Tag Archives: Madeline Kahn

Blazing Saddles (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Black man becomes sheriff.

Classic western parody centers on a new railroad being built during the 1870’s and how an attorney general named Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) connives to have it run through a town called Rock Ridge, but in so doing devises a plan to have the residents run out, so the railroad can be put in. He hires a bunch of outlaws to ride into the town and terrorize the people hoping they’ll be scared off and move, but instead they put in a request to the state’s governor (Mel Brooks) for a sheriff. The inept governor gets tricked into hiring a black man named Bart (Cleavon Little) to act as the sheriff, which sends the racist residents of Rock Ridge into an outrage.

The film was known at the time for its outlandish humor, which thanks to political correctness is now considered even more outrageous and would most likely have no chance of being made today. The film’s biggest sticking point deals with its excessive use of the N-word, which writer/director Brooks was pressured to take out by the studio executives (along with many other things), but he resisted insisting that co-writer Richard Pryor and star Little had their blessing to keep it in and that most of the letters he received that were critical of the word being used were from white people. Personally I felt that it was realistic for its setting, which was supposed to be 1874, so in that regard it worked.

The stuff that got on my nerves was the constant anachronistic jokes dealing with people that weren’t even alive when the film’s setting took place. This type of humor gives the film too much of a campy feel and should’ve been scrapped. I was also disappointed when Gene Wilder talks to Little about his past and how he was accosted by a gun-toting 6-year-old, but the film doesn’t cut away to a reenactment of this, which would’ve been hilarious to see, even though it does do this when Little talks about his own past.

The funniest bits that I did find myself laughing-out-loud to where the ones involving Brooks as the cross-eyed governor, but I was frustrated that the streaming video that I watched did not have the scene where Brooks goes to the town of Rock Ridge and mistakes the wooden dummies that are there as being real-people. I remember this scene vividly when I watched it on network TV back in the 80’s and thought it was hilarious, but apparently this segment is only available on the Blu-ray version.

The acting by the supporting cast is great with Korman getting the best film role of his career. Liam Dunn is memorable as the town’s pastor and I got a kick out of Jessamine Milner as a racist old lady who later tries to make amends with Bart, but only under certain conditions. Madeline Kahn is quite good too in a send-up of Marlene Dietrich and rumor has it that she intentionally gave a bad performance in Mame, which was filming at the same time, just so the director would fire her, so she could then get the part here, but still be paid for that one as her contract stipulated guaranteed pay as long as she was terminated and didn’t quit.

The only bad performance comes from Little, who is just too serene and laid back almost like he’s treating the whole thing as a joke and doesn’t get into his part at all. I would’ve expected to see some anger from his character over the way he had been treated by white folks, but none is conveyed and instead he comes off like some guy picked off the street who mouths his lines and that’s about it. The part was intended for Richard Pryor who would’ve given the role the extra edge that it needed.

Spoiler Alert!

As controversial as the film is it’s the bizarre ending that has always had me the most baffled as it breaks the fourth wall and has the characters without warning go from the western time period into the modern-day. When I first saw this years ago I thought it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen and didn’t like it as I felt it ruined the story as I was enjoying seeing the town’s residents take matters into their own hands by literally beating up the bad guys as well as realizing that their racist ways were wrong. Having them suddenly thrown onto a Hollywood backlot made it too gimmicky and took away any possibility for some minor depth/message that the story might otherwise have had.

In retrospect I can only conclude that Brooks did this to show that these characters were never meant to be a part of the true west. In fact the whole reason that attracted him to the project, which was based off of an idea by Andrew Bergman, was because of its so-called ‘hip-talk’, which had 1974 expressions done in an 1874 setting.

If this was the case then the film should’ve started out with the characters in the modern day and then transported them via a time machine into the old west. The movie is so goofy anyways that I can’t see how this funky added element could’ve hurt it and then at the end when they return to the present it would’ve seemed more fluid and less like a cop-out where the writer’s ran out of ideas, so they decided to just go weird.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

First Family (1980)

first-family

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: President discovers giant vegetables.

Manfred Link (Bob Newhart) is the current President of the United States. His 28-year-old daughter Gloria (Gilda Radner) is a raging nymphomaniac and his wife Constance (Madeline Kahn) a closet alcoholic. He travels with his family to the fictional nation of Upper Gorm because their active volcano harbors an energy source that could be used to propel nuclear energy. While there he comes upon some giant vegetables that they grow and learns that if he and the nation are willing to sacrifice one virgin per year he could harvest the same results, but with a price.

I’ve been a fan of writer/director Buck Henry for many years, so I’m not exactly sure what went wrong here, but it’s a disaster of epic proportions. Literally nothing is funny and many times just plain excruciatingly lame. It’s almost like they intentionally were trying to make a bad movie and see how many dumb jokes they could throw out before the viewer went screaming from the theater. Much of the humor gets badly botched with a good case in point being the scene where Newhart sips a drink made from goat urine and when he finds out what it is his face turns green, but this effect was done by shining a filtered spotlight on his face and it is very obvious making the effect like much of the movie seem quite hokey.

The movie would’ve worked better had the humor stayed linked to actual politics or what could occur to someone who actually worked in the White House. Instead they throw in any dumb joke that they can simply for the sake of a cheap laugh. The satire is extremely dated and has no connection at all to today’s political scene. The story thread dealing with the giant vegetables is not only stupid, but makes it seem like a material for a completely different genre like cheesy sci-fi.

I didn’t like Gilda Radner’s part at all. Having the secret service constantly chase her down every time she tries to make-out with a man might’ve been funny had the character been an oversexed teen, but this is a 28-year-old woman who has every right to sleep with anyone she wants no matter if her father is the President or not and she should’ve had her parents sued for trying to deny her civil rights.

The rest of the cast is pretty much wasted as well especially Rip Torn who’s given only 4 minutes of screen time. Harvey Korman is mildly amusing as the exasperated Ambassador and Bob Dishy elicits a few chuckles as the wimpy Vice President, but the highly talented Kahn gets stuck in a very unfunny role with her character’s alcoholism being an attempted, but very tasteless satirical stab at First Lady Betty Ford who did suffer from disease.

The filmed bombed badly at the box office and it’s easy to see why. It’s sloppily put together with no eye for detail. Not only is the comedy a dud, but everything else too including the filming of the outside of the island nation which was clearly shot in an indoor set as well as the scene that is supposedly shot in Minnesota, but shows mountains in the background. I was born and raised in Minny and believe me there are no mountains anywhere making me wonder if there was any thought put into this useless tripe at all.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Buck Henry

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Clue (1985)

clue

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Inspired by board game.

Six individuals (Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan, Lesley Ann Warren, Madeline Kahn, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd) are invited to an isolated New England mansion at the behest of Wadsworth (Tim Curry) the butler to the mansion’s owner. It seems that these six people have been blackmailed by Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving) and now Wadsworth, who is employed by Boddy, has decided it’s time to let them off the hook, but not before Boddy himself turns up dead having been murdered by one of the guests. As they try to unravel the mystery more homicides occur forcing the rest to find the killer before he/she finds them.

Initially this film, which is based on the famous Parker Brothers board game and currently being remade, is okay entertainment. The fast paced dialogue has a few good lines and the mystery element lends for some mild intrigue. The performances are also spot-on with each actor perfectly cast for their part. I especially liked Eileen Brennan as the nervous Mrs. Peacock as well as Warren as the sarcastic and snarky Miss Scarlet.

Unfortunately after an agreeable first 40 minutes it finally, like with its many victims, goes down with a thud. The concept just isn’t solid enough for feature length material and the idea of trying to stretch it out by adding more victims only convolutes things and makes an already ridiculous premise even more so. Having Curry spend the final part going back through all the things that had occurred before in an effort to ‘solve’ the case while rushing the rest of the cast from one part of the mansion to the other as he explains it is not amusing, but instead dizzying, redundant and pointless. What may have seemed initially like a novel idea instead becomes just another excursion into silliness and way too similar to Neil Simon’s Murder by Death, which came out in the ‘70’s and also starred Brennan.

True mystery buffs will be the most disappointed as the emphasis is completely on comedy and not in creating any type of elaborate whodunit for the viewer to figure out. The plot itself contains no real ‘clues’ and everything that occurs during the course of the film has nothing to do with who ultimately ends up being the culprit.

The film’s only real unique element is that it featured three different endings with different ones shown at various theaters. The DVD features all three with option to choose one at random. However, the first two are lame and only the third one, which features everyone as the murderer, is the only one that is halfway decent and should’ve been the sole one used.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes (Includes all three endings)

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Lynn

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1982)

slapstick

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: These twins are extraterrestrials.

Based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel ‘Slapstick’ the story centers on a Caleb and Lutetia (Jerry Lewis, Madeline Kahn)  who are a rich and famous couple that give birth to deformed and ugly twins named Wilbur and Eliza (also played by Lewis and Kahn). The couple immediately disowns the children and has them put away into a home run by Sylvester (Marty Feldman) who acts as the children’s caretaker. Unbeknownst to anyone is the fact that twins are actually aliens implanted inside Lutetia by a race of super intelligent beings from a faraway planet as a way to help earthlings solve all of their problems. When the twins put their cone sized heads together they are super smart, but when they are separated they are dumb making everyone believe that they are mentally deficient and of no use to anyone.

The biggest problem with this disastrous attempt at a movie is the approach. Director Steven Paul who ironically made his acting debut in Happy Birthday, Wanda June, which was another Vonnegut book adaptation brought to the screen seems to have no idea what type of audience he is aiming for. The humor shifts wildly between child-like farce to satirical jabs with nothing in-between, which will alienate both adults and children alike. The grownups will find it incoherent and silly while the children will be frightened by the ugly visuals as well as the cold, callous nature of the characters and plot. There is also a strange side story that make no sense and deals with miniaturized Chinese men who are the size of a human thumb and fly around in a spaceship resembling an eggroll while trying to make contact with the twins in order for them the help make a deal on the sale of gravity?!!!!

Lewis and Kahn are relatively amusing as the snotty couple, but as the twins they are downright embarrassing. The scene where they have a food fight while yammering incessant baby talk is a degrading sight and a career low for both performers. I know Lewis has the reputation of doing some really silly, inane stuff, but even this should’ve been beneath him.

The eclectic supporting cast helps a little and the only reason that I’m giving it 2 points. Feldman is genuinely amusing and it’s great seeing Jim Backus in one of his last acting roles playing the President of the United States and hearing this predominantly kid-friendly performer utter the word shit…twice!

I have never read the novel from which this is based, but have heard that it is far superior, which isn’t a surprise. I’d be interested to know what Vonnegut, who apparently wrote the lyrics to a song sung by Kahn in the film, but then later cut, thought of this catastrophe. Some bad films are fun because you can make jokes about as it goes along, but this thing is so utterly bizarre from beginning to end that instead you sit in a stupor throughout and it becomes a surreal experience instead.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated PG

Studio: International Film Marketing

Director: Steven Paul

Available: VHS, Amazon Instant Video

City Heat (1984)

city heat

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clint and Burt together.

Mike Murphy (Burt Reynolds) is a private eye living in 1930’s Kansas City who at one time worked as a cop. When his friend Dehl (Richard Roundtree) gets murdered after obtaining the secret accounting records of a local mobster and then trying to blackmail him with it Mike goes on a mission to find the culprit, but soon finds himself in over his head. His former police partner Speer (Clint Eastwood) gets involved and the two reluctantly work together to solve the case despite the many clashes with their personalities and methods.

The script was written by Blake Edwards who gets credited under the pseudonym Sam O. Brown. He was originally slated to direct, but Burt didn’t want to work with Edward’s wife Julie Andrews who was cast in the role that later went to Madeline Kahn because the two had clashed just a year earlier while starring in The Man Who Loved Woman. Clint desired a less intense director at the helm, so the two used their star status to have Edwards yanked from the project and replaced with actor-turned-director Richard Benjamin. The result is a strange mish-mash of a movie that at times seems like a pedestrian action flick and at other moments becomes a campy comedy.

The film starts off well. I enjoyed the fight Reynolds with has with two men inside a café while Eastwood sits back and does nothing, but things deteriorate quickly after that. Part of the problem is Eastwood and Reynolds are only funny when they are seen together and working off of each other’s contrasting styles. Alone there are boring at least here with Eastwood playing too much of a caricature of himself while Reynolds is unconvincing as a tough guy. The film would’ve worked much better had the two been partners from the very beginning instead of throwing in this contrived bitterness between the two, which is never funny or interesting.

Outside of Rip Torn’s performance as a rival gang boss the supporting cast is wasted especially Jane Alexander in a thankless throwaway role as Reynold’s secretary. Kahn manages to have some redeeming moments when she gets kidnapped by the mob and then beats her captors at poker, but it is not enough. Irene Cara sings a few good tunes, but proves to be weak as an actress.

The shootouts are great and the best thing in the movie as unlike the rest of the film they manage to have a nice balance between being exciting and funny. Unfortunately the plot itself is overblown, confusing and formulaic and a prime example of a Hollywood production relying too much on the charisma of its two stars while failing to supply them with material that is fresh or original.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 7, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Benjamin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube