I’m certain as soon as I post this that I’ll get comments like “They could never make that movie today,” in a very smug way, but the point is, they already made it, you can still find it and no one is trying to take it from you. I kind of love that for all the profanity, flatulence and racist words thrown around in this movie, execs were just as upset that a horse gets punched.
The idea for Blazing Saddles came from Tex-X, a script that Andrew Bergman (Big Trouble, Striptease) planned on writing himself, with Alan Arkin directing and James Earl Jones as the sheriff. Mel Brooks bought it and despire not working with other writers since Your Show of Shows created a writer’s room with himself, Bergman, Richard Pryor, Alan Unger and Norman Steinberg. They worked under a sign that said, “Please do not write a polite script.”
The plot starts just like any Western you’ve seen: a new railroad will be redirected through Rock Ridge, making the town finally worth something, so territorial attorney general Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) sends his men, led by Taggart (Slim Pickens) to force the residents out. He starts by shooting the sheriff and Governor William J. Le Petomane (Mel Brooks in one of many roles in this) is coerced by Lamarr to hire a sheriff named Bart (Cleavon Little) in the hopes that the town won’t have anything to do with a black man. Yet Bart was about to be killed for beating up Taggart, so maybe Lamarr is hastening his own defeat.
With help from the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), he soon wins over the town — future Higgins John Hillerman is one of them — and defeats the super strong Mongo (Alex Karras) and charms his would-be seducer Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn). Actually, he’s such a good person that he lets those two villains join him.
Of course everything works out well, but the idea that somehow the movie is on a lot next to Buddy Bizarre’s (Dom DeLuise) musical and the movies turn into a fistfight that ends when Lamarr runs into Mann’s Chinese Theater to see the end of his own movie. It’s an audacious close to a movie that’s equally willing to be incredibly smart and wonderfully stupid.
Casting was a big problem. Pryor was Brooks’ original Sheriff Bart, but the studio worried about his drug use and wouldn’t approve him as he was uninsurable. Brooks also wanted John Wayne for the Waco Kid, but the Western star turned down the movie for being too blue and his replacement, Gig Young, passed out from alcohol withdrawl.
A television pilot titled Black Bart was produced for CBS based on Bergman’s original story with Louis Gossett Jr. as Bart and Steve Landesberg as sidekick Reb Jordan. Bergman was listed as the sole creator and the show was made just to ensure that Warner Bros. had the movie rights to make sequels. It only aired one contractually obligated time on April 4, 1975.
As for the troublesome moments, Burton Gilliam. who played a henchman named Lyle, couldn’t say the word to Little, who pulled him aside and said, “If I thought you would say those words to me in any other situation we’d go to fist city, but this is all fun. Don’t worry about it.” And Brooks has said that he wrote the movie to fight back at “white corruption, racism and Bible-thumping bigotry.” The same people who argue that you couldn’t make this today are the same ones that saw Joe as the hero of that movie and were cheering on Archie Bunker.