was laughing so much that, I thought that I was going to, wake my parents. The problem was that, it was hard to explain why it was funny, unless you saw the film. To this day, it is still hard to explain why the film is funny, it just is to me and I hope to you also.

I have owned a copy of this film on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and now Blu-ray DVD. To this day whenever I want a good laugh, I pull this film out warm up some popcorn and get ready to enter a world of kaos. Now this film in not PC at all and if you are offended very easily then this film is not for you,

For those who do not know the plot here it is...

In the American Old West of 1874, construction on a new railroad 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 "Van Johnson" and an "Olson Johnson".) The conniving State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) – not to be confused, as he often is in the film, with actress Hedy Lamarr – wants to buy the land along the new railroad route cheaply by driving the townspeople out. He sends a gang of thugs, led by his flunky Taggart (Slim Pickens), to scare them away, prompting the townsfolk to demand that Governor William J. LePetomane (Mel Brooks) appoint a new sheriff. The Attorney General convinces the dim-witted Governor to select Bart (Cleavon Little), a black railroad worker who was about to be hanged, as the new sheriff. Because Bart is black, Lamarr believes that this will so offend the townspeople they will either abandon the town or lynch the new sheriff.

With his quick wits and the assistance of alcoholic 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 (but exceptionally dim-witted) henchman sent by Taggart, and bests German seductress-for-hire Lili von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn) at her own game, before inspiring the town to lure Lamarr's newly-recruited and incredibly diverse army of thugs (characterized by Lamarr 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" in addition to nearly every other kind of stock movie villain) into an ambush. (In the later scene where Lamarr conducts his hiring event, the candidates in line for consideration include stereotypical bikers, banditos, crusaders, Nazis and Klansmen).

The resulting fight between the townsfolk and Lamarr's army of thugs is such that it literally breaks the fourth wall; the fight spills out from the film lot in the Warner Bros. Studios into a neighboring musical set (being directed by Dom DeLuise), then the studio commissary where a pie fight ensues, and finally pouring out into the surrounding streets.

The film ends with Bart shooting Hedley Lamarr in the groin at the 'premiere' of Blazing Saddles outside Grauman's Chinese Theater, saving the town, joining Jim inside a theater to view the end of the movie, persuading people of all colors and creeds to live in harmony and, finally, riding (in a limousine) off into the sunset.
(From Wikipedia)

Here I was, a 12 year old, trying to explain, the above plot. I and my classmates, who has seen the film, knew it was funny, but, we could not explain why it was funny.

As I grew up, I soon started to watch this film once every few months, so I could see if the humor would hold up. After 30+ years this film is still funny and I still cannot believe all that the director Mel Brooks got away with in this film.

From the DVD "Blazing Saddles" Mel Brooks commentary..

Brooks repeatedly had 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 in the creative process). In a similar vein, Gene Wilder was the second choice to play the character of the Waco Kid. He was quickly brought in to replace Gig Young after the first day of filming because Young was suffering from delirium tremors on the set due to his alcoholism.

After screening the movie, the head of Warner Brothers Pictures complained about the use of the word "nigger", the campfire scene and the punching of a horse, and told Brooks to remove all these elements from the film. As Brooks' contract gave him control of the final cut, the complaints were disregarded and all three elements were retained in the film with it holding the distinction of being the first film to display flatulence. Mel Brooks wanted the movie's title song to reflect the western genre, and advertised in the trade papers that he wanted a "Frankie Laine-type" sound. Several days later, singer Frankie Laine himself visited Brooks' office offering his services. Brooks had not told Laine that the movie was planned as a comedy, and was embarrassed by how much heart Laine put into singing the song. (The song was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Music, Original Song category)

Mel Brooks also claimed that Hedy Lamarr threatened to sue, saying the film's running "Hedley Lamarr" joke infringed her right to publicity. 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, you'll be able to sue her!” Brooks says they settled out of court for a small sum. A very similar gag, with a male character named "Peter Hedley Lamar, Jr." occurs in the 1941 Buster Keaton short "General Nuisance."

Mel Brooks related how he managed to convince John Wayne to read the script after meeting him in the Warner Brothers studio commissary. Wayne was impressed with the script, but politely declined a cameo appearance, 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."

Mel also put together a collegial group of five writers that included a then up-and-coming young black comic named Richard Pryor. According to Brooks, his group "needed a good black writer" who could help them do "black comedy." Once Pryor was on board, however, he took to the oafish, white Mongo character (ex-NFL player Alex Karras) and Brooks himself ended up writing most of Black Bart's dialogue.

The main nugget on this DVD commentary was the 2 showings that were held at the Warner Brothers studio. Mr. Brooks states that after the film was finally assembled, He showed it to the bosses at Warner Studio. Not one of the bosses laughed and made complaints about the use of the word "nigger", the campfire scene and the punching of a horse, and told Brooks to remove all these elements from the film.

Mel, then arranged another screening, but at this one, got a lot of the Warner's secretaries, common labors and anyone who wanted to see this film. The reaction was very different. The people were laughing through the entire film and as it was over then went back to work and were telling everybody that they had to see Mel Brooks’s new film.

The Warner Bosses then asked Mel what other film Mel had that was making the great "buzz" around the lot. Mel simply told them that it was the same film that you hated and did not laugh at.

The objections of WB about this film stopped. For a film that cost 2.6 million to make and that WB did not want it grossed $119,500,000 (USA) during its numerous runs at the cinema.

Mel has stated a few times that in today's market, this film could not be made and that, to me, is a real tragedy. At time we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves in an honest way. Please see the film when you can.

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