He rode a blazing saddle
He wore a shining star
His job to offer battle to bad men near and far
The king of parodies, Mel Brooks, took on the wild west in his 1974 classic, Blazing Saddles. Featuring an all-star cast, this tale of a black sheriff in an all-white town pulled no comedic punches (not even in regard to a horse), delivering what is considered to be one of the funniest movies of all time.
As memorable as the film has become, the story of its production is just as interesting. Mel Brooks, director of such classics as Young Frankenstein, History of the World: Part I, and Spaceballs, wrote this masterpiece with the help of Richard Pryor who was intended to play the irascible black sheriff, Bart. But with Pryor’s controversial comedy and purported drug use burdening the financing process, little-known Cleavon Little was cast instead.
The shenanigans didn’t end there. Gig Young signed on to play Bart’s quick-drawing, sharp-shooting sidekick The Waco Kid. But when Young showed up for his first scene in which he wakes up drunk in jail, he actually was drunk, forcing Brooks to shut down production and fly in Gene Wilder to take his place the following day. Brooks purportedly offered a role to none other than the legendary John Wayne himself, who considered it but in the end turned it down because he didn’t feel it fit his image (he did, however, remark to Brooks “I can’t be in it, but I’ll be the first in line to see it”). Still, with the likes of Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeleine Kahn, and even a cameo from Count Basie, the Duke was barely missed.
In keeping with the Western tradition, Blazing Saddles begins with land troubles, specifically the need to divert the railroad in order to avoid a pit of quicksand. A troublesome railroad worker named Bart assaults the foreman Taggart (Pickens) and is sent to the hangman’s noose. But his folly turns to fortune as the Attorney General Hedy (that’s Hedley!) Lamarr (Korman) devises a surefire plan to get the land he needs. All that stands in his way are the town and citizens of Rock Ridge. When the murder of their sheriff doesn’t drive them off, Lamarr appoints Bart as the new replacement. After getting the approval of the over-sexed governor William J. Le Petomane (Brooks), Lamarr sends Bart off to certain death.
True to his scheme, the racist citizens reject the black sheriff with the lone exception of the legendary gunfighter turned town drunk, The Waco Kid. In order to stir things up a bit, Lamarr has Taggart send in the brutish dimwit Mongo (Alex Karras) to do a little destruction. But after Bart thwarts him again and again, Mongo comes around to his side and so, too, do the citizens. Lamarr next tries to have him seduced by the lovely German cabaret girl Lili Von Shtupp (Kahn) who also ends up falling for the smooth sheriff. In a final act of desperation, Lamarr rounds up every outlaw he can find for one last showdown with the black sheriff, who now must find a way to bring the racist citizens and the railroad workers together to save the day.
While Blazing Saddles is easily Brooks’s raciest film, most fans also consider it his best. The longevity of its dialogue extends to the modern vocabulary. Brooks’s collaboration with Wilder on this film would lead to the filming of his next project, Young Frankenstein. And on the heels of his successful first film The Producers, Blazing Saddles cemented Brooks in film history as a comic genius.
If you have fond memories of this farcical 70s film, we hope you’ll share all of your Blazing Saddles recollections with us in our comments section, as we tip our cowboy hats to Mel Brooks for one unforgettable western.