Blazing Saddles (1974)

R | 94 mins | Comedy, Western | 1974

Director:

Mel Brooks

Producer:

Michael Hertzberg

Cinematographer:

Joseph Biroc

Production Designer:

Peter Wooley

Production Company:

Warner Bros., Inc.
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HISTORY

The working titles of the film were Tex X and Black Bart . Don Megowan is erroneously credited onscreen as portraying the “Gum chewer,” who was the cowboy killed for not providing enough chewing gum for everyone. That part was played by John Alderson, who was not credited onscreen; Megowan instead appeared as the man who confronts "Lili Von Shtupp" (Madeline Kahn) while she is performing onstage. During the fistfight sequence at the end, the camera pulls back, then pans over the Burbank Studios (which Warner Bros. shared with Columbia Pictures at the time) and Burbank, CA, the city in which the studio is located, before the sequence switches to the male dancers. There is one flashback in the film, in which "Bart" recalls his family’s westward journey in a segregated wagon train, during which they were spared during an Indian attack by a Yiddish-speaking chief. Writer-director Mel Brooks portrayed the chief, as well as another cameo role in the film, “Governor Lepetomane,” whose name refers to a 19th century French performer, Le Pétomane, a performer whose act centered on flatulence. The Rock Ridge replica built by characters in the story consisted not of actual buildings but a typical Western movie set, which had only one-walled building facades propped up in back.
       According to a 10 Jul 1972 Publishers Weekly article, Andrew Bergman wrote his original story about a black sheriff for the film, after completing a master’s thesis on the films of the Depression Era. Bergman's agent, Knox Burger, then sold his story, entitled Tex X , to Warner Bros. To avoid the possibility of confusion of the ... More Less

The working titles of the film were Tex X and Black Bart . Don Megowan is erroneously credited onscreen as portraying the “Gum chewer,” who was the cowboy killed for not providing enough chewing gum for everyone. That part was played by John Alderson, who was not credited onscreen; Megowan instead appeared as the man who confronts "Lili Von Shtupp" (Madeline Kahn) while she is performing onstage. During the fistfight sequence at the end, the camera pulls back, then pans over the Burbank Studios (which Warner Bros. shared with Columbia Pictures at the time) and Burbank, CA, the city in which the studio is located, before the sequence switches to the male dancers. There is one flashback in the film, in which "Bart" recalls his family’s westward journey in a segregated wagon train, during which they were spared during an Indian attack by a Yiddish-speaking chief. Writer-director Mel Brooks portrayed the chief, as well as another cameo role in the film, “Governor Lepetomane,” whose name refers to a 19th century French performer, Le Pétomane, a performer whose act centered on flatulence. The Rock Ridge replica built by characters in the story consisted not of actual buildings but a typical Western movie set, which had only one-walled building facades propped up in back.
       According to a 10 Jul 1972 Publishers Weekly article, Andrew Bergman wrote his original story about a black sheriff for the film, after completing a master’s thesis on the films of the Depression Era. Bergman's agent, Knox Burger, then sold his story, entitled Tex X , to Warner Bros. To avoid the possibility of confusion of the title with an MPAA X rating, the studio changed the title to Black Bart . This title was a humorous reference to an actual historical figure, the white highwayman nicknamed “Black Bart.” (For more information on the historical figure, see note entry for the 1948 production Black Bart ). The studio hired Brooks, who had co-written and directed the 1967 independently produced film The Producers (See Entry), and other comedy writers to work on the script. As mentioned in the Var review, nine months elapsed between the completion of principal photography [in May 1973] and the first trade screening [in Feb 1974]. Although the preview program and the HR review listed the duration as 125 minutes, all other sources listed the running time as 93 minutes.
       According to a 25 Apr 1973 DV news item, Gig Young filed a $100,000 damage suit alleging that he was to receive $75,000 plus $25,000 in deferred payment according to a Mar 1973 contract, but two days after signing and after being fitted for wardrobe and learning lines, he was told that the studio would not pay in accordance with the contract. No further information about this suit has been found, and Young did not appear in the film. Although modern sources report that Anne Bancroft made a brief appearance in Blazing Saddles , she was not discernable in the print viewed. Carol Arthur, who portrayed “Harriet Johnson,” was the wife of comedian Dom DeLuise, who appeared briefly as the director of the musical production number. Band leader Count Basie appears in a brief sequence set in the middle of a desert, where he is shown conducting an orchestral version of one of his signature tunes, “April in Paris,” as “Bart” (Cleavon Little) rides by on a horse saddled by the iconic Italian fashion designer, The House of Gucci.
       As noted in the LAT review, the ad line for Blazing Saddles was “Never Give a Saga an Even Break,” which was a paraphrase of comedian W. C. Fields famous quip, “Never give a sucker an even break.” Blazing Saddles spoofed old-time Westerns and was, as the NYT described it, “every Western you’ve ever seen turned upside down and inside out.” The film's title song was performed by Frankie Laine, who had many hit recordings, such as "Mule Train" and popular renditions of the title songs of several Western films, among them, 3:10 to Yuma , High Noon and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (see entries below). His booming voice became closely associated with Western songs, including the theme song for the television series, Rawhide , that ran from 1959--1966.
       Among the many satirical references to old Westerns was a church scene that was based on the 1952 release High Noon , and the paraphrased quote, “We don’t need no stinking badges,” from the 1948 picture, Treasure of the Sierra Madre . Other homages in the film refer to Technicolor musicals, affirmative action, The Wide World of Sports television show, Looney Tunes cartoons, old vaudeville stars, Esther Williams’ water ballets, Busby Berkeley dance routines, William Shakespeare’s Henry V , Howard Johnson’s “28 flavors of ice cream” (which in 1874, according to the film, offered only one flavor), lines from popular songs, and the names of several former and current film stars. The character “Olson Johnson” was a reference to the comedy team of Olson and Johnson, who starred in the 1941 film Hellzapoppin’ (See Entry) and the 1938 Broadway play on which it was based, and were major influences on Brooks’s style of comedy. The namesakes for the characters “Dr. Sam Johnson” and “Van Johnson” were an eighteenth century British author and a contemporary actor, respectively.
       As noted in the Var review, the film contains “an avalanche of one-liners, vaudeville routines, campy shticks, sight gags, satiric imitations and comic anachronisms.” Jokes and gags in the film are scatological, racist, irreverent, offensive and occasionally tasteless, but as Richard Schickel of Time noted, “it is easy to forget that a lot of the old comedians’ gags did not come off either” and that “the movie tends to improve in the retelling, as memory edits out ineptitudes.”
       The surname of character Lili Van Shtupp, which was listed on a poster in the film as “Von Shtüpp," is a Yiddish term for sexual intercourse. Several reviews praised Kahn’s performance as the saloon dance hall entertainer as an homage to Marlene Dietrich characters in the 1930 German film, Die Blaue Engel ( The Blue Angel ) and the 1939 Universal production Destry Rides Again (see below). Kahn’s song, “I’m Tired,” was a parody of songs sung by Dietrich, specifically “I’m the Laziest Gal in Town” by Cole Porter, which she sang in the Alfred Hitchcock 1950 production, Stage Fright (see below), and her signature song, “Falling in Love Again” from The Blue Angel .
       The character Hedley Lamarr played by Harvey Corman was an obvious reference to actress Hedy Lamarr, who had been retired from feature films since her appearance in the 1958 Universal Pictures production, The Female Animal (see below). According to a 18 Jun 1974 DV article, Lamarr filed a $10,000,000 suit for invasion of privacy against Brooks and Warner Bros. for exploiting her name without permission, but the outcome of the lawsuit has not been ascertained. Blazing Saddles was ranked sixth on the 1974 Box Office list, having grossed $16,500,000. The film received three Academy Award nominations: Kahn for Best Actress in a supporting role, John C. Howard and Danford Greene for Film Editing and "Blazing Saddles" by John Morris and Brooks for Best Song. The film also won an award for Comedy Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen from the Writers Guild of America.
       According to Dec 1978 DV and Var news item, Brooks attempted to have the film's MPAA rating raised to PG from R, which it was assigned due to its frank language, in time for the film's 1978 re-release. Although the appeals board had recently boosted other films assigned R due to language, the board's vote was split 9-9. Because a two-thirds majority was required to change a film's original rating, the R rating was sustained. Blazing Saddles has been added to the National Film Registry's Film Preservation List, and it ranked sixth on AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs list of the funniest films of all time. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
18 Feb 1974
p. 4664.
Daily Variety
25 Apr 1973.
---
Daily Variety
6 Dec 1973.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jun 1974.
---
Fashionweek
30 Mar 1974.
---
Films and Filming
Aug 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 1973
p. 31.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 1973
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 1974
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Apr 1974.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
6 Feb 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 Feb 1974
Section IV, p. 1, 15.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Feb 1974
p. 73.
New York
25 Feb 1974.
---
New York Times
8 Feb 1974
p. 21.
Newsweek
18 Feb 1974
p. 101, 104.
Publishers Weekly
10 Jul 1972.
---
Rolling Stone
28 Mar 1974.
---
Time
4 Mar 1974
pp. 62-63.
Variety
6 Dec 1973.
---
Variety
13 Feb 1974
p. 18.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Claude Ennis Starrett Jr.
Joseph Yrigoyen
Richard Farnsworth
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Mel Brooks Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Spec cost des
Ward
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Unit prod mgr
Dial coach
Scr supv
Unit pub
STAND INS
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
SOURCES
MUSIC
"April in Paris" by Vernon Duke.
SONGS
"I'm Tired," "The French Mistake" and "The Ballad of Rock Ridge," music and lyrics by Mel Brooks
"Blazing Saddles," music by John Morris, lyrics by Mel Brooks, sung by Frankie Lane
"De Camptown Races," music and lyrics by Stephen Foster
+
SONGS
"I'm Tired," "The French Mistake" and "The Ballad of Rock Ridge," music and lyrics by Mel Brooks
"Blazing Saddles," music by John Morris, lyrics by Mel Brooks, sung by Frankie Lane
"De Camptown Races," music and lyrics by Stephen Foster
"I Get a Kick Out of You," music and lyrics by Cole Porter
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," traditional.
+
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Black Bart
Tex X
Release Date:
1974
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles opening: 7 February 1974
Production Date:
6 March--early May 1973
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros., Inc.
Copyright Date:
7 February 1974
Copyright Number:
LP43744
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
94
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1874, Bart and other black and Chinese workers are laying railroad tracks under the cruel supervision of Taggart and his white henchmen. Taggart suspects that quicksand lies under the tracks, so he sends Bart and his friend Charlie ahead by handcart to check. When they sink, Taggart pulls out the handcart but leaves the men to die. In retaliation, after Bart and Charlie pull themselves out of the muck, Bart knocks Taggart in the head with a shovel. Later, Taggart meets Hedley Lamarr, a corrupt politician with a financial interest in the railroad. Taggart explains that the railroad must be diverted through the town of Rock Ridge to avoid the quicksand, but both realize they must first get rid of the rightful owners of the land. To accomplish this, Hedley sends thugs to torment the Rock Ridge citizens, all of whom are named Johnson. After the town sheriff is murdered, their stores looted, crops destroyed, people stampeded and cattle raped, the citizens meet in the church to discuss the problem. The preacher encourages them to flee to safety, but Gabby Johnson makes an impassioned speech that Olson Johnson praises as “authentic frontier gibberish.” Convinced by the speech to stay and fight, the citizens wire Governor Lepetomane to send a new sheriff. Although Lepetomane, who is distracted by lust for his secretary, is eager to protect his job by helping Rock Ridge, his cohort, Hedley, schemes to turn the situation to his advantage. In his search for a sheriff, Hedley, who is looking for someone so offensive that the citizens will abandon the town, suggests Bart, who was about to be hanged for hitting Taggart. Lepetomane doubts that ... +


In 1874, Bart and other black and Chinese workers are laying railroad tracks under the cruel supervision of Taggart and his white henchmen. Taggart suspects that quicksand lies under the tracks, so he sends Bart and his friend Charlie ahead by handcart to check. When they sink, Taggart pulls out the handcart but leaves the men to die. In retaliation, after Bart and Charlie pull themselves out of the muck, Bart knocks Taggart in the head with a shovel. Later, Taggart meets Hedley Lamarr, a corrupt politician with a financial interest in the railroad. Taggart explains that the railroad must be diverted through the town of Rock Ridge to avoid the quicksand, but both realize they must first get rid of the rightful owners of the land. To accomplish this, Hedley sends thugs to torment the Rock Ridge citizens, all of whom are named Johnson. After the town sheriff is murdered, their stores looted, crops destroyed, people stampeded and cattle raped, the citizens meet in the church to discuss the problem. The preacher encourages them to flee to safety, but Gabby Johnson makes an impassioned speech that Olson Johnson praises as “authentic frontier gibberish.” Convinced by the speech to stay and fight, the citizens wire Governor Lepetomane to send a new sheriff. Although Lepetomane, who is distracted by lust for his secretary, is eager to protect his job by helping Rock Ridge, his cohort, Hedley, schemes to turn the situation to his advantage. In his search for a sheriff, Hedley, who is looking for someone so offensive that the citizens will abandon the town, suggests Bart, who was about to be hanged for hitting Taggart. Lepetomane doubts that the black Bart is a suitable candidate, but Hedley convinces him that being the first governor to appoint a black sheriff is the act of a future President of the United States. Soon after, the duly appointed Bart arrives at Rock Ridge on a saddle designed by Gucci. Although the assembled townspeople were prepared to greet their new sheriff ceremoniously, they instead aim their guns at Bart when they realize he is not white. Thinking quickly, Bart points his gun at his own head and threatens to kill the “nigger” if they do not lay down their weapons. Lest he shoot himself, the sympathetic townspeople refrain from intervening, as Bart drags himself to the sheriff’s office at gunpoint. In a jail cell, Bart finds Jim, a drunk who is sleeping off a binge, and soon learns that he was formerly The Waco Kid, the fastest hand in the West, before declining into alcoholism. The next day, Bart attempts to befriend the citizens but returns to the office disheartened when an elderly woman shouts racial epithets at him. One night, while Taggart’s band of thugs are sitting around a campfire feeling the effects of eating beans, Taggart decides to send Mongo, an imbecilic, animal-like brute, to kill Bart. When the fearsome Mongo rides a steer into town, the citizens panic. Mongo is flattening saloon patrons with a piano, when Van Johnson runs to Bart for help. Heeding Jim’s warning that shooting Mongo will only make him mad, Bart proceeds to the bar dressed as a candygram delivery man and hands Mongo a box that explodes when he opens it. While he is stunned, Mongo is chained to a jail cell. Meanwhile, Hedley enlists Lili Von Shtupp, a famous dance hall singer, to seduce and abandon the sheriff. Lili invites Bart to her room after her performance at the Rock Ridge saloon, and proceeds to seduce him, but becomes enamored by his prowess. Later, when Bart returns later to the jail, Jim shows him that Hedley has sent a writ to release Mongo. However, the simple-minded giant chooses to stay with Bart, who was the first man to best him. When Mongo tells Bart and Jim that Hedley’s interest in Rock Ridge has to do with the “choo-choo,” they ride out to the railroad site. Taggart and his men threaten to kill Bart, but Jim intervenes by shooting all of their trigger fingers. Later, Hedley advertises for “heartless villains” to form an army to destroy Rock Ridge. After seeing Hedley’s poster, the townspeople want to flee, but Bart asks for twenty-four hours to devise a plan. The townspeople balk, but relent when he reminds them they would do it for actor Randolph Scott. Meanwhile, Nazis, motorcycle gangs, Arab cutthroats, Ku Klux Klansmen, Mexican banditos, and every kind of Western outlaw answer Hedley’s advertisement. To infiltrate the group, Bart and Jim disguise themselves in Klansmen’s robes, but Bart’s black hands give them away and they must run for their lives. That night, Bart directs the citizens and the railroad workers to build a replica of Rock Ridge three miles east of town that is so exact, the villains will destroy it instead of the real place. By dawn, they have built façades replicating all the buildings in Rock Ridge, but then realize they must also make duplicates of themselves. To provide time to make painted wooden cutouts of all the citizens, Bart, Jim and Mongo delay the outlaws’ arrival by building a tollbooth in the desert. When the army of outlaws reaches the tollgate, they are forced to return for dimes and then must pass through, one at a time. The outlaws eventually enter the false Rock Ridge and ruthlessly shoot it up, until Taggart kicks down a building façade and realizes that they have been duped. As a backup plan, Bart has laid dynamite in the false town. When it fails to detonate, Jim shoots the fuse, creating a spark. After the resulting explosion, the townspeople and workers engage the villains in hand-to-hand combat, while Lili distracts the Nazis with a German sing-along. As the fighting continues on the western street, a chorus of homosexual dancers rehearse a musical production number on a nearby movie studio soundstage. When the battle at Rock Ridge escalates and the combatants crash through the soundstage wall, the surprised male dancers join the fight and, in some cases, pair up with the cowboys. The fighting continues to spread to the studio commissary, where a pie fight commences, then onto the city street. Hedley, realizing his defeat, hails a taxi and takes refuge at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, where the film, Blazing Saddles , is showing. Watching the movie, Hedley sees that Bart and Jim have followed him on horseback. Although Hedley gets away, Bart outdraws him in a shootout, and he dies on the sidewalk next to swashbuckling actor Douglas Fairbanks’ footprints. Bart and Jim then go inside the theater to watch the rest of the movie, where, onscreen, the grateful Rock Ridge citizens are asking Bart to stay. Bart, however, feels his work is done and vows to go wherever outlaws rule the West and people cry out for justice. Although the townspeople tell him in coarse terms exactly what they think of his florid speech, they wish him luck. As he leaves, Bart encounters Jim, and together they ride into the desert to a waiting limousine. After wranglers take their horses, they enter the vehicle and drive off into the sunset. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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