Mel Brooks made the Sherrif of Rock Ridge a Black Man, and how the mainstream viewed black-white buddy comedies changed forever.
Blazing Saddles is considered one of the funniest movies ever made.
Written and directed by the legendary comic mind of Mel Brooks and starring Cleavon Little, who accepted the role of Sheriff Bart only after comedian Richard Pryor dropped out, the film is an all out lampooning of everything that the mainstream has taught us about the Old West and hangs it out to dry in the desert wind with plenty of ignorant-ass laughs to spare.
On February 7th, Blazing Saddles turned 45 years old. The film starts out with a nefarious attorney who’s looking to get the local townsfolk to abandon their homes so he can buy the property for pennies on the dollar. He sends his group of thugs to scare them away, ransack the town and, of course, shoot the sheriff.
The town’s residents then persuade the governor, played by Mel Brooks, to name a new sheriff immediately. The governor, sensing a way to get over, hires a black railroad worker who was about to be executed for the crime of assaulting a white foreman. He reasons to himself the the black sheriff would offend the townspeople, which would eventually lead to a mass exodus.
The classic ‘The sheriff is a (train whistle)’ gag established that the only time it’s ever funny for a white person to say the “n-word” is when they’re not actually saying the word at all.
Sheriff Bart, who teams with the Waco Kid, played by Gene Wilder, eventually wins the hearts of the townspeople, and introduces them to the group of black, Chinese and Irish rail workers that he’ll employ to build a replica of Rock Ridge to fool the bad guys.
Blazing Saddles was great at laughing at racism, rather than laughing at the victims of racism, something that escapes even modern writers and directors.
Mel Brooks was a master of site gags and slapstick like no-one before or since. Additionally, he was one of the first directors employ black faces in many of the films that he produced and directed. That says a whole bunch considering all of the projects that he directed were shot before 1995.
Dave Chapelle and Isaac Hayes in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Gregory Hines in History of the World Part 1, and Cleavon Little’s pivotal role in Blazing Saddles tells me that Brooks didn’t care much about the color of the actors he cast. The only thing he was concerned with was whether they were funny or not.
So, shout out to Mel Brooks and the entire cast of Blazing Saddles as we celebrate its 45th anniversary.