Episode Four: Idiots and Indians

Our final installment chronicles two of the least politically-correct comedies to ever come out of Hollywood: Mel Brooks'immortal "Blazing Saddles" and the eminently forgettable 60's TV show, "F-Troop." Both are unsubtle parodies of classic Hollywood film genres. 

If you haven't seen the Blazing Saddles poster, you wouldn't believe it

In "Blazing Saddles," Brooks includes the elements of most of the great westerns: evil city-slickers, a faded gunslinger, a sheriff facing overwhelming odds and a sultry dance-hall girl. The title song is even sung by Frankie Laine. The film opens with a scene of a black and coolie rail gang laying track. Ordered to sing a Negro spiritual by the chain gang overseer, the workers, led by soon to be sheriff Bart, respond with an a capella rendition of Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You." To show the men how to really sing a spiritual, the overseer sings a fragment of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and then all the whites perform their own "minstrel show" version of "Camptown Races." From there it just gets gloriously tasteless. 

The lily-white town of Rock Ridge is a peaceful place "where people lived in harmony, they never had no kind of trouble, there was no hint of misery." Unfortunately, Rock Ridge lies directly along the path of the new rail line. Corrupt politician Hedley Lamarr hatchs a scheme to clear the town of speople, buy the land (where the lucrative railroad will be built), and resell it to the railroad. In a particularly Brooksian moment hired guns rampage through the streets, while the townspeople are in the local church singing from their hymnals: "Now it's a time of great decision. Are we to stay or up and quit? There's no avoiding this conclusion, our town is turning into s***." The minister laments the troubles of the town - "sheriff murdered, crops burned, stores looted, people stampeded, and cattle raped." The townspeople decide that if they are to save their town they must wire the governor and request a new sheriff. Hedley attempts to turn their request to his advantage when he convinces the governor to hire the first black sheriff in the state. 

Filled with ethnic jokes, Yiddish double entendres, bathroom humor, and broad sight gags, Blazing Saddles became the mark against which every other Brooks movie was measured. 

Since the film ends with a brawl that spills into the studio in which the movie is being shot, costume can range from traditional "movie western" (with visual puns added), to top-hat and tails. 

Long before Dances with Wolves, there was Capers with Morons... Captain Wilton Parmenter received the command of Fort Courage after a fortuitously timed sneeze caused him to accidentally reverse a cavalry retreat, turning the tables in a Civil War battle and subsequently saving the day. Located on the edge of the frontier, the members of F-Troop are charged with policing the local settlers and with keeping the peace between them and the Hekawi and Shrug tribes. Populated with every stereotype imaginable, "F Troop" chronicles the exploits of Sergeant Morgan O'Rourke and Corporal Randolph Agarn as they attempt to profit (in every and any way possible) from their proximity to the Hekawi Indians and through the manipulation of their none-too-bright commanding officer. The Indians (all played by Caucasians in dark face) tend toward names like Crazy Cat and Roaring Chicken, and they always manage to outwit the soldiers. The soldiers, of course, always manage to outwit the officers, and Wrangler Jane never gets her man. 

Costumes for all of the characters have an almost cartoon-like edge to them (the Western equivalent of Italian comedy!) If you've ever been to any of the "throw popcorn style of melodrama" you've seen this type of costume. Have fun with it and try not to be too appalled at what you're doing. 

See you April 25th for "They Went Thataway!", an afternoon of eatin', drinkin', and singing...plus a train ride through the redwoods.

© March, 1999 by Karen Tully

They Went Thataway: the Twisted Western
Really twisted western links