Blazing Saddles (1974)

Blazing Saddles (1974) – Let’s have a quick discussion of the N-word. Now anyone who knows me knows I have no qualms about saying all sorts of things that you couldn’t say on television or in so-called “polite society.” It’s just the fucking way I am, god dammit. But n****r is a different thing altogether. It’s a word specifically created to demean. It speaks to a history of slavery and discrimination. It’s an ugly hideous word like f****t that I just don’t say if I can get away with it, even if I’m perfectly willing to say other words (like “cunt”) that frequently do get me into trouble. So that’s my personal philosophy on use of the N-word. I don’t use it. I don’t really feel other people should use it. But there’s one problem with that: sometimes it can be fucking hilarious. Now I stand by all those things I said about it being an ugly hurtful word, but holy shit if you’ve seen a sketch from Chappelle’s Show (Chappelle himself would go on to be in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, from the same director as this film) or heard a stand-up routine by Chris Rock or Richard Pryor you know that the power of the word can be turned on its ass and warped to riotously funny results. Richard Pryor is especially relevant here as he is one of the co-writers of Mel Brooks’s western send-up Blazing Saddles.

Bart (Cleavon Little, the studio wouldn’t insure Pryor in the role due to his highly publicized drug habit) is a black worker on the railroad sentenced to be hanged after he hits the racist overseer Taggart (Slim Pickens). Elsewhere, Hedy Lamar… sorry, that HEDLEY (Harvey Korman), is plotting to terrorize the village of Rock Ridge so he can seize the land for a real estate deal. When the townspeople demand a new sheriff the Governor (Brooks) has to send them one. Hedley wants to send them someone they’re likely to reject or outright kill to convince them to leave town… like a black man. So Bart rides into the town of Rock Ridge and gets a less than warm reception. Making only one friends, drunken ex-gunfighter the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), he outthinks the thugs and very gradually wins over the townsfolk before riding off into the sunset. Also in the mix are hulking terror Mongo (former NFL player Alex Karras) and Marlene Dietrich-esque German burlesque performer Lily Von Shtup (Madeline Kahn in an Oscar-nominated role).

Western superstar and icon John Wayne was offered both the roles of the Waco Kid and Taggard but turned them down, since the movie is loaded with cussin’ and fartin’. He said “Mr. Brooks, I can’t be in yer movie… but I’ll be first in line ta see it!” Blazing Saddles is pretty crude, but it’s all the funnier for it. There’s highbrow, there’s low brow (much more of the latter) and there’s enough to split your sides through the whole movie. The movie takes on the genre (if all the cowboys eat and drink are beans and coffee wouldn’t that have certain gastronomical consequences?) and race realations, while at the same time having all the realism of a Bugs Bunny cartoon (quite literally at one point). Like many spoof films, Blazing Saddles fires a million jokes at the audience. Unlike most spoof films, almost ALL of them land. This is one of the funniest films ever made. Mel Brooks is a kind among men. If you haven’t seen this movie, you are living half a life. Remedy that immediately.

2 Responses to “Blazing Saddles (1974)”
  1. Blazing saddles was brilliant! I couldn’t see that movie working today. Its use of the n word would not have the same meaning.

    BTW: I love it that Richard Pryor was brought on to help with the ethnic themes, then spent most of his time working on the character of Mongo. LOL!

  2. Rusty Bolt says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on this movie. I just revisited this favorite of mine, but a dissenting family member gave me pause about the n word. I went to google for answers and found your article. I like your take on the matter; it’s comedy!

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