Ah, the 70's. A good time for Mel Brooks. Young Frankenstein would become one of his most beloved productions, Silent Movie gathered some of the most beloved actors and actresses for a homage to film styles long past and his Hitchcock parody High Anxiety impressed the director so much, he sent him a case of wine as congratulations, knowing that Brooks had a passion for wine.
And of course, perhaps his most well known film (though sometimes tied with the aforementioned Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs), which pulled off quite a few feats.
The plot? Well... a black man becomes sheriff of a town. Yep, simple as that. Well, OK, there is a little more to it but hey, it's a spoof on the western. That right there is pretty much all you need to know.
Said black man is Bart, played by Cleavon Little and, to quote the movie, is so talented. The character is clever, bold, gentlemanly to a point and noble, again, to a point. He and The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder, who shares an actor/director relationship with Mel Brooks on par with that of Depp and Burton) make a great combination, two good natured gentlemen just trying to keep the peace.
And who is disrupting that peace? Glad you asked! And if you didn't ask well... I'm still telling you. That would be our lead villain, Hedy Lamarr (that's HEDLEY!) played by Harvey Korman.
At this point, I would like to express that Hedy (HEDLEY!) is one of my absolute favourite screen villains of all time. Utterly charismatic, highly intelligent, complex and, just like the thespian portraying him, a great actor, able to convince most people of just about anything. Though I wonder if that's all him or just in part due to Korman's incredible talent and wonderful voice.
One of the more unusual moments involves what is often known as a "pet the dog" moment (though doesn't quite qualify since that's usually reserved for anti-heroes or gruff protagonists. Gran Torino's lead is a better example) which involves Hedy (HEDLEY, damnit!) in the bath. After divulging yet another evil scheme, he suddenly looks concerned. Why? He's wondering where his "fwoggy" is. After shouting at his hapless evil minion to find it, he's happy again and even says "Daddy loves Fwoggy. Does Fwoggy love Daddy?" to which he squeaks the frog and then looks content. Bizarre? Yes. Out of place? Not so much in a spoof but still odd. Kind of sweet? You bet.
One other aspect that makes him a villain to watch intently is that he has hints of being genre savvy and he breaks the fourth wall quite a bit (like when he's pondering about how he's going to find a new sheriff for Rock Ridge and then wonders why he's asking us, the audience) and this makes for some outrageous laughs towards the end (more on that later), especially with his line to the gang of villains he enlists in one last attempt to claim Rock Ridge as his own about how while they're risking his lives, he's risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Now, if he had won that, not only would that have been well deserved but immensely funny too.
When it comes to a spoof/parody, the most important thing a person needs to know is if it's funny or not. To me, this is how a spoof should conduct itself (or failing that, they should follow almost anything involving the Zuckers, Leslie Neilson or some of Brooks' other work). Besides breaking the fourth wall and spouting anachronisms, mostly dealing with pop culture and technology, there are clever ideas, lampshade hanging on cliches (Hedy, *hears from offscreen again "That's HEDLEY!"* has disdain for "cutting off at the pass") and yes, even a farting scene. I must point out, that's the weak spot of the film for me. OK, beans cause gas. We get it, please move on. Supposedly, it's the first major film to include flatulence.
Scenes I do enjoy include Bart's way of handing Mongo (Alex Karras) Looney Tunes style (complete with music from said franchise); the aforementioned Mongo punching out a horse; the townspeople discovering the new sheriff is black; and one of the greatest things ever, Bart getting away from that hostile crowd by holding HIMSELF hostage!
Here's an excerpt from when he's pretending to be the hostage: "Oh, Lawdy-Lawd, he's desp'at! Do what he say, do what he saaaayyyy... do what he saaaayyyy..." putting on a gruffer voice when he's the madman taking himself hostage.
Without giving too many specifics of the ending, it's just mad! The characters from the movie break out onto another set, start a fight there and continue their brawling all around the movie lot and then Hedy (HEDLEY! *Cocks gun*)... whoa, take it easy! Anyway, Hedley (happy now? Put the gun down!) actually walks into a movie theatre and sits down to watch this film! Anyone thinking that's familiar will probably know that from a later Mel Brooks work, Spaceballs.
Also, I want to mention that the theme song is just wonderful. And the story behind it is quite amusing, too. Mel once put out an ad saying he wanted a Frankie Lane-type singer to do the song for the film. Frankie himself showed up and just wowed Mel over. Mel didn't have the heart to tell him it was a parody and kept the song anyway. Good thing, too. I do wonder if Frankie ever found out...
Throw in all that AND Madeline Kahn and you have yet another golden effort from Brooks. Now if you'll excuse me, there's a tollbooth that's mysteriously appeared here in this open land and I gotta get me a shitload of dimes.