Remember the Roald Dahl book Matilda? Quick recap: insanely smart girl is surrounded by complete idiots, and her brain goes into overdrive because she's just. so. bored. Her unused brainpower allows her to move objects with her mind.
Bart is suffering in pretty much the same way. Except, instead of throwing around pencils with the power of his bored super-brain, he throws around quips, astute observations and (yes) racist scumbags.
Basically, he turns into a master manipulator.
When Lyle asks him to sing a slave song, his choice is the completely inappropriate—and anachronistic—Cole Porter classic "I Get a Kick Out of You." It's a bizarre (and very Brooksian choice: black guy singing a song by the whitest dude ever), but once Bart slips into that buttery opening line, "I get no kick from champagne…" we're hooked.
And by the time Lyle knows what's happening, he and his men have started singing while Bart looks on and laughs.
As you might expect from a master manipulator, he's also a dude who can make people forget what their eyes are seeing. Think about when Bart gets cornered by people with guns when he first comes to Rock Ridge: instead of running, he puts a gun to his own head and tells the people,
"Hold it! The next man makes a move, the nigger gets it!"
He says it with so much conviction that he confuses the townsfolk into letting him go. And when he's finally alone again, he can't help but revel in the glory in his achievements by saying,
"Oh, baby, you are so talented. And they are so dumb!"
Humble? No. Correct? Absolutely.
No matter how hard he tries to protect the people of Rock Ridge, Bart has a really tough time winning these people over because he's black and they're… well… extremely racist.
But sure enough, these people come crawling back to him time and time again when they need someone to save them. For starters the town goes berserk when they find out a monster-man named Mongo has come to trash their town, and they even say "Please" when they ask Bart to help them. Bart can't help but appreciate the irony of the situation when he says,
"Did you hear that? Now it's 'please.' This morning I couldn't get the time of day."
But even though Bart knows he has total power over the people who hate him, he's still a good enough guy to do his job as sheriff and lend them a helping hand. His dedication is what leads him to ask important questions like, "Hedley Lamarr? Why would a dude like Hedley Lamarr care about Mongo?" when he learns that Hedley has paid for Mongo's release from prison.
Eventually, Bart unravels the whole plot behind Hedley Lamarr's railroad and how it relates to Rock Ridge. And it's a good thing he does, because if he didn't nobody would. It's not like Gabby Johnson is going to use his linguistic prowess to unravel Hedley's witty web of wickedness. (And if you don't remember, Gabby's the guy who don't talk right good.)
Bart uses all kinds of different schemes to outsmart people in this movie, some of which are pretty clever and some of which require us to suspend our disbelief… although you really should check your disbelief at the door when it comes to getting the most out of Blazing Saddles.
Bart's also smart enough never to use the exact same kind of scheme twice, which makes it really tough for villains to predict his next move. When Mongo comes to destroy the town, Bart takes a page out of the Looney Tunes book and delivers the guy an exploding box of candy, saying, "Candy-gram for Mongo!" and walking away.
Now you might say to yourself that this isn't such a clever scheme, but cleverness is a relative term. As long as you're cleverer than the guy who opens the exploding box, you're doing pretty good. Plus, who doesn't like candy? (We feel you on this one, Mongo. We'd definitely open that box.)
Bart saves his greatest scheme for the climax of this movie, when he gets the people of Rock Ridge to team up with some railroad workers to "build on this site an exact replica of the town of Rock Ridge."
Bart knows that he and his friends can't defeat Hedley Lamarr's huge army of outlaws and murderers. But he knows that this army's efforts won't be worth squat if they attack the wrong town. Of course, the scheme works and Bart manages to save Rock Ridge once and for all.
Again though, we have to ask whether Bart succeeds because he's so smart or because everyone else is so stupid…
By the end of the movie, Bart has established himself as our great hero. But at the same time, he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life in a little hick town like Rock Ridge. So he makes up a baloney excuse about having to leave, saying,
"I'm needed wherever outlaws rule the West. Wherever innocent women and children are afraid to walk the streets. Wherever a man cannot live in simple dignity."
The people of Rock Ridge immediately call BS on this, and Bart then has to admit,
"All right, you caught me. To speak the plain truth, it's getting pretty damn dull around here."
There you have it. Bart is our great hero, but there's only so much rural boredom the guy can take. So he rides off with his buddy Jim in the final scene as the main theme song of the movie says,
"Then out of the sun rode a man with a gun/ And Bart was his name."
While Bart is doing the stereotypical Western-hero thing by riding off into the sunset, Mel Brooks reminds us one last time that Bart is too cool for regular Westerns: He has Bart get off his horse and into a limousine before driving away.
Thus, he answers that age-old question: did ballers exist in the early 70's? Why yes. Yes, they did.
We'll admit it: the passage of time erodes a few of the jokes in this movie. One of them has to do with our Big Bad's name: "Hedley Lamarr" sounds suspiciously like Hedy Lamarr, the name of a woman who was a pin-up, a silver screen siren of the 1930's and… a genius inventor.
The character Hedley Lamarr, of course, is neither a) a hottie with a body, b) a convincing actor, or c) a genius.
Mel Brooks wastes no time establishing Hedley Lamarr as the villain of this movie. Even before we hear about the guy's plans to destroy Rock Ridge, we can tell he's a baddie just from the cartoonish language he uses, like when he says,
"My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention."
Who likes a guy who talks like that? No one, that's who.
Of course, there are lots of villains in this movie who try to use their brawn to defeat our hero. But Hedley is more of a brainy villain who tries to use planning and strategy to accomplish his goals. No matter what the situation, the first words out of his mouth are almost always,
"A plan. A plan. We need a plan."
But when his henchmen don't understand what he wants, he says something like,
"Elementary, cactus-head! The beast has failed. And when the beast fails, it's time to call in beauty."
Of course, none of these plans… work. But you've got to admire the way Hedley never gives up—you know, until he's shot in the groin at the end of the movie. Then he pretty much gives up.
On top of being an evil schemer, Hedley Lamarr is just a downright rotten guy. He casually passes a bill onto Governor Lepetomane and tells him,
"Well, under the provisions of this bill, we would snatch 200,000 acres of Indian territory, which we have deemed unsafe for their use at this time."
This would be funny if it weren't so sad. Because the truth is that the United States did use this kind of bullying tactic to steal land from Native Americans many times throughout history. And Hedley is more than happy to be part of this process if it can help out his political ambitions.
When he's not busy stealing Native American land, Hedley plots to destroy the town of Rock Ridge so he can build a railroad through it. When his first attacks fail, he thinks to himself,
"If I could find a sheriff who so offends the citizens of Rock Ridge that his very appearance would drive them out of town."
So of course he hires Bart for the job because he knows the people of Rock Ridge are so racist that they'll just give up and leave when they see Bart. As we all know, this tactic doesn't work either. But we also know that Hedley Lamarr is the kind of guy who'll try anything to get what he wants. (Everything except get up after being shot in the groin, that is.)
Hedley Lamarr might like to act like a big tough guy from behind his desk. But deep down, he's an immature weenie, and we all know it. And in case we didn't get Mel Brooks' sudden hints, we realize Hedley's childishness when he's playing in a tub and suddenly shouts, "Where's my froggie?" Hedley nearly loses his mind and doesn't calm down until his henchman Taggart brings him a frog toy.
So yeah, Hedley is a child at heart. And at brain.
By the end of the movie, all of Hedley's schemes have failed and he knows that it'll be a miracle if he escapes getting caught and punished by Sheriff Bart. So he does the only thing he can think of, which is leave the Blazing Saddles movie altogether and run away from the Warner Brothers movie lot.
When he grabs a cab and shouts, "Taxi! Drive me off this picture!" we know that this guy is such a coward that he's willing to run clear out of the movie to avoid being punished. That's not just cowardice, that's meta-cowardice.
But Bart catches him anyway and gives him some symbolic comeuppance by shooting him in the groin—one of the oldest gags in the book.
When we first meet Jim, he's a mess. He's a blurry-eyed alcoholic who spends his nights in the drunk-tank of Rock Ridge—which would be insanely depressing if this wasn't a Mel Brooks movie. As is, Jim's booze-sodden self is played for lols.
But it's not long before Bart asks him why he abuses himself like this and Jim tells us his story. He opens by saying he used to go by the name of The Waco Kid and he had the quickest pistol draw in the West. But over time, his fame became a burden because people always wanted to kill him.
Jim got so weary that one day he gave up after a run-in with a kid, as he says,
"I was just walking down the street and I heard a voice behind me say "‘Reach for it, mister!"’ I spun around. And there I was face to face with a 6-year-old kid!"
Of course, Jim tried to walk away. But as he adds,
"The little bastard shot me in the ass."
You hear that? We've got ourselves a movie with a groin shot and a bum shot, folks. What's not to love?
So yeah, Jim is what many people would call a burnout. He had his day in the sun and now he feels like his best days are behind him. Now he just spends his days trying to find the bottom of a whiskey bottle, because after he got shot by the little kid,
"I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle, and I've been there ever since."
He finds a new reason to be motivated though when he becomes friends with Bart and decides to be a deputy to him. After all, things are probably pretty slow at the Wonka Factory and Gene Wilder—uh, we mean Jim—needs something else to do.
When he gets a rush from talking to Bart, Jim looks like he might be ready to step back into the world of guns and do something productive with his skills. In this sense, meeting Bart gives him a second lease on life, which Jim snatches by demonstrating his fast hands to Bart, saying,
"Put your hands on both sides of it [the chess piece]. Now when I say, 'go' you try to grab it first."
Of course, he's able to grab the chess piece from across the table even before Bart can close his hands around it, and it's clear that Bart is impressed enough to take Jim on as his deputy.
Most of Jim and Bart's conversations revolve around the question of whether the people of Rock Ridge will ever accept Bart as their Sheriff. Bart seems to think so, but Jim is more skeptical about human nature, saying,
"You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons!"
But over time, Bart proves Jim wrong and restores a little bit of Jim's faith in simple farm folk. At least that how things seem to be going until Bart and Jim decide to leave Rock Ridge because the place is boring.
By the end of the movie, Jim learns that Bart plans on leaving Rock Ridge forever. He asks where Bart wants to go, and when Bart responds
"Nowhere special. I always wanted to go there."
So the two of them decide to stick together because let's face it, they're best friends and they make a great team. So this pretty much completes Jim's resurrection from a life of alcoholism into a life of heroism… which is all just swell.
Taggart is pretty much your typical dumb henchman—think of him as a wild west Igor, or the Waylon Smithers of the frontier.
But he's pretty good at following orders and treating the people beneath him like garbage, which is pretty much what you want in a henchman if you're Hedley Lamarr. When asked if he wants to send horses to check out a patch of quicksand, Taggart instantly shouts,
"Horses? Why, we can't afford to lose no horses, you dummy! Send over a couple of niggers."
In other words, Taggart values the lives of his horses much more than the lives of his black workers, which means that he's both insanely money-conscious and racist—what a winning combo.
Even after two of his black workers fall into quicksand, Taggart's main priority is saving the handcart that they were driving, as he says,
"Dang, that was lucky. Dog-gone near lost a $400 hand cart."
Yeah, he's that bad.
The most hypocritical thing about Taggart is the fact that he's shocked and depressed when one of his black workers knocks him out with a shovel. As he says to Hedley Lamarr,
"Oh, that uppity nigger went'n hit me on the head with a shovel. I'd sure appreciate it, sir, if you could find it in your heart to hang him up by his neck until he was dead."
Apart from wanting Bart killed, Taggart also recommends that Hedley Lamarr terrorize the people of Rock Ridge to get them to leave, saying,
"That's where we go riding into town and a-whapping and a-whooping every living thing that moves within an inch of its life!"
It's clear that the guy loves causing mayhem and destruction for their own sake, which makes him pretty easy to hate as a villain.
Lili is proof positive that everything gets old after a while… even being a hottie.
As she tells us so many times in her big song, Lili Von Shtupp is just plain tired with life. She's been an attractive singer for so long and has conquered so many hearts that it's all just boring to her now. Even when Hedley Lamarr brings her a bouquet of flowers, the only response she can muster is,
"Oh, how ordinary."
In her big showstopper of a song, Lili makes no bones about the power that she has over men, singing,
"Here I stand, the goddess of desire/ Set men on fire/ I have this power […]."
And by the time she reaches her chorus, all she can say is,
"Tired of playing the game/ Ain't it a crying shame?/ I'm so tired"
But Lili meets her match when she runs into Bart. She thinks that she's just going to seduce him and break his heart like she's done with so many others. But Bart is so awesome that Lili actually falls in love with him and shows us that she's vulnerable after all. When Bart says he needs to leave, Lili grabs him and yells,
"No, no, you mustn't go! I need you! I've never met nobody like you! I can't live without you!"
By this time, we realize that Lili isn't as jaded and passionless as she says she is. We also realize through her that Bart might be the most charming dude on Earth.
Oh, and we'd remiss not to mention the fact that Lili is a direct parody of Marlene Dietrich and her singing seductress roles of the 1930s.
Governor Lepetomane is your typical satire of a corrupt, incompetent politician. He's basically a caricature in a political cartoon, stogie and all. When asked to sign a bill offering paddleballs in exchange for Native American land, Lepetomane answers,
"Are you crazy? They'll never go for it, and then again they might. The little red devils, they love toys. May I try one?"
In other words, he doesn't really care what he's signing because he's so easily distracted by women and silly children's toys.
Even when Lepetomane knows what he's signing, he doesn't seem to understand or care what it means. We get a perfect sense of this when he signs a bill converting the state mental institution into a casino. As soon as Lepetomane realizes his name will be on the building, he jumps up and proclaims,
"Gentlemen, this bill will be a giant step forward in the treatment of the insane gambler."
Or in other words, Lepetomane is much more interested in his political legacy than he is in the treatment of mentally ill people.
At one point, it looks as if Lepetomane might develop a conscience and do the right thing. He finds out about the carnage at Rock Ridge and shouts,
"Holy underwear! Sheriff murdered! Innocent women and children blown to bits!"
Here we might think that he has finally decided to care about the people he governs. But he follows this concern immediately by saying,
"We've got to protect our phony-baloney jobs, gentlemen."
So in the end, Lepetomane is just a corrupt cynic who's not even smart enough to be corrupt as effectively as a guy like Hedley Lamarr is.
This guy is portrayed more like an animal than a human being in this movie, because he's a huge, terrifying strongman. Or as Jim tells Bart in the early going,
"Well, Mongo ain't exactly a 'who.' He's more of a 'what.'"
People feels this way because Mongo has the strength of ten men and will basically do whatever he's told. In this sense, he's the perfect goon. But when Sheriff Bart outsmarts Mongo with an exploding box of candy, Mongo can't help but think,
"Sheriff first man ever whip Mongo. Mongo impressed, have deep feelings for Sheriff Bart."
So even though Mongo might seem like a big gorilla on the surface, he's actually a loyal softie at heart. When asked what he knows about Hedley Lamarr's plans for the railroad, Mongo shows us his poetic side by saying,
"Don't know. Mongo only pawn in game of life."
Aww. So even though Mongo might seem like an unthinking brute, we find out that he actually knows his place in life quite clearly and even feels a little sad about it. Then again, Mel Brooks plays all of this for laughs… so don't bother feeling too bad for old Mongo. He ends up fighting on the winning side anyway.