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No. 34: “Blazing Saddles” (1974)

“Gentlemen, please, rest your sphincters.” ~~Hedley Lamarr

I do believe, in all the wide, wide world of sports, that I have No. 6’d my way into a corner here.

Lookit: “Blazing Saddles,” as mentioned in the 10 movie facts post, played an incremental role — however demented — in my development from sullen teen to maturity-resistant adult. I have seen it upwards of 100 times. My parents and I have all but created our own language based around quotes from the film. It isn’t close to my heart; it’s in my heart. And it is much easier to review films when there is no emotional attachment involved. How do you turn fresh eyes on a film like that? I’m not sure. I can be a provincial putz that way.

So for “Blazing Saddles” we’re going to change the way we do business here at M. Carter @ the Movies. I’m going to do something a little bit different, something that suits the episodic nature of the film and something that speaks to the deep appreciation I have for comedy that not only stands the test of time but bests it. (Those unfamiliar with the film, scroll to the end for a brief plot summary.) Seeing as “Blazing Saddles” is a collection of golden comedy nuggets, allow me to lead an exploration of the 34 scenes/quotes/gags that qualify Mel Brooks’ film as one of the funniest ever made, and a staggering work of mad genius.

Excuse me while I whip this out:

34. “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

33. The saddles are designed by Gucci. 

32. Hedley Lamarr’s (Harvey Korman) loss of Froggy in the tub, and Taggart’s (Slim Pickens) accidental game of find-Mr.-Winkie.

31. Hedley’s list of the baddies he needs to take over Rock Ridge (it includes Methodists).

30. Idiot Gov. William J. Le Petomane (Brooks) can’t get a simple harumph outta that guy.

29. “Well, it all depends on how much Vitamin E I can get my hands on.”

28. Lili Von Schtupp’s (Madeline Kahn) idea of what constitutes slipping into “something a little more comfortable.”

27. Guy dressed as Hitler: “They lose me right after the bunker scene.”

26. The French Mistake.

25. Dom DeLuise demonstrating the French Mistake.

24. Gov. Le Petomane can’t fit his pen in the inkwell (“think of your secretary”).

23. The revelation that stampeding cattle through the Vatican is villainous … and kinky.

22. “I will read from Matthew, Mark, Luke and DUCK.”

21. Mongo (Alex Karras) is not gay.

20. Lili’s entire performance at the saloon, but particularly the line “they start with Byron and Shelley / then jump on your belly / and bust your balloon.”

19. “Teutonic Titwillow” would be a killer name for a band.

18. But “Teutonic twat” would be even better.

17. Rev. Johnson’s heartfelt prayer to God using the phrase “dicking around.”

16. “Land: see Snatch.”

15. Murdered sheriffs and burned crops are acceptable, but did the cattle deserve that kind of treatment?

14. Harriet Johnson’s (Carol Arthur) voice can put the fear of the Lord Almighty in ya.

13. “We’ve gotta protect our phony-baloney jobs, gentlemen!”

12. That a quote from Nietzsche is followed by “blow it out your ass.”

11. Wed woses are so womantic.

10. Chewing gum on line is a capital offense.

9. “Goddarnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a 20-dollar whore.”

8. Sheriff Bart’s (Cleavon Little) bait to lure two KKK thugs behind a rock.

7. The story of how The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) became a drunk (“little bastard shot me in the ass”).

6. The campfire bean chowdown/fart-a-thon.

5. Everything Gabby Johnson (Jack Starrett) mumbles.

4. None of Hedley’s henchmen see the idiocy of having a tollbooth in the middle of the desert (“somebody’s gotta go back and get a shitload of dimes”).

3. The way the whole film reveals the racism inherent in Westerns (Brooks would hate that kind of lit-theory babble, though).

2. Sheriff Bart’s “introduction” to the Town of Rock Ridge: the hold-up.

1. Taggart detailing the intricacies of what it means to “work up a no. 6” on anyone. (If anyone invites you to a No. 6 dance, turn him down.)

*Synopsis: Corrupt politician Hedley Lamarr, in an effort to wrest land from the Town of Rock Ridge, convinces the governor to appoint a black sheriff, Bart, to the all-white town, and infuriate the residents. Bart finds an ally in the washed-up, drunk Waco Kid, and they fend off Hedley and his sidekick, Taggart’s, increasing efforts to snatch their town from under them.

No. 2: “Young Frankenstein” (1974)

“For what we are about to see next, we must enter quietly into the realm of genius.”  ~~Frederick Frankenstein*

Mel Brooks is a tricky, tricky director. People rarely notice this in his films (they are too busy trying to regain bladder control lost to uncontrollable laughter), but it’s true. He hits you hard with the pratfalls and lines like “Werewolf? There wolf,” and while you’re revelling in the exquisite craziness of it all, he sneaks in things like parody and, on occasion, when the planets and the stars all align, a smidgen of (dare I say it?) satire.

Then again, parsing for subtext in a Mel Brooks creation is madness in itself. He’d have my head. Or worse, he’d (eek) crown me the first female mayor of Rock Ridge for overthinking the likes of “Young Frankenstein,” a ripsnorter of a comedy that sends up Hollywood monster movies with dazzling wit and characters like Frau Blücher, whose very name inspires terror in the hearts of horses everywhere. Because, really, aren’t those things reason enough to enjoy “Young Frankenstein,” arguably Mel Brooks’ zaniest, funniest and most beloved creation?

The answer: Yes, yes, for the love of Igor’s dear ole’ dead dad yes. There are surface-level pleasures aplenty to delight the ears, eyes and the funny bone. Ponder the setup: Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a neurosurgeon who’s spent years trying to live down his grandfather’s infamous experiments, discovers he’s inherited the old, discredited embarassment’s castle. Even worse, this inheritance comes with a collection of oddballs so nutty only a kook like Mel Brooks could dream them up: Igor (a brilliantly comic Marty Feldman), the grandson of the elder Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant who has a perpetually shifting hump; the housekeeper, Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman), whose interest in the departed doctor may have been more than professional; and Inga (Teri Garr), a blonde bombshell/lab assistant who loves rolls in the hay (literally, not figuratively). Inherited, too, are the fiery resentments of the neighboring townsfolk, who appoint Herr Falkstein (Kenneth Mars) to snoop about the castle and discover whether or not Frederick possesses the same off-the-grid mad scientist instincts his grandfather did. When Frederick’s high-maintenance wife-to-be Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) turns up unexpectedly, afraid he’s two-timing her and then certain he is when she glimpses Inga’s, uh, knockers, things get … hairy.

It’s nearly impossible to pin down what’s so great about “Young Frankenstein” because everything is great. Sounds crazy, right? Maybe so, but the movie just flat-out works. As an ensemble cast film, “Young Frankenstein” is flawless. Everyone’s in rare, fine form here, from the cameos (it takes several looks to deduce the actor playing Blindman) up to Gene Wilder, whose balance of screaming hissy fits and professional arrogance are wonderfully entertaining. Comic timing all-around is a thing of beauty, particularly as used by the late Kahn (the train station “taffeta, darling” sequence is genuis). Special praise must go to the late Feldman for going all-noble as Igor, a sly mischief maker who delights more in mocking his new employer than catering to his whims. “It’s pronounced ‘Eye-gor,'” he smugly informs Frederick, picking at the sore that is the young doctor’s last name. Such wit that Feldman had; it lights up the whole screen.

“Young Frankenstein” works on other levels as well. It’s a terrific parody of Hollywood’s monster films, poking fun at all the cliches — the creepy drafty castle! the dramatic-yet-ominous score! the shadowy secret passageway! — and the stock characters — the evil scientist, the mysterious housekeeper, the mindless monster — and taking no prisoners in the process. Yet “Young Frankenstein” also is something of a love letter to these movies, filmed in black and white with great care and attention to detail. The characters are crazy — would you expect anything less from Brooks? — but somehow still empathetic and lovingly etched. The monster (Peter Boyle) proves no better or worse than the scientist. So, sure, we laugh at these characters, but we love them, too. They make “Young Frankenstein” not just a great, timeless comedy, but a great movie period.

*It’s pronounced “Fronkensteen.”

(A special thanks to my parents, who had the good sense to introduce me to the wild, wild world of Mel Brooks at an impressionable age. Excuse me, folks. I just had to whip that out.)