Euphoria #37: My Name is Jim

 Mel B

Kieran Thomson suggests one particular moment from Mel Brooks’ BLAZING SADDLES — and why not? Mel Brooks has given the world an enormous amount of euphoric hysteria during his stay on this planet, and about a third of it can be found in this one film.

At age eleven, Kieran is our youngest euphoric Shadowplayer yet, but he is wise beyond his years, having been the subject of intense scientific experimentation during his development, rather like DOC SAVAGE, MAN OF BRONZE, or Carl Boehm in PEEPING TOM. Kieran’s dad, a mad pharmacist, has wisely kept the child-proof caps on, but has dosed his offspring with many kinds of Psychotropic Cinema (Cocteau and Lon Chaney Snr at age 5), which may produce dizziness, seizures, severe itching, difficulty in breathing, swollen lips, abnormal body movements, profuse sweating or excessive excitement.

And it’s WORKED.

The exact Euphoric Moment cited by Kieran, and included in this clip, is this exchange:

“Are we awake?”

“We’re not sure. Are we… black?”

Weird how the studio refused to let Richard Pryor play Bart here, so Cleavon Little gets a shot at immortality. Either he was considered better box office because of VANISHING POINT, or Pryor just scared the crap out of the suits at Warner Bros.

Gig Young was originally cast as Jim, the Waco Kid, because Brooks naively thought a genuine alcoholic would be more effective. Once he realised that there was nothing funny about Young’s condition (Young subsequently committed suicide after murdering his wife) he offered the part to Gene Wilder, who’s almost as atypical a cowboy star as Cleavon Little.

Wilder deserves special honour for his work in THE PRODUCERS, BONNIE AND CLYDE, and WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. The latter is not a great film, but Wilder is monumentally impressive in it. Rather than play the part with a smile and wink to the audience (“I’m a good guy really”), Wilder is satanic and psychopathic throughout. I get a sugar rush of evil just looking at him. No wonder Marilyn Manson homaged this movie in a music vid.

Wilder’s oft-forgotten cameo in BONNIE AND CLYDE features maybe the best, and almost certainly the longest… comic pause… in history, a skill Wilder refined in EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK, where his entire performance is basically one long pause punctuated by short bursts of speech and motion.

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4 Responses to “Euphoria #37: My Name is Jim”

  1. Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at the Cannes Film Festival is one of several key comedy recordings (the others being Mike Nichols and Elaine May Improvisations to Music, Comedy from the Second City, Severn Darden’s “The Metaphysics lecture” and Lenny Bruce’s “The Palladium”) that made me what I am today. On a personal level Mel Brooks is as delightful as you might well imagine.

  2. Actually, my very first student film was based on a comic strip based on a Severn Darden piece. So even though I haven’t seen or heard much of his stuff, he’s been a key influence. I love him in The President’s Analyst too — that’s a MAJOR FILM for me.

  3. The saying goes “Never meet your heroes” but I got to meet Severn towards what turned out to be the end of his life as he was living here in L.A., and he was really something. He was particularly helpful to me when I launched my attack against Oliver Stone’s noxious JFK as his father (Severn Darden Sr.) had been district attorney of new Orleans prior to Jim Garrison and Severn knew the whole sordid story of why Garrison hated Clay Shaw so much.

    In the invaluable paperback about the Second City, “Something Wonderful Right Away,” Severn is celebrated as the eminence gris of improvisational comedy, and said to be the only person capable of throwing Elaine May off her game. As I believe I mentioned Severn’s dream project was a remake of Sidewalks of London with himself in the Charles Laughton role and Barbara Harris in Vivian Leigh’s.

    My favorite Severnism proceeds from an improv about “a dark and stormy night” with the ineveitable “How dark was it?” to which Severn replied “Darker than the inside of a nun!”

  4. That is BEAUTIFUL. Just…wow.

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