By Mike Derderian
“Tu es muerte señor and that rusty old star ya wearing won’t help ya gringo….” shouted Punch O-Wella, the meanest man in the Wild West. Before O-Wella could complete his sentence a speeding bullet fired from my rusty six-shooter went through his leather vest faster than a coyote running after a hen.
“No, es imposible…perro!” gasped O-Wella, before collapsing like a rock sinking to a bottom of a lake on a hot July summer. They call me “The Blazing Saddle Pistolero” and there is a reason why folks call me that. I was trained by the best in the West. Wylie Kal always told me to stick to my guns even though I actually had just one. But it was more than enough.
You see my six-shooter has a mind of its own and every now and then it goes off putting a blazing hole in my saddle and the horse I am riding. Do you know how many horses I had replaced? Too many and getting a license for one of those things ain’t cheap, especially if it runs on gravel-free hay.
But if you are thinking I am loco wait until you hear the story of my cousin The Waco Kid, who starred along Sheriff Bart in Mel Brooks’ 1974 saddle-splitting Blazing Saddles.
This crazy movie stars Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, Madeline Khan, Dom DeLuise and Harvey Korman as Hedley Lamarr, the bad guy.
Once upon a time there was a peaceful town called Rock Ridge. It was populated by the nuttiest people. One day the bad dude, Hedley Lamarr, decides to take over the town and the best way to achieve this was to divide them first and then conquer them.
With the help of Governor William J.LePetomaine, played by Brooks who also plays the role of the Yiddish-speaking Red Indian chief, Lamarr appoints Bart (Cleavon Little) as town sheriff. Bart is black and the town folk are racists; this means trouble, the kind of trouble Lamarr wants.
Upon learning that this black stranger, who just waltzed into town, is their long awaited sheriff the angry town folk decide to lynch Bart. Realizing that there is no other way to save his hide, Bart suddenly points his pistol to his head and takes himself as hostage. Using an altered voice he threatens to shoot the sheriff, meaning himself. The shear dumbness of this scene makes it so hilarious. Whoever thought of taking oneself hostage? Well, other than Mel Brooks, obviously no one.
Pulling himself away slowly from the angry mob with his pistol pointed to his mouth, Bart hides inside the sheriff’s office where he meets Jim (Wilder) aka The Waco Kid. Once the fastest gunslinger in the West, Jim is now nothing but a drunkard. The image of Dean Martin’s dude, the boozy gunslinger, in Howard Hawks’ 1959 Rio Bravo, starring John Wayne, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson, immediately comes to mind.
You mustn’t forget that Brooks is the father of parody and spoofing, which is why Blazing Saddles comes out as a chaotic mesh of movies and clichéd corny lines. “We’ll head them off at the pass!” Taggart (Pickens) excitedly hollers. “Head them off at the pass? I hate that cliché,” an angry Lamarr (Korman) shouts.
Little and Wilder’s performance as the dynamic duo was convincingly cool. The latter revealed a side that contrasts with his usual twitchy and neurotic on-screen characterizations. Still they weren’t exactly John Wayne and Dean Martin and maybe this was what Brooks wanted to achieve. Can you imagine the Duke talking jive?
Madeline Khan’s performance as Lili Von Shtupp, the German saloon singer and seductress with a lisp, who is hired by Lamarr to distract Bart from his mission to save the town and its people, was stellar and ridiculously hilarious not to mention “twuly bwilliant”.
Now, if someone conducted a poll on the funniest movie villain ever, Korman’s obnoxious Hedley Lamarr would get the title. The man is a merciless, shameless, dogged, vile-tongued, child–hater, wife beating (I just guessed), bloodsucking despicable schmuck.
Blazing Saddles is a 93-minute movie packed with hilarious, at times bad, racist and prejudiced jokes that fare well with a Mel Brooks script. For those who enjoy watching campy spoofs it is lots of fun but to those who have “sophisticated” cinematic tastes it will come out as unfunny and dull as hell.
If a movie with such a graphic racial and social stereotyping tone was made in our times, rather than back in the 70s, it would have not been probably tolerated; poking fun at other races is no longer regarded funny unless it is related to the racist stereotyping of Arabs in Hollywood.
Must-see-scenes: Lamarr’s criminal roundup where Jim and Bart pose as two members of the Ku Klux Klan; Bart’s tryst with Lili Von Shtupp; any scenes that include Hedley Lamarr’s bigoted henchman, Taggart (Pickens) and the outrageous finale when the whole picture literally gets mangled up.