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“”Maybe Young Frankenstein. Maybe a few, but never Blazing Saddles. Because we have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy.
|—Mel Brooks in 2017, after been asked if Blazing Saddles could be made today.|
“”As Mel Brooks once said to his writers on Blazing Saddles, which is a great film, "Write anything you want, because we'll never be heard from again. We will all be arrested for this movie."
|—President Barack Obama|
Blazing Saddles is a 1974 movie directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks was aided by four other writers, including comedian Richard Pryor, in an unusually chaotic screenwriting process. The film has often been misunderstood by critics, for example as a simple burlesque, but it has also been an audience favorite. Despite its broad and vulgar humor, frequent sight gags, and use of racist slurs, Blazing Saddles does have a serious message, and it expresses the message by breaking things: the western film genre, stereotypes, expectations, time and the fourth wall.
One could make a dull film that says 'racism is bad', or one could make an "unapologetically politically incorrect [film that] also skewers nearly every western trope listed on" TV Tropes that became a blockbuster and was eventually inducted into the US National Film Registry.
The basic premise for Blazing Saddles is that it is set in the year 1874, but also in the year 1974 at the same time, with cultural references from 1974 drifting into the dialogue of the 1874 setting. This works as a plot device because 1874 was towards the end of the Reconstruction era (1865-1877) as well as firmly within the so-called Robber Baron era (e.g. predating the first US antitrust law by 16 years) and 1974 was shortly after the Civil Rights era (1954-1968).
- 1 Racism
- 2 Epic theatre
- 3 Going too far?
- 4 One of the greatest conservative movies of all time!
- 5 The film itself
- 6 External links
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
“”There was a lot of white people that didn't like the word 'nigger'. Strangely enough only… not from blacks… never objected to the word 'nigger'. They knew that it was used correctly in the movie. That the sheriff was subject to this weird uh you know… These people who he was helping were against him simply because he was black, and called him 'nigger'. So it was fine. I don't think it should be used. I don't think the word should be used… unless it's used absolutely correctly… to show… race prejudice. And I didn't show it from bad people. I showed it from good people who didn't know any better. And it was really understood by the black community. They got it. They were smart. They understood everything.
Blazing Saddles was not just the first Hollywood film to extensively use the slur 'nigger', but the film needed to do so to succeed. It did so in a seemingly gratuitous but actually not-at-all gratuitous way, so as to make the comedy work by showing the "ridiculous backwards thinking that is born out of racism". The CEO of Warner Brothers, Ted Ashley, after seeing a screening of the film told Brooks to cut all instances of the word from the film as well as to make other cuts, but they stayed in because Ashley did not know that Brooks' contract gave him final-cut rights.
With notable exceptions, racist slurs are confined to villainous characters or at least to characters who are acting villainously. Exceptions are:
- Bart's sly retort that requires him to repeat the slur in order to try to get a rise out of the foreman
- Bart pretending to be a villain in order to avoid being shot by the men of Rock Ridge
- Charlie speaking ironically to Bart
Racism is portrayed in a class-based way: the foremen, overseers and the townspeople are portrayed as vulgar racists, freely using slurs and otherwise openly expressing their racism, whereas the attorney general and governor are "genteel racists" (also known as "aversive racists") who literally cannot bring themselves to say the word "nigger" but who otherwise express racism and whose racism depends upon the manipulation and exploitation of the vulgar racism of others.
The shadow plot
Unusually, there is a shadow plot line in this Blazing Saddles this is only sometimes obvious. There are several references to German militarism in the film that advance somewhat chronologically:
- Reference is made to Nietzsche, whose writings were posthumously coopted by the Nazis.
- Music from the fictitious play "Springtime for Hitler" that is part of the film The Producers can be heard in the background at one point
- A reference to the film Cabaret, which is set in late-Weimar Germany and includes the rise of Nazism within its plot.
- A relatively innocent reference to Bismarck-era Germany, shortly after the Franco-Prussian war, with a chorus of German soldiers, apparently led by Brooks in voiceover.
- An ironic reference is made to a German World War I song, which later became elevated by Hitler.
- Nazi soldiers are shown lining up to join Lamarr's criminal gang.
- Reference is made to African American Jesse Owens, who won gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany, which was a direct and public repudiation of Nazi racialism.
- During the great fight scene, Lili is shown leading the Nazi soldiers soldiers in singing "Du, du liegst mir im Herzen", an innocent folksong, but because of its juxtaposition in the film Judgment at Nuremberg, is associated with war crimes and issues of ignorance, remembrance, forgetting, guilt and innocence.
- A flippant reference to Hitler's suicide in 1945, made by the actor portraying him.
So, the Nazi shadow plot in Blazing Saddles progresses with regard to German militarism: from relative innocence, to irony and cooptation, to crime, to guilt and judgment, and finally to historic portrayal and mockery ("They lose me right after the bunker scene."). The shadow plot breaks the time barrier in a more sustained way, pushing the audience to think about racism and crimes in Nazi Germany simultaneously with racism and crimes in the western United States of the 1800s.
Though the West is portrayed in a broad or cartoonish way, it is in some ways more realistic than other Hollywood westerns due to people's frank and crude speech and overt racism. Not unlike the Ig Nobel Prize, Blazing Saddles works by first making people laugh, then making people think. The use of multiple breakings of the fourth wall in Blazing Saddles is not just an attempt at humor but also an attempt at audience engagement — making people think after they laugh. Similarly, the breaking of the time barrier — the frequent references from the 1874 setting to 1974 and other time periods — serves both as a comedic element and as a way of signalling to the audience an unstated 'Hey, look here. Things haven't changed so much.' In this regard, Blazing Saddles borrows directly from the two primary techniques of anti-fascist playright Bertolt Brecht's concept of "epic theatre":
- Verfremdungseffekt (estrangement effect), which includes breaking the fourth wall as well for actors to portray multiple characters. In Blazing Saddles, Brooks portrays the Governor, the Sioux chief, one of the men lined up to join Le Petomane's gang, and he voices over two parts, the lead singer in the German army chorus and the cowboy trying to kiss Lili von Shtupp.
- Historicization — commenting on the current time from plays based in historical time
Going too far?
Bethany Hegener, writing for Medium, has noted the offensiveness of rape jokes in the film. Blazing Saddles has two or three rape 'jokes' (1, 2 and 3), and arguably rape jokes are never funny. The jokes do establish character however, showing just how awful the villainous characters are who make these statements. So, if one is going to criticize a work of fiction, one should first understand how fiction works, which Hegener does not seem to understand. To state the obvious: writers/directors/actors do not usually subscribe to every word that a character states. Actors have to read their lines whether they agree with them or not. To make good fiction, writers have to make villains, heroes and ambiguous characters. In Blazing Saddles, Burton Gilliam actually had difficulty saying the word 'nigger', particularly to Cleavon Little whom he liked. Cleavon told Burton:
“”If I thought you would say those words to me in any other situation we'd go to fist city but this all fun. Don't worry about it.
Also, one should not quote mine, as Hegener did.
Hegener has claimed that the Lili von Shtupp is exemplary of the objectification and sexualization of women in the film, but it is noteworthy that Lili has agency: she is sexually liberated and chooses her sexual partners. Furthermore, during her stage show, she shows that she can take care of herself by mockery and by physical force: kicking a cowboy's feet off the stage and kneeing an aggressive cowboy in the crotch.
Greg Hernandez, writing for Gay Star News, has stated that the portrayal of gay men is stereotypical and — unless one looks carefully — not redemptive unlike how racism is portrayed. However, at four brief points there are indications otherwise:
- Shortly after Bart and Jim meet, a possible sexual pass by Jim towards Bart is politely dismissed and has no negative effect on their relationship.
- Much later in the great fight scene, a cowboy and a presumably-gay effeminate man are fighting, then reappear from under a staircase, affectionately holding each other.
- Immediately after that encounter, a second cowboy and a second effeminate man stop fighting and show affection towards each other.
- Two dancers are shown affectionately swimming in synchrony.
The overall theme of "The French Mistake" scene can be read as coming out of the closet. The music, belonging to the dancers, shortly precedes their appearance and continues through the melee, indicating that the dancers have actually invaded the cowboys' space, rather than the other way around.:220 In the second instance, both the dancer and the cowboy exit what could be described as a metaphorical closet, as the leave the passageway. And importantly, the entire finale can be interpreted as romantically homoerotic.
Notably, Brooks' intention was not to laugh at gays: he has claimed to have vetted his humor with his gay friends,[note 3]:218-219 which is not to say that it is inoffensive or that all gays will find it funny, but rather that Brooks does at least have some cultural sensitivity.:219 "Within the context of Blazing Saddles, gay humor can be read as either pure outrageousness, or as an analogous conterpart to a steady stream of racist language designed to attack racism as stupidity.":219
One of the greatest conservative movies of all time!
The basic problem with conservatives claiming that Blazing Saddles is a conservative film, rather than an anti-racist film, is that it relies on conflating political correctness with liberalism and political incorrectness with conservativism. Political correctness is an ideology-based concept that varies by ideology, for example Conservapedia has nearly completely banned the use of certain terminology (e.g., the near-total ban of the acronym 'BCE' and the word 'fuck', the latter excepted in rare cases when quoting people they hate) and the banning of certain concepts such as support of evolution (despite it being supported by the Catholic Church since 1950). As the film itself demonstrates, one can use 'politically incorrect' terminology in the service of a larger lesson.
Conservapedia thinks that Blazing Saddles is one of the "Greatest Conservative Movies", and Andrew Schlafly agrees. The reason given is, "A politically incorrect western, something liberals are sure to despise." Apparently, either no one at Conservapedia has seen the film, or more likely, no one there has understood it. Putting the word 'nigger' in a film does not automatically make it conservative (or liberal or anything else), otherwise this very webpage that you are reading now would also be conservative.
John Nolte of Breitbart has claimed in a 2014 review, that all copies of Blazing Saddles will eventually be burned by the left wing. Credibly, Nolte did enjoy the film and did understand that racism was the major theme of the film. In a separate piece, Nolte also listed ten reasons why he thinks that the film will eventually be banned by liberals:
- Roger Ebert not wanting a general re-release of Disney's film Song of the South
- "Leftists are removing the word 'n***er' from Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
- Comedian Leslie Jones, an African American, was criticized for joking about slavery.
- Comedian Sam Kinison was criticized for joking about hunger, gays and AIDS.
- Comedian Andrew Dice Clay was boycotted for misogynist humor.
- Comedian Tracy Morgan was criticized by GLAAD for saying he would stab his son if he were gay.
- Comedy Central censored an episode of South Park (the Muhammad censorship controversy)
- Climate change denialists are not given the media coverage that they are demanding.
- Chuck Schumer's failed attempt to pass a law that would overturn the US Supreme Court decision on Citizens United
- A disputed claim by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that free speech is widely curtailed at public universities
Ironically, Nolte's writing 'n***er' rather than the word itself, is self-defeating in his argument because he either self-censored or was censored by the far-right Breitbart, bringing him down to the level of Governor Le Petomane's genteel racism, and is a form of political correctness itself. Furthermore, the idea that using a euphemism for a racist term somehow makes one not racist falls into the "mistaking the map for the territory" fallacy.
Taken as a whole, Nolte's prediction seems to assume that liberals are some sort of monolithic organization because the first eight reasons given are concerning individuals or organizations expressing their free speech rights to criticize other people's particular expressions of free speech rights. Reason number nine, Citizens United, concerns whether a corporation is a person and whether money is a form of speech. Reason number ten deals primarily with whether inflammatory speakers should be allowed to speak on college campuses. The ACLU has in fact often defended free speech on campuses, despite many conservatives' belief that the ACLU is a liberal bugaboo.
Nolte also makes the claim that the film is not "peering down from a place of superior sanctimony like the makers of Borat and Talladega Nights." This is patently false since the Blazing Saddles mocks:
Western Free Press
Eric Blake, writing for Western Free Press, has written that "This is one of those films that's Conservative By Default. That is, it's effectively become Conservative over the years, as the Left, to be blunt, has gotten more and more insane." Blake wasted his time getting a "Bachelor's in Political Science and a Master's in Film Studies" from the University of South Florida,[note 4] otherwise he might have known better about writing this drivel. Western Free Press is a self-described "news and opinion site for conservatives and libertarians".
Blake states that Lamarr is a "big-government guy through-and-through — assumes like a Lefty that the racism of the townspeople will be such that they just won't find it in themselves to actually accept a black sheriff." Though Lamarr is Attorney General for an unnamed podunk state, where is the big government? He has no visible government employees of his own; Taggart, his henchman, is a railroad foreman, not a government employee. Lamarr even has to ask for favors (1, 2) from the hangman, who conveniently operates just outside his office. The townspeople do in fact reject Bart as the sheriff from knee-jerk racism and nearly murder him outright, but are only convinced to accept Bart after he rescues them from Mongo, who had foolishly been sent by Taggart.
Based on Crowder, Blake's argument is basically that since the film is politically incorrect, it is therefore conservative: a conflation of the two concepts. Although Blake also understands the main theme of the film — racism — and that racists can perhaps change their views, what he doesn't understand in the film is:
- That not all of the racists in the film have changed their views by the end of the film (vulgar racists Taggart and Lyle, and genteel racist Lamarr)
- The strong and overt alignment of racism with conservativism since the rise of the alt-right or its many antecedents, including the more subtle Nixonian Southern strategy
Like Breitbart, either Blake or Western Free Press self-censored and used 'n——r' rather than the actual word. If one cannot even name the thing that is wrong to say in a gratuitous context, one's argument if failing.
The film itself
If you've never seen Blazing Saddles before, you should find a copy and watch it first. The videos do not show the whole movie, and the text (obviously) leaves out the excellent camerawork and editing as well as actors' nuance. Also, it goes without saying, if you have to explain a joke, it isn't funny. The purpose of the annotations below is to explain some of the humor and some of the historical context.
The opening scene
The opening scene shows most of the basic themes that follow in the rest of the film: the building of the railroad (and implicit robber baronism), racial slurs, racist class structure, the sly subversion of the African American laborers, and the duping of dimwitted white overseers and foremen.
|Lyle [assistant foreman, played by Burton Gilliam]: Come on, boys! The way you're lollygagging around here with them picks and them shovels… you'd think it was 120 degrees: Can't be more than 114.|
Lyle: Dock that Chink a day's pay for nappin' on the job.
|Chinese laborers made a substantial contribution to the building of United States' western railroad system; the work was poorly paid and often difficult. In 1867, Chinese railroad workers staged the largest labor strike of that time, demanding equal pay and better working conditions.|
Bart: "♫I get no kick from champagne. Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all. So tell me why should it be true… that I get a belt out of you? Some get a kick from cocaine.♫"
|Lyle: Don't know that one, huh? How about "De Camp Town Ladies"?|
Bart (with affectation and puzzlement): "De Camp Town Ladies"?
Overseers: Gwine to run all night! Gwine to run all day! Bet my money on the bobtail nag, somebody bet on de bay.
|The song "Camptown Races" was a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster, so Lyle is actually trying to get black people to perform a song that was ordinarily performed by white people in blackface for a white audience. By feigning ignorance, the African American laborers have tricked the overseers into effectively performing a minstrel show for the laborers' entertainment.|
Taggart [played by Slim Pickens]: What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here? I hired you people to try to get a little track laid, not to jump around like a bunch of Kansas City faggots!
|Taggart: Dummy, the surveyors say they may have run into some quicksand up ahead. Better check it out.|
Lyle: Okay, I'll send down a team of horses to check out the ground.
|Even though the Thirteenth Amendment added to the United States Constitution in 1865, abolishing slavery, Taggart is still treating African Americans as property.|
Bart: Sir, he specifically requested two niggers… but to tell a family secret, my grandmother was Dutch.
|Bart slyly attempts to avoid the task by asserting the "one-drop rule" but in reverse (the racist one-drop rule did not exist as a legal concept until 1910).|
|Charlie [played by Charles McGregor]: I didn't know your grandmother was Dutch!|
Charlie: Bart? Am I wrong… or is the world rising?
|Taggart: Shit, quicksand! Goddang, now we are in trouble!|
Bart: They're in trouble!
Taggart: Yeah, we can take it right off to the,… just a little bit to the left of that hill.
Taggart: Boys, the break is over. Don't just lay there getting a suntan. Ain't going to do you no good, no how! [Taggart and Lyle laugh.] Here, take that shovel and put her to some good use! [Taggart tosses a shovel at them while they're still lying on the track covered with sand. Taggart and Lyle turn towards the horses.]
|Taggart reiterates the low monetary value that he places upon African American laborers.|
Land: see snatch
|[The scene changes to the office of "Hedley Lamarr, Attorney General, Assistant to Governor, State Procurer" We see Taggart with a head bandage and Lamarr]|
Taggart: And right here, Mr. Lamarr, is where we run into quicksand.
|Lamarr has the title of official state pimp ('State Procurer').|
Lamarr: Ditto? Ditto, you provincial putz!
Taggart: What in the hell was that?
Lamarr: Boris, we can't hear ourselves think!
|Perhaps this is prescient of "Dittohead".|
|Boris [played by Robert Ridgely]: Sorry, your Worship, but I've got two men home sick with the flu… and it's utter chaos down here. I'll try to keep it as quiet as possible. But as you can see… this one is a doozey.||Ridgely is dressed in medieval chain mail while impersonating Quasimodo from the 1939 version of Hunchback of Notre Dame.|
Lamarr: Yes, the Doctor Gillespie killings. Well, do your best.
Lamarr: Now, let's see. Where were we?
|This is an apparent oblique reference to the Dr. Gillespie film series, which terminated in 1942.|
Lamarr: Wait a minute! There might be a legal precedent. [Lamarr picks up the law book and pages through it.] Let's see, land, la… land, "Land. See Snatch." [He pages through to "snatch".] "Haley v. United States. Haley, seven. United States, nothing." You see, it can be done. It can be done. Unfortunately, there is one thing that stands between me and that property. … The rightful owners. There must be some way of scaring them off, driving them out. Getting rid of every human being alive in that…
Lamarr: It's down the hall and to the left.
|Taggart: I know how we can run everybody out of Rock Ridge. We'll kill the first-born male child in every household!||This is a reference to Exodus 12:29 ("…the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.")|
|Lamarr: Too Jewish.|
Lamarr: Let's see.
Lamarr: Boris? I've got a special. When can you work him in?
|Notably, Harvey Korman, the actor playing Lamarr, is Jewish.|
|Taggart: Thank you, sir. And don't you worry. Why, we'll make Rock Ridge think it's a chicken that got caught in a tractor's nuts!|
|The tractor was not invented until 1901. "…tractor's nuts" is surrealist humor.|
The Ballad of Rock Ridge
♫There was a peaceful town called Rock Ridge…
|Behind the bar stood Anal Johnson.|
He always kept things nice and clean! [He spits in the glass as he cleans it and then belches.]
Man [being dragged by horse through mud]: Well, that's the end of this suit!
|This is rather nasty and obscene reference to Oral Roberts, particularly since 'Johnson' can mean penis.|
Rev. Johnson [played by Liam Dunn]: Be seated.… I don't have to tell you good folks… what has been happening here in our beloved town. Sheriff murdered, crops burned… stores looted, people stampeded… and cattle raped! Now the time has come to act. And act fast! I'm leaving.
This scene is a parody of the church scene in the 1952 film High Noon.
|Gabby Johnson [played by Jack Starrett]: You get back here, you old pious, candy-ass sidewinder! There ain't no way that nobody is going to leave this town! Hell, I was born here and I was raised here… and daggonit, I'm going to die here! And no sidewinder, bushwhacking, hornswoggling… cracker croaker, is going to ruin my biscuit-cutter!||Jack Starrett is impersonating George "Gabby" Hayes, (1885–1969) who acted in many Westerns.|
Olson Johnson [played by David Huddleston]: Now who can argue with that? I think we're all indebted to Gabby Johnson… for clearly stating what needed to be said. I'm particularly glad that these lovely children… were here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish… it expressed a courage little seen in this day and age! Right. What are we made of? Our fathers came across the prairie… fought Indians, fought drought, fought locusts, fought Dix! Remember when Richard Dix came in here and tried to take over this town? We didn't give up then… and by gum, we're not going to give up now!
|Howard Johnson [played by John Hillerman]: Dr. Samuel Johnson is right about Olson Johnson's being right. And I'm not giving up my ice cream parlor… that I built with these two hands for nothing or nobody!||Howard Johnson is a reference to Howard Deering Johnson (1897–1972), who founded the Howard Johnson's company but started his business by making ice cream. An earlier part of this scene showed the outside of parlor as offering "1 Flavor", a likely joke on another ice cream company, Baskin-Robbins (founded in 1945), whose slogan is "31 Flavors".|
Van Johnson [played by George Furth]: Howard Johnson is right!
The sheriff is a…
|[Camera focuses on a door that says, "William J. Le Petomane, Governor", then cuts to the governor's office. We hear mumbling then a disembodied voice says, "We've got to do something!"]
Lamarr: Governor, may I disturb you for a moment, sir? [Le Petomane's back is towards the camera, and he is talking to his secretary, Miss Stein.]
|"William J. Le Petomane" is a sly fart joke, that references the famous performer and professional farter Joseph Pujol who first performed in 1887 and worked under the stage name Le Pétomane.|
|Lamarr: Well, under the provisions of this bill… we would snatch 200,000 acres of Indian territory… which we have deemed unsafe for their use at this time. They're such children.|
Le Petomane: 200,000 acres! 200,000 acres! What will it cost, man? What will it cost?
|"Indian Territory" (capital "T") was the term for what is now most of Oklahoma before it became a state.|
|Le Petomane: Okay, give us a hand here. Work, work, work. Hello, boys, have a good night's rest? I missed you.|
Lamarr: Just one more bill for you to sign, sir.
|"Hello, boys…" refers to Miss Stein's breasts.|
|Le Petomane: What the hell are you worried about? This is 1874. You'll be able to sue her.|
Lamarr: Just sign here, sir.
|Hedy Lamarr, a famous actress of the 20th century, actually did sue Warner Bros. studio for the use of her name in the film without her permission.|
|Stein: "Sheriff murdered. Church meeting bombed. Reign of terror must cease. Send new sheriff immediately."|
Le Petomane: Holy underwear! Sheriff murdered. Innocent women and children blown to bits! We've got to protect our phony-baloney jobs, gentlemen. We must do something about this immediately, immediately, immediately! Hrumph, hrumph, hrumph… I didn't get a "hrumph" out of that guy!
|Stein's portrayal is clearly one-dimensional and sexist, but it builds on the portrayal of Le Petomane as a corrupt boob.|
|Le Petomane: It is? Give these out to some of the boys… in lieu of pay: Frankie, Johnny, Patsy, Kelly. [handing out paddle balls] Here you go. And one for Miss Stein, my beloved secretary. Play with these, boys, in lieu of the other thing. This friggin' thing is warped. Why do I always get a warped one?|
Lamarr: A sheriff! But law and order is the last thing I want. Wait a minute. Maybe I could turn this thing into my advantage. If I could find a sheriff who so offends the citizens of Rock Ridge… that his very appearance would drive them out of town… But where would I find such a man? Why am I asking you? [speaking to the camera and breaking the fourth wall]
Boris [speaking to Bart]: Welcome to Hanging House. Not to worry… everyone is equal in my eye.
Le Petomane: Oh, not my ear! Not in my ear!
|"Frankie, Johnny" is a pun on the song "Frankie and Johnny". "Patsy, Kelly" is a pun on the actress Patsy Kelly (1910–1981). "Patsy" can also mean "a person who is easily manipulated or victimized."|
Le Petomane: I'd be delighted… Wow! [He finally notices Bart standing behind Lamarr, then speaks to Lamarr.] I've got to talk to you. Come here. [He puts his arm around Bart without looking to see who it is.] Have you gone berserk? Can't you see that man is a ni… [He sees that he's holding Bart instead of Lamarr.] Wrong person. Forgive me. No offense intended. Have you gone berserk? [He then turns back, puts his arm around Lamarr and walks away from Bart.] Can't you see that man is a ni?
|Le Petomane: A cabinet post! [Lamarr and Le Petomane are now standing between golden busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.]|
|Bass Reeves, who was speculated as the inspiration for Bart, was the first black deputy marshal and was appointed in 1875. The first black sheriff was actually Walter Moses Burton, who was elected in 1869 in Fort Bend County, Texas. Both men had been born into slavery.|
Le Petomane [hugs the bust of Lincoln]: "Four score and seven years ago… our forefathers brought forth on this…"
|[The scene opens with Bart in a spiffy sheriff's uniform riding a beautiful palomino horse across the arid landscape. The horse's color matches Bart's uniform, and the horse has Gucci saddlebags. Orchestral jazz music is in the background. Sheriff Bart then rides up to the Count Basie Orchestra playing in the middle of the plains and gives Count Basie a low five. Bart then rides off into the distance. Cut to Rock Ridge where the townspeople are preparing a welcome for the new sheriff.]|
Howard Johnson: Hurry up, get those flags up.He'll be here soon.
|Gucci was founded in 1921. The Count Basie Orchestra was founded in 1935. The 'low five' dates to the 1920s.|
|Howard Johnson: Noon! I'd better rehearse my speech! "As Honorary Chairman of the Welcoming Committee… it is my privilege to extend to you a laurel and hearty handshake!"|
Harriett van Johnson: Wonderful!
Gabby Johnson [peers again through the telescope, then shouts]: Hey, the sheriff is a n… [sound of the church bell drowns out the word]
Howard Johnson [looking at his prepared welcome and not noticing Bart]: "As Chairman of the Welcoming Committee… it is my privilege to extend a laurel and hearty handshake to our new…" [looks up at Bart] nigger.
Sheriff Bart: Excuse me while I whip this out.
Sheriff Bart (reading from proclamation): "By the power vested in me…" [We hear the sound of guns being cocked throughout] "by the Honorable William J. Le Petomane…" [Five men step up to the platform with guns drawn.] "I hereby assume the duties of the Office of Sheriff…" [Then Howard, Olson and Samuel also draw guns.] "in and for the Township of Rock Ridge." [Close up of Howard and Olson with guns drawn at Bart.]
Sheriff Bart (affecting a villainous voice): Hold it! The next man makes a move, the nigger gets it!
|"Laurel and hearty" is pun on Laurel and Hardy, who began their career together in the 1920s.|
|Sheriff Bart (affecting a whiny, Uncle Tom type of voice): Lordy, Lord, he's desperate! Do what he say! Do what he say!|
Harriet van Johnson: Isn't anybody going to help that poor man?
|Bart is basically playing one stereotype of African Americans (Black Brute), against another (Uncle Tom) in order to trick the townspeople. Previously, we also saw Bart playing the part of the trickster by trying to use the "one-drop rule" against Lyle.|
Howard Johnson: You know, Nietzsche says, "Out of chaos comes order.
Sheriff Bart (singing): "De Camptown ladies sing dis song, Doo-da doo-da." [Bart hangs two wanted posters up on the bulletin board.] "De Camptown racetrack five mile long. Oh, de doo-dah day."
Sheriff Bart: The drunk in number two must be awake. [cut to Bart walking towards the cell]
|Sheriff Bart: Let's play chess.|
Sheriff Bart: Checkmate.
|Two things are subtly established by this initial interaction. First, Jim recognizes that Bart is black, but it is otherwise inconsequential to his relationship towards him. Second, Jim likes screwing, but it is left ambiguous as to whether Jim likes screwing women or whether he is actually making a pass at Bart. Bart recognizes the ambiguity, but rather than forcing Jim to disambiguate or resorting to gay panic, Bart invites Jim to play chess. Thus, Jim's possible homosexuality is also left as inconsequential to their relationship.|
|Jim: Well, it got so that every pissant prairie punk… who thought he could shoot a gun… would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. De Mille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word "draw" in my sleep. Then one day… I was just walking down the street and I heard a voice behind me say, "Reach for it, mister!" I spun around. And there I was face to face… with a 6-year-old kid! I just threw my guns down and walked away. The little bastard shot me in the ass! So I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle… and I've been there ever since.|
Sheriff Bart: Have a drink.
|Cecil B. De Mille (1881–1959) directed 70 feature films. he filmed Westerns, and was best known for his epics. Notable with regard to Blazing Saddles, is his film Samson and Delilah, which had lots of killing and also starred Hedy Lamarr. He was not known to have killed anyone in real life.|
|Sheriff Bart: Well, back in '56… my folks and I were part of this long wagon train moving West. [Flashback to the wagon train] Well, not exactly part of it. [Pan to a lone wagon in the distance] You might say we were bringing up the rear, when suddenly,… from out of the West, came the entire Sioux Nation! And let me tell you, baby, they were open for business! Naturally, the white folks didn't let us travel in they circle… [The Sioux are shown attacking the wagon circle.] so we made our own. [A lone wagon is shown circling, then a three Sioux on horseback approach the lone wagon that is now still.]||"Bring up the rear" is a reference to Jim Crow laws, which included African Americans being required to ride in the back of public buses.|
Sioux chief [played by Mel Brooks in redface] (speaking first in Yiddish then in Yiddish-accented English to an African American couple and the young Bart on the wagon): Shvartzes? Tseyt iz meshugge. Lozn zey geyn! Cop a walk. It's all right.
|Sioux chief (first to the African Americans, then to his fellow-Sioux): Abi gezunt. Take off. They're darker than us!|
Sheriff Bart: And the rest is history. Impressed? [Jim is snoring.] Always like to keep my audience riveted!
|Abi gezunt (אַבי געזונט, usually transliterated as "Abi gesint") is Yiddish for "As long as you are healthy [you can be happy]."|
Never mind that shit, here comes Mongo!
A cowboy: How about some more beans, Mr. Taggart?
Jim: Oh, by the way, I got a note this morning.
|Sheriff Bart: Well, once I establish myself in this town… Deputy Spade might turnout to be a groovy position. Here. [handing Jim the joint]|
Jim: [inhales deeply on the joint, then initially speaks in falsetto] Listen, Bart, I want you to do me a favor. I don't want you going out there this morning. You can't win these people over, no matter what you do. They're just not gonna accept you.
Sheriff Bart: I'm glad those fingers ain't loaded!
Jim: What did you expect? "Welcome, sonny. Make yourself at home. Marry my daughter." You've got to remember these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… Morons! [Bart breaks into a laugh.]
|Whether the use of the term 'spade' by Bart here is derogatory or not is ambiguous, because there was some attempt to rehabilitate the term among African Americans during the 1960s-1970s.|
Mexican man: Mongo! Santa María! [flees in terror]
Street salesman [speaking to crowd]: I believe in it. And if any one of you… friends and neighbors, kind of gather around and… [noticing Mongo] Holy shit! [the crowd flees in panic]
Dr. Samuel Johnson: [riding his horse up to Mongo] Hey, you can't park that animal over there! It's illegal. [Mongo walks up and punches the horse, knocking down both the horse and the doctor.
Howard Johnson: Think of it, gentlemen. Hoof-and-mouth disease a thing of the past!
Sheriff Bart: I don't know what it is.
This is a pun on the Cuban musician's name, Mongo Santamaría (1917–2003).
Sheriff Bart (in an affected voice): Candygram for Mongo! [stares in disbelief at the scene then struts up nonchalantly to Mongo] Candygram for Mongo! Candygram for Mongo!
This scene with the candygram confirms Bart as portraying trickster archetype. Cleavon Little's performance is reminiscent of Bugs Bunny, and the Merrie Melodies music is the same as was used in Bugs Bunny cartoons. Furthermore, Bugs Bunny has been observed as also fitting the trickster archetype.
Seduced and abandoned
Lamarr: A little further down, to the right.
|Sheriff Bart: He was nothing. The bitch was inventing the candygram. They probably won't give me credit for it. [knocking sound, Bart opens the window]|
Elderly Woman: Good evening, sheriff. Sorry about the "Up yours, nigger." I hope this apple pie will in some small way say thank you for your… ingenuity and courage in defeating that horrible Mongo.
|"They probably won't give me credit for it." is a reference to patent theft or perhaps cultural appropriation.|
|Jim: See, in another 25 years you'll be able to shake their hands in broad daylight.|
Sheriff Bart: Well, I'm not going to hold my breath for it, bro.
|"In another 25 years" is a reference to the gradualist approach that was argued by some white Southerners prior to emancipation from slavery and prior to school desegregation.|
Japan, of no particular time period) but is actually a commentary on another (contemporary British society). The Mikado, like Blazing Saddles, has been criticized for political incorrectness in the modern era. Also like Blazing Saddles' redface, The Mikado engaged in yellowface but unlike Blazing Saddles was not transcendent and is part of the modern criticism against it.
|Lili von Shtupp [played by Madeline Kahn who affects a peculiar German accent (substituting 'w' for 'r') and performs an homage to Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992)]: [knocking sound] Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome. Come on in.|
Lili: Come on, Lamarr, let's get down to bwass tacks. What do you want me to do?
|"Willkommen" is a bawdy song from the 1966 musical Cabaret that begins with the line, "Willkommen! and bienvenue! Welcome!" Cabaret is set in late-Weimar era Germany, and includes the rise of the Nazis as part of the plot line.|
|Lili: [shows her leg] Is Bismarck a hewwing?|
Lamarr: Oh, Lili, you're magnificent! Kiss me! [Lili turns around quickly as Lamarr approaches, and Lamarr bumps his teeth on the back of her head]
Master of ceremonies: And now, folks, the gal you've all been waiting for… the Bavarian Bombshell herself! Let's hear it for Lili von Shtupp! [Lili enters the stage and begins singing.]
|pickled herring) and is not (Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898)) a 'hewwing'.|
Lili: "♫Here I stand, the goddess of desire… set men on fire. I have this power. "Morning, noon and night, it's drink and dancing… some quick romancing, and then a shower. Stage-door Johnnies constantly surround me… they always hound me with one request. Who can satisfy their lustful habit? I'm not a rabbit. I need some rest. I'm tired… sick and tired of love… I've had my fill of love… from below and above. Tired, tired of being admired… tired of love uninspired. Let's face it, I'm tired. I've been with thousands of men again and again. They promise the moon. They're always coming and going and going and coming… and always too soon. Right, girls? I'm tired. Tired of playing the game. Ain't it a crying shame? "I'm so tired. Goddamn it, I'm exhausted!♫ [ends singing and sits down at the stage edge] Hello, cowboy, what's your name?
Lili: "♫Tired of playing the game. Ain't it a crying shame… I'm so tired.♫"
Chorus: "♫She's tired. Sick and tired of love. Give her a break. She's had her fill of love. She's not a snake! From below and above. Can't you see she's sick? She's bushed. Tired of being admired. Let her alone. Tired of love uninspired. Don't you know she's pooped?♫"
Jim: What does it say?
|The lead singer in the dubbed-over chorus is Brooks, though he is uncredited for this. Notably, German Jews frequently served as German soldiers (including the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871) until the rise of Nazism.|
|Sheriff Bart [enters, bearing a single red rose]: Wie gehts, meine Schatzie?|
Lili: Faw out!
|German for: "How are you, my dear?"|
|Sheriff Bart: Bitte, baby.|
Lili: Why don't you loosen your bullets? [stepping behind a curtain] Ahh, I feel wefweshed! [She reappears in a different stage outfit] Isn't it bwight in here? There! [blows out the lights] Isn't that bettew? [near total darkness, then a knocking sound] Pardon me, I'll be back in a moment. [She walks to the door an opens it crack.]
|Bitte is German for "please".|
|Lili: Vill you care for another schnitzengruben? [She offers a large sausage from a pot to Bart.]|
Sheriff Bart: No, thank you. Fifteen is my limit on schnitzengruben.
|"Schnitzengruben" is apparently a made-up word.|
|Sheriff Bart: Baby, please, I am not from Havana. Excuse me, honey… besides, I'm late for work. I've got some heavy chores to do.|
Lili: Vill I see you later?
|"Havana" is perhaps a reference to cigars as phallus symbols.|
|Sheriff Bart: That all depends on how much Vitamin E I can get my hands on.|
Lili: No, no, you mustn't go! I need you! I never met nobody like you! I can't live without you! [restraining Bart]
Jim: Oh, deary, dear. Look what the cat dragged in.
|Vitamin E was discovered in 1922. It has been alleged to increase human sexual functioning. This is a fallacy, and not phallusy.|
Charlie: Damn. Damn. Damn! [sees Bart and Jim up close] Hey, ya doin'? Get down offa that horse! What's happening? You shifty nigger! They said you were hung!||"Shifty nigger" would be a nasty slur except that Charlie is overjoyed, so he is using it ironically. "Shifty" has been used as an ethnic stereotyping characteristic, particularly against Jews, but occasionally against African Americans.|
|Sheriff Bart: And they were right!||Bart makes a joke out of Charlie's ungrammatical use of 'hung' instead of 'hanged' vs. the Black brute stereotype of African American men having large penises.|
|Charlie: Look at that star! [touches sheriff's badge] Civil service!|
Sheriff Bart: [Charlie hugging Bart] Wait. Back off, scamp. You are addressing the duly appointed sheriff of Rock Ridge.
|Rather than saying, "Hey, you're a sheriff!", Charlie refers to the fact that civil service represented an important way for many African Americans to escape poverty, particularly in the South.|
Sheriff Bart: Watch that 'boy' shit, redneck! You're talking to the sheriff of Rock Ridge.
|This represents a turning point for Bart, insofar as he calls out Taggart for his racism and also ceases using derogatory racist terminology, 'boy' in this case and 'nigger' previously (1) in order to deceive his oppressors.|
|Lyle: Don't pay no attention to that alky. He can't even hold a gun, much less shoot it. [Jim licks his fingers as if he's about to draw his gun.] Like I said. On the count of three. [The cowboys draw their pistols.] One… two… three! [Each of the cowboys in succession is shot in the hand and drops their gun.]|
Sheriff Bart: Well, just don't sit there looking stupid, grasping your hands in pain. How about a little applause for the Waco Kid? [The cowboys painfully clap their hands together.]
|This scene is an indication that Jim, as "The Waco Kid" is a sort of 'Magical Caucasian', mocking the 'Magical Negro' trope that has been common in Hollywood films: Jim has a disability (alcoholism) yet is able to to outgun several men with pistols at once. Unlike the typical 'Magical Negro' character, Jim does have a past. But |
Lamarr: All right, I'm through being Mr. Goodbar! The time has come to act and act quickly! All my plans have backfired! Instead of the people leaving, they're staying in droves!
Lamarr: Take this down. [Taggart begins furiously looking for some paper.] I've decided to launch an attack that will reduce Rock Ridge to ashes! What do you want me to do, sir? I want you to round up every vicious criminal and gunslinger in the West. Take this down. I want rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters… desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, half-wits, dimwits… vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits… muggers, buggerers, bushwackers, hornswagglers… horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass kickers… shit kickers and Methodists!
|Olson Johnson: Read this. [unfold a poster that says, "Help Wanted: Heartless Villains for Destruction of Rock Ridge, $100 Per Day, Criminal Record Required — Apply: Hedley Lamarr. An Equal Opportunity Employer"]|
Sheriff Bart: Can't you see that's the last act of a desperate man?
|Civil Rights Act that was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson.|
|Sheriff Bart: You'd do it for Randolph Scott.|
Townspeople: [men take off their hats] Randolph Scott!
Jim (affecting a Southern accent): Hey, boys! [The Klansmen turn around to look.] Look what I've got there! [Jim pulls Bart from behind the boulder by the back of his collar.]
Sheriff Bart: Man, that was pretty! I liked that.
Lamarr (speaking to a Mexican bandit): Be ready to attack Rock Ridge at noon tomorrow.
|Randolph Scott was the star of many Hollywood Western films in the 20th century.|
|Mexican bandit: Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges! [throws the badge down] Come on.|
Lamarr: Next! Qualifications?
|The Treasure of the Sierra Madre|
|Jim [noticing that the Bart's hands are not the right color for a Klansman]: Why, Rhett, how many times have I told you… to wash up after weekly cross-burning? [Jim turns Bart's hands palm-side up as he rubs Bart's hands.] See, it's coming off. [Taggart removes Bart's hood.]||"Rhett" is a likely reference to the character Rhett Butler in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind, which included Lost Cause of the South pseudohistory.|
|Sheriff Bart: And now, for my next impression, Jesse Owens! [Bart and Jim take off running.]|
Lamarr: Seize them! Catch them!
Jim: Watch it.
Sheriff Bart: All right, folks, I know you're a bit confused wondering what you're doing… out in the middle of the prairie in the middle of the night.
|Jesse Owens (1913–1980) was a famed African-American runner who won a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.|
|Sheriff Bart: I'm hip. Now, before the sun comes up… we're going to build on this sight an exact replica of the town of Rock Ridge. Every building, every storefront, every rock and every tree… right down to the orange roof on Howard Johnson's outhouse.|
Van Johnson: I get it! Tomorrow when Hedley Lamarr and his men come riding in… to destroy the real Rock Ridge… they'll actually be destroying the fake Rock Ridge! But they'll think it's the real Rock Ridge! But we'll know it's the fake Rock Ridge!
|Olson Johnson: We'll give some land to the niggers and the chinks… but we don't want the Irish!|
Sheriff Bart: No deal.
|While racism against the Irish was probably common in 19th-century United States, it's doubtful whether it was worse than what African Americans or Chinese Americans suffered. Also noteworthy is that the mother of David Huddleston, the actor saying these lines, was of Irish descent.|
|Olson Johnson: Ah, prairie shit! Everybody! [The townspeople and railroad workers happily shake hands in agreement.]|
Rev. Johnson: Oh, Lord… do we have the strength to carry on this mighty task in one night? Or are we just jerking off?
Sheriff Bart: Okay, okay, we have done it. Now, let's see what we have done.
Lamarr: Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade… to stamp out runaway decency in the West. Now you will only be risking your lives… whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination… for Best Supporting Actor. Now raise your right hand for the pledge. [They all raise their left hands.] Right! [They switch hands.] And repeat after me. I… your name
Sheriff Bart: Hold the happiness. We are in trouble. Yep! We forgot one little detail.
Taggart: Le Petomane Thruway! Now what will that asshole think of next? Has anybody got a dime? [various men say they don't have a dime] Somebody's got to go back and get a shit-load of dimes.
Sheriff Bart: Well, they're through the tollbooth.
Taggart (kicking over a facade): It's a fake! We've been suckered in! [Jim shoots and the explosions begin.]
Sheriff Bart: Okay, folks, let's wipe them out! [They run down the hill to the fake town, and hand-to-hand fighting ensues.]
|This is the turning point of the film, when people realize that they can set aside their differences and their bigotry to work against a common enemy.|
Lili and six German soldiers: ♫Ja, ja,… ja, ja♫ [She leads the soldiers in singing.]
The French Mistake
[Background music: ♫Throw out your hands, stick out your tush. Hands on your hips, give them a push. You'll be surprised, you're doing the French Mistake. Voilá!♫ One of the dancers stumbles down the stairs that they are dancing on.]
|Buddy Bizarre: Cut! What in the hell do you think you're doing here? This is a closed set!|
Taggart: [runs up to Buddy] Piss on you! I'm working for Mel Brooks. [gets ready to punch Buddy]
|"Closed set" can be read as a pun as being in the "closet".:217|
Dancer 1: They've hit Buddy! Come on, girls! [The dancers joins the fight as water fountains start shooting into the air on both sides of the staircase.]
Dancer 2: You vulgar shit! [hits cowboy on the head with his dancing cane]
|[Cut to two dancers in a small pool, affectionately doing synchronized swimming]||This shot emphasizes the reference to Busby Berkeley's 1933 film, Footlight Parade.:219|
Man in Robe: How many days do you have left, Joey?
Studio tour guide: This is our Studio commissary where some Hollywood stars… come to eat. [Exiting the commissary, the tourists come out with food on their clothing.] And now we'll go to the Special Effects Department.
This is the last of references to German militarism in the film. It is referencing the Hollywood dramatization of Nazi Germany, but also mocking Hitler by portraying the actor in costume but not in the role and by trivializing Hitler's suicide ("They lose me right after the bunker scene.").
Lamarr (to taxi driver): Drive me off this picture.
Immediately after being pied, Lamarr has white glop on his face in an irregular pattern. When we next see him he is running onto the street, and the white glop is more symmetric, suggesting a whiteface mockery of the chief villain as he displays his cowardice, thus inverting the history whites stereotyping African Americans with blackface.
|Lamarr: [He pushes two young men out of line to cut in front.] You dropped your beads. (then speaks to the cashier) One, please. Uh, student.|
Cashier: Are you kidding?
Lamarr: [walks up to concession counter] Raisinets. [enters theater and nearly sits on someone] Sorry.
Lamarr: [spits out a Raisinet] Shit. [rushes out of the theater]
Lamarr (dying, on top of Douglas Fairbanks') footprints on the sidewalk): How did he do such fantastic stunts with such little feet?
Howard Johnson: Sheriff, you can't go now. We need you.
|"You dropped your beads." is an insult that insinuates that the man in line is a hippie.|
Jim: Where are you headed, cowboy?
- Screenplay versions: neither of these are based on the final cut
- Blazing Saddles by Manuel Cuadra and James Ellis, Afterlives of Slavery
- Annotated Bibliography: Blazing Saddles by Manuel Cuadra (February 26, 2018)
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- Mel Brooks' warbonnet's headband says "פשר לכסח", a Hebrew nonsense phrase that when two letters are transposed (known as a Spoonerism) says "כשר לפסח", or "Kosher for Passover". An alternate version of the poster contains the tagline "Never give a saga an even break!", a pun on the 1941 W. C. Fields movie, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.
- Though it was hardly the first foreshadowing, there were the films Lonesome Cowboys and Midnight Cowboy, which preceded Blazing Saddles.
- It should go without saying that this is not the same thing as the friend argument.
- Though as of 2019, USF only offers an online "Film & New Media Studies Graduate Certificate"
- I'm probably a bit late to the party with this (say, 40+ years!) but for the first time in my life, I noticed it seems to say "Kasher l'Pesach" (Kosher for Passover) in the Indian headdress on the Blazing Saddles movie poster! @MelBrooks by Israellycool (5:25 AM · Mar 23, 2018) Twitter (archived from October 3, 2019).
- "Mel Brooks: Blazing Saddles would never be made today". BBC. 2017.
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- Why we need 'Blazing Saddles' now more than ever by Marta Rusek (May 23, 2016) WHYY.
- The Mel Brooks Collection (2006) Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. UPC 024543167495. From the audio commentary of Blazing Saddles, starting at 53:26.
- Blazing Saddles by Michael Schlesinger, Library of Congress.
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- Why I had a hard time watching 1974's Blazing Saddles with my 2016 eyes: Classic comedy's gay stereotypes and racial slurs hard to take by Greg Hernandez (5 September 2016; 7:56 BST) Gay Star News (archived from July 30, 2019).
- Intersecting Film, Music, and Queerness by Jack Curtis Dubowsky (2016) Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1349687138. Chapter 7: Blazing Saddles: Music and Meaning in 'The French Mistake'.
- Mein camp: His brand of comedy is scatological and politically incorrect but Mel Brooks is on a roll. As his hit revival of The Producers comes to London, he talks to Emma Brockes about reality TV, Ali G and why Hitler is funny by Emma Brockes (27 Sep 2004 06.35 EDT) The Guardian.
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