The classic Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles was released 40 years ago today, well before most of us were born, so when you’re done reading this, you can call your dad and remind him just how old he really is. Today’s so-called spoof directors could clearly learn a thing or 10,000 from one of the genre’s forefathers, Mel Brooks, because there isn’t a hilarious joke idea in Aaron Seltzer’s or Jason Friedberg’s brains that could still make people cry from laughter 40 years from now the same way that “Excuse me while I whip this out” still makes me smile like an asshole.
Blazing Saddles is arguably Mel’s finest film, and I know that a lot of people will say that the honor should go to Young Frankenstein or History of the World Pt. 1, and the 80s kids like myself might even build a strong case for Spaceballs, but Blazing Saddles created the foundation for so many of Mel’s best jokes and running gags. That’s why this film is such an incredible classic, because it has spanned five decades, made so many countless people laugh, and even inspired today’s comedy writers to at least try to recapture the same comedy magic.
One of the long-running arguments about Blazing Saddles, though, is whether or not it could be made today. I say no. Hell, Mel Brooks said no. I don’t think it’s because we can’t handle the edgy humor or the excessive use of racial epithets, as much as I don’t think there are many people who can pull it off the way that Brooks and his cast did. The biggest problem with the modern spoof genre is that a couple of schmucks like SetzBerg could come up with the funniest joke in the world – the opposite of that terrible clown joke – and it still won’t be funny to most of us, because they’d have inexperienced, “I’m here for the paycheck and IMDB credit” actors half-assing it.
Brooks had the advantage of working with awesome actors who possessed the timing required to make great jokes even better than they came across on paper. It starred Cleavon Little, whose performance as Bart was as magnificent as it was flawless, and I’d love to see any 10 actors try to even come close to his charisma and comic timing today. And it helps that Blazing Saddles, a film that pulls no punches on satirizing every race and nationality, was written by several Jewish men and Richard Pryor. I’d love to see today’s writers try to execute some of Brooks’s and Pryor’s jokes. My guess is they’d fail and hide behind BS accusations that the audience and critics are too thin-skinned or PC, and we “just don’t get it.”
This is the Internet era, though, and if there’s one thing we all know, it’s that the Internet is a terrible place full of terrible people who don’t have senses of humor. They don’t understand parody and the use of racism as a tool to mock racists. There’s very little doubt in my mind that this film’s absolute absence of political correctness would cause the Internet to spontaneously combust with shock and self-righteousness. Hell, I’m shocked that brand new DVDs of this film don’t come with a numbered, limited edition, hand-written note from a YouTube commenter telling you that he’s going to kick your ass right after he bangs your mom.
Today, we celebrate the legacy of this film’s incredible humor and gigantic balls by remembering the jokes that couldn’t be made today, mainly because they don’t ever need to be made again. Fortunately, Mel Brooks got them all right the first time.
1) The Entire Opening Scene
Here’s how I know that this entire opening scene would be absolutely shredded, torched and buried in a 50-foot grave if someone tried to include it in a movie today – the second that Lyle refers to the Chinese worker by the terrible C-word, I looked at my dog like, “Can you believe he just said that?” And that’s just the first of several racist jokes that would have made people in 2014 implode. Hell, Taggart calling his men the awful F-word would have had people lobbying to make sure Slim Pickens never worked again.
2) “You spare the women?”
At first, the worst line of this scene seems to be when Taggart suggests that in order to run everybody out of Rock Ridge, “We’ll kill the first born male child in every household” and Hedley Lamarr says that his idea is “Too Jewish.” But then Taggart suggests running the “No. 6” as the plan, and the result of that would probably get people calling for my head just for writing it out.
3) “Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!”
Calling the Native Americans “little red devils”? Mocking sexual harassment in the workplace, and by a government official, too? Making fun of an already-litigious actress? Not taking a hard enough stance against the ineptitude of modern politicians as portrayed by the equally corrupt politicians of America’s formative years? This scene has everything that today’s Debbie Downers would love to pick to pieces.
4) “Pay heed to this good book and what it has to say!”
I honestly can’t and don’t even want to picture what would happen if someone shot a hole in the Bible in a movie today.
5) “You know… morons.”
What makes this movie so special, hilarious and all-around great is not only the acting by Little and Gene Wilder, but also the fact that it mocks every aspect of the bigotry of American history with such simplicity. Even the white guy knows how stupid the other white people are acting. But today, that’s known as white guilt.
As for the stars and their performances, and how well they were able to deliver this crude humor so well, I refuse to believe that Little’s laugh wasn’t authentic in this scene.
6) “In another 25 years, you’ll be able to shake their hands in broad daylight.”
It’s really not difficult at all to figure out which scenes had Richard Pryor’s stamp on them. Scenes like this also remind us that Little and Wilder were the original black and white buddy cop duo.
7) “That might help.”
Obviously, the heavier aspect of this look back at Blazing Saddles is that the film’s excessive use of racial epithets would render it impossible to make today. If I wanted to, I could have saved myself a ton of time and written one sentence like, “A lot of people today would freak the f*ck out if someone made a comedy that had a bunch of white people saying the N-word and other awful sh*t.” But then, I wouldn’t have been able to include the hilarious clips. Still, I almost feel like my main point is moot, because Django Unchained is basically a darker and bloodier version of Blazing Saddles. In a comedy like this, though, a joke based around racism needs to be executed perfectly or people will be PISSED.
Side note: Sometimes when I watch this movie and Young Frankenstein, I forget how great of an actor Wilder was. I was terrified of him as a child because of Willy Wonka, and I never wanted to watch any movies that he was in because I was afraid he was going to shout at me and not give me the Chocolate Factory. It wasn’t until I saw See No Evil, Hear No Evil that I realized how funny he was. At 80 years old, Wilder’s best years are behind him, but there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be celebrated by awards ceremonies annually.
8) “I want you to round up every vicious criminal and gunslinger in the West.”
As a horse thief and buggerer, I’m eternally offended by this Hedley Lamarr rant. I also imagine that some religious folks would be upset.
This scene actually proves my theory to an extent, as any TV airing of this movie is typically without it. Still, I can’t help but wonder why any network on this planet would show Blazing Saddles if they have to chop it to pieces because of the vulgarity and subject matter. It’s like when FX plays Pineapple Express or Tropic Thunder. What the hell is the point?
10) “But we don’t want the Irish!”
I love this scene because of the solidarity that all of the rail workers show with each other, but also because I love when Jeffrey Lebowski says, “Aw, prairie shit!” Makes me laugh every time. But then, so does just about everything else in this movie.
To 40 more years and 40 more beyond that.