Sunday, February 5, 2017

What Blazing Saddles taught me about life, racism, liberty, justice, and all that other stuff

On a scale of one to ten, I’d give Blazing Saddles an eleven. Mel Brooks is the funniest son-of-a-bitch I've never met.

Who can forget Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) delivering a "Candygram for Mongo?" Or, Madeline Khan! Name one woman sexier than Madeline Khan when she sang "I'm so tired."

It can't be done.

Underlying the whole show you can feel the tug of racism—“Niggers,” “Jews,” “Irish,” “Chinks.” Brooks didn’t miss a single group. The movie’s a comedy, but it’s all about racism, politics, and people coming together to change their own little world.

At the beginning of the movie, the railroad foreman encouraged the work crew to sing a good negro song. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" or "Camp Town Lady." The boys didn’t know any of those songs. Instead, they sang "I get no kick from Champagne.”

The foreman tried to get them started by singing a few bars. In no time, his men were singing and dancing around trying to show the blacks, Chinese, and Irish what they wanted. Just as they were getting into it, Slim Pickens, the head honcho rode in and screamed: "about them jumping around and looking like a gang of Kansas City faggots.”

Seconds later, we learn what black lives were really worth in the old west.

Slim Pickens told his foreman he was pretty sure there was quick-sand up ahead. The foreman told him it would take a minute to investigate. He had to hitch a horse to a cart. Picken’s thought the guy was a nutcase. He couldn’t afford to lose a good horse. He ordered the foreman to send a “couple of niggers.”

I don’t have to tell you what happened next.

The entire show is an example of how personality overcomes racism. 

When Bart first became sheriff, the whole town was against him. As he stuck it out and worked his magic against Mongo and other bad guys, portions of the townspeople came around—slowly, but they came around. 

No groups were exempt.

In the Attorney General's office, Slim Pickens suggested: "They kill the first-born male child of every household." Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman) thought about it, but decided it was "too Jewish."

Before his stay, the executioner comforted Bart, and told him "not to worry; everyone is equal in my eyes."

When he first accepted his assignment as sheriff, Bart rode into town all dandied up, flashing those white teeth, Gucci saddlebags flapping from the sides of his horse. He was all smiles. 

The town welcoming committee gathered on a platform awaiting his arrival.

As Bart rode into town, everyone got deathly quiet.

When they discovered he was black, all Howard Johnson could say was welcome to "our new Nigger."

Before Bart made his rounds, the Waco Kid warned him that it wasn't a good idea. "They're not going to accept you. No matter what you do." 

Bart didn't believe him. He walked down the street, tipped his hat to an old lady. She told him, "up yours nigger!"

Bart was heartbroken.

For the longest time, he didn't leave the jail. Not until Mongo arrived, then the townspeople had a change of heart and implored Bart to come to the rescue.

Mongo (Alex Karras) is more of a monster than a person. A horse got in his way, and he punched it and knocked it out cold. But the best scene happened when Sheriff Bart delivered his "Candy Gram for Mongo," and walked off to the Looney Tunes Music.

Taking down Mongo brought some of the citizens over to Bart's side. 

The old lady who told him “up yours Nigger” just days before brought a pie to the jail. Then, she thought the better of it, and told Bart, "of course you will have the good taste not to mention that I spoke to you."

It was a turning point.

Next up, came the Bavarian Bombshell (Madeline Khan). Thirty years later, Mel Brooks talked with Vanity Fair about auditioning Madeline Khan. It was one of those magic moments. He told them he didn't know if "she could sing" or if she "could pull off a German accent." After a short audition, it was obvious that wasn't a problem. She could sing well. The question was, could she sing awfully and squawk out that terrible tune while pulling off that sexy, dark look?

Ooh! Those black leggings. That sultry look ala Marlene Dietrich.

Madeline Khan made the movie.

So, did Harvey Korman.

When Hedley Lamar summoned all the western bad men, the underlying theme was racially inspired. He wanted "bulldykes, shit kickers, and Methodists." Not to mention, Mexican banditos, the Ku-Klux-Klan, Nazis, and a half-dozen other racially degenerate groups.

As it turns out, there was only one way to stop them.

Necessity makes strange bedfellows.

The railroad work gang came to the aid of the citizens of Rock Ridge. That created some tense moments at first. The citizens decided on a compromise, they would “give some land to the Niggers and the Chinks, but [they didn't] want the Irish." After giving it a little more thought, they gave in and included the Irish.

With that settled, they got together to build a perfect copy of the city of Rock Ridge.

The show ended with a big fight scene. It spilled over into the movie studio. And, Sheriff Bart saved the day, firing a blast from his .45 into Hedley Lamarr’s balls.

Everything was good.

The citizens of Rock Ridge saved their town. The Blacks, Chinks, and Irish lived side by side with the “good whites.”

But, as for Sheriff Bart, things were a little too calm and unexciting after that. He rode off into the sunset accompanied by the Waco Kid—despite the pleas of the townspeople that he should stay.

So, what did we learn?

Mel Brooks is a genius. That’s obvious. That you can learn from comedy—I think Family Guy, the Simpson’s, and American Dad prove that. They tackle some of the toughest topics out there. Sometimes they go too far. But overall we laugh. We cry. And, over time, things begin to sink in - ever so slowly.

If the people of Rock Ridge can change, why can’t the rest of us?

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