Friday, May 9, 2014

Let's Ride the West Once Again


Believe it or not, this is the 40th anniversary of Blazing Saddles!  Mel Brooks considered it his best comedy and I was happy to see it has held up reasonably well over time, although many of the sight gags are obviously dated.  I hadn't realized Brooks had tackled the race issue in such bald-faced terms.  He notes in his article that Richard Pryor had been his first choice for Black Bart, but Warner Brothers wanted a more proven actor.  Pryor recommended Cleavon Little.

If you don't remember the story, Black Bart found himself sheriff of an all-white Western town through which a ruthless developer (Harvey Korman) wanted to drive a railroad.  He figured the idea of a black sheriff would send the town into such a disarray that it would be easy pickings by a gang led by Slim Pickens.  But, Sheriff Bart proved more than a match for the developer in this madcap adventure tale.

There really wasn't anything like it before or since.  Mel Brooks said a movie like this would be impossible to make today because of the unbridled racism and sexism on display, but Brooks felt that only by showing it so blatantly could you draw attention to it, and boy did he.  The film stirred a lot of controversy, which no doubt helped it at the box office, becoming only the tenth film in history to surpass the $100 million mark.

I found myself placing political figures in the roles.  Obama was the obvious choice as Black Bart and Joe Biden as the Waco Kid.  Dick Cheney would have suited the developer Hedley Lamarr just fine.  Maybe Sarah Palin as the sultry chanteuse Lili von Schtupp?  You can have a lot of fun recasting this film, especially in the wake of the Cliven Bundy fiasco.  Sadly, much of the racism that pervades this film still exists today.

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