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Movie Flashback: ‘Blazing Saddles’ Opens in Movie Theaters on This Day in 1974

Today in Movie History

Mel Brooks’ film “Blazing Saddles”, starring Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder, opened in movie theaters on this day in 1974. It was nominated for three Academy Awards and is ranked No. 6 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list.

The logline from Wipekedia: On the American frontier of 1874, a new railroad under construction will have to be rerouted through the town of Rock Ridge in order to avoid quicksand. Realizing this will make Rock Ridge worth millions, conniving territorial attorney general Hedley Lamarr wants to force Rock Ridge’s residents to abandon their town, and sends a gang of thugs, led by his flunky Taggart, to shoot the sheriff and trash the town. The townspeople demand that Governor William J. Le Petomane appoint a new sheriff to protect them. Lamarr persuades dim-witted Le Petomane to appoint Bart, a black railroad worker about to be executed for assaulting Taggart. A black sheriff, Lamarr reasons, will offend the townspeople, create chaos, and leave Rock Ridge at his mercy.

After an initial hostile reception (Bart has to take himself “hostage” to escape), he relies on his quick wits and the assistance of Jim, an alcoholic gunslinger known as the “Waco Kid”, to overcome the townspeople’s hostility. He subdues Mongo, an immensely strong, dim-witted, yet philosophical henchman sent to kill him, then beats German seductress-for-hire Lili Von Shtupp at her own game, with Lili falling in love with him. Upon release, Mongo vaguely informs Bart of Lamarr’s connection to the railroad, so Bart and Jim visit the railroad work site and discover from Charlie, Bart’s best friend, that the railway is planned to go through Rock Ridge. Taggart and his men arrive to kill Bart, but Jim outshoots the thugs, forcing them to retreat. Lamarr, furious that his schemes have backfired, recruits an army of thugs, including common criminals, motorcycle gangsters, Ku Klux Klansman , Nazis, and Methodist.

East of Rock Ridge, Bart introduces the white townspeople to the black, Chinese, and Irish railroad workers who have agreed to help in exchange for acceptance by the community, and explains his plan to defeat Lamarr’s army. They labor all night to build a perfect replica of their town as a diversion. When Bart realizes it will not fool the villains, the townsfolk construct replicas of themselves. Bart, Jim, and Mongo buy time by constructing the “Gov. William J. Le Petomane Thruway”, forcing the raiding party to send for change to pay the toll. Once through the tollbooth, the raiders attack the fake town populated with dummies, which are booby-trapped with dynamite. After Jim detonates the bombs with his sharpshooting, launching bad guys and horses skyward, the Rock Ridgers attack the villains.

The resulting brawl between townsfolk, railroad workers, and Lamarr’s thugs literally breaks the fourth wall, the fight spilling over onto a neighboring movie set, where director Buddy Bizarre is making a Busby Berkeley-style top-hat-and-tails musical number; into the studio commissary for a food fight; and out of the Warner Bros. film lot onto the streets of Burbank. Lamarr, realizing he has been beaten, hails a taxi and orders the cabbie to “drive me off this picture”. He ducks into Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which is playing the premiere of Blazing Saddles. As he settles into his seat, he sees onscreen Bart arriving on horseback outside the theatre. Bart blocks Lamarr’s escape, and shoots him in the groin. Bart and Jim then enter Grauman’s to watch the end of the film, in which Bart announces to the townspeople that he is moving on because his work is done (and he is bored). Riding out of town, he finds Jim, still eating his popcorn, and invites him along to “nowhere special”. The two friends briefly ride into the desert before dismounting and boarding a limousine, which drives off into the sunset.

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