Blazing Saddles Aside of No Importance

Having recently read a item ruminating on the phrase “we don’t need no stinking badgers,” I was amused to hear “We don’t need no stinking badges” from the Mexican bandits deputized to help with the destruction of Rock Ridge. So far as I can see, the origin of the phrase (and many derivatives) is found on the Stinking Badges home page. The Blazing Saddles usage is a fairly early one, and probably the source of the present-day popularity of the phrase and its variants. But surely it must have been more of a film cliché than the listing on the Stinking Badges page suggests, or Brooks would not have used it. Maybe not.

Movies Watched Last Night

A Child Is Waiting (1963 — recorded by TiVo from TCM).

Starring Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster. Garland’s next-to-last film (I Could Go On Singing (1963) was her last; saw that a few weeks ago — 3.5 stars out of 5). The TCM intro. said it was John Cassavetes’ first Hollywood studio film, and his last. Apparently Cassavetes did not edit the film. It would be interesting to see if he had, for the direction had some very interesting shots, but they often seemed to stand out as unusual, rather than organic to the whole. Sympathetic editing might very well have raised these directorial strategies to the level of outstanding art. For instance, the opening pull-in on an automobile to then swing around and come in the open side door to find a small boy sitting in the back seat had a very, very modern look to it. On the other hand, some shots were just distracting, technically, like the overhead shot of Dr. Clark (Lancaster) picking up the boy from a police station.

The material in the movie tends towards the tear-jerker, and some of the scenes with the retarded children are almost more than I could handle (rehearsed, but still nonetheless authentic (no doubt because the retarded children were not actors) — makes for a terrible conundrum for the curmudgeon who doesn’t want the be Spielberged, i.e., exploited emotionally, but can’t help but respond), but overall, it was an enjoyable movie. It is something of a mess in terms of what it’s trying to say, since one cannot help but be sympathetic to the music teacher’s (Garland) empathy for the small boy, and simultaneously annoyed with Dr. Clark’s seeming lack of empathy. The lesson the film appears to want to teach is that tough love and discipline are superior to flabby, self-interested sympathy/empath, but much of what happens in the movie tends to obscure that message, first by unfairly stacking the deck against empathy, but conversely, in the proportions of the film itself. The two sides of the fight between toughness and empathy are given equal time (though not an equal tone — the narrative strategy clearly telegraphs that we are expected to sympathize with the side of discipline) throughout the first part of the film (as contrasted to the almost understandable abandonment of the parents). But the conclusion, where the boy seems finally to have responded to some of his teaching, thus transforming the boy’s father’s bleak view of his son’s future, seems rather tacked on. And it’s not clear whether the music teacher’s original strategy of unconditional love and attention is the reason or if the success came from the music teacher’s application of Dr. Clark’s philosphy. Perhaps some scenes illustrating the music teacher’s application of discipline to the child were cut — the one scene that is in the movie shows only the minorest discipline of the boy, in the face of quite a bit of jealousy on the part of the other children, and doesn’t see sufficient to me to justify the conclusion that the music teacher is doing anything other than treating the boy with the same empathy that she domnstrated at the beginning. Because of that, the ending, with a victorious Dr. Clark handing over to the music teacher the intake of a new boy into the institution seems forced. And it’s not clear to me whether Dr. Clark has been won over to the music teacher’s approach or if we are expected to believe that her kindness to the new boy somehow reflects the disciplined approach.

And, naturally, the forced opposition of the two approaches is particularly upsetting. Why should discipline and structure preclude sympathy and kindness? Perhaps what the script is supposed to be saying is that it takes both. If so, the movie made from that script does a poor job of getting that message across.

I wonder also if Garland herself is too much present in the film for us to be able to see her as the character or as herself. Her struggles with addiction certainly parallel the difficulties of the retarded children, who are frequently described in this film as needing structure and discipline if they are ever to be able to overcome their handicaps and participate in society. Garland herself surely needed both love and discipline to overcome her own problems, and I wonder if this might have contributed to her very compelling performance as the music teacher.

A minor note: when I first saw the boy’s father I just knew that I recognized the actor, and about halfway through the film realized it was Steven Hill, who for many years played the D.A., Adam Schiff, on NBC’s Law and Order. I recognized him before the credits — he was so much younger and seemed so much taller than the character he played on Law and Order, but many of the mannerisms that were so perfect for Schiff were present in the young man.

Blazing Saddles (1974 — rented from Netflix).

Naturally, I’ve seen Blazing Saddles before, but never uncut. I rented this precisely so that I could finally see the famous “It’s twue! It’s twue!” scene. Also, since the last time I’d seen it, I have seen Rancho Notorious, a film in which Marlene Dietrich plays an important role as a woman rancher who runs an operation that is not just a ranch but (presumably) a brothel and a refuge for bandits of various types. The Madeline Kahn character in Blazing Saddles and the “I’m Tired” routine is clearly based on this Dietrich character and the musical number in Rancho Notorious (which I thought was quite a good movie, despite the awful theme song). I enjoyed seeing Blazing Saddles again and laughed frequently. But as a movie, it’s just not that good. The completely over-the-top ending is particularly jarring as it makes clear that Brooks just didn’t have a clue as to how he could possibly end the thing, so he simply didn’t end it at all. I’m glad to have finally seen a widescreen version and all of it, but I don’t think there’s any need for me to ever see it again.