Thursday, May 15, 2014

Madeline Spoofs Marlene

One of the funniest women in films was the late, great Madeline Kahn.  Not since Mae West in the 1930s had any American actress in Hollywood movies made sex as delightfully blunt, naughty and comical.  You know this if you saw Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles, the Mel Brooks comedy classic that probably could not be made today.  I remember seeing Blazing Saddles when it was new.  People howled with laughter at Madeline Kahn.  The performance brought her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  Cowboys and rustlers in that wild, west west town can get liquored up and listen to musical entertainment from German saloon singer, Lili Von Shtupp.  She's the town vamp.  For the rowdy men, Lili puts the "Ooooo" in the word "loose."

Blazing Saddles gained more and more fans as the years went by.  They love the ribald Mel Brooks humor, his politically incorrect but totally hysterical lampooning of race, sex and clichés in old Hollywood westerns.  In its initial release, the more you knew about old movies, the funnier some scenes were.  That brings me to Madeline Kahn.  Trust me on this -- if you've never seen the hit 1939 western, Destry Rides Again, starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, make it a point to rent that classic.  Destry Rides Again was another one of those many mighty fine films released in Hollywood's exceptional year of 1939.  When you see Marlene Dietrich as the wild west saloon entertainer, Madeline Kahn's Dietrich spoof will be even funnier.  Kahn nails the bow in the hair.

Marlene Dietrich secured her place in movie history when she played a temptress singing "Falling in Love Again" in the 1930 German film, The Blue Angel.
Starting in the early 1930s with her Hollywood films, Marlene Dietrich became a sensation playing exotic women with sophisticated European attitudes towards sex.  She had great lighting and alluring outfits.  Men desired her.  She was so gorgeous that it didn't matter if her R's often sounded like W's she she spoke.  She was a delicious German import for American moviegoers.

Come the end of the 1930s, audiences had tired of her exotic foreign woman persona.  She rejuvenated her career with an all-American western that gave her a snappy saloon song and a no-holds-barred girlfight scene that dirtied her up considerably.  Audiences loved it.  James Stewart played Destry in Destry Rides Again.  He's the new sheriff who intends to clean up the corrupt town.  The town bad guy recruits Frenchy, the sexy dance hall queen, to lead the innocent young lawman astray.  If she can.
At the saloon, Frenchy gets on the bar for the rowdy crowd and sings a new song that immediately became one of Dietrich's signature tunes for the rest of the career.  She whoops it up singing "Let's See What The Boys In The Back Room Will Have."

This is the inspiration for Lily von Shtupp's wacky "I'm So Tired," a tune about sexual exhaustion.

If you see Destry Rides Again, you will realize how expertly detailed and nuanced a performance Madeline Kahn delivers.  It's a sublime acting double play. Kahn gives us a definite characterization that stands on its own coupled with a warm, accurate send-up of Dietrich's 1939 wild west character.

To a degree, Lili and Sheriff Bart are the Destry and Frenchy of Blazing Saddles.

The 40th anniversary edition of Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles is now available on Blu-Ray.  Make it a weekend double feature at home.  Rent 1939's Destry Rides Again and then follow it with Lili Von Shtupp and Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles.  Marvel again at the comic brilliance of Madeline Kahn co-starring with Cleavon Little, Harvey Korman, Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks -- Mel, the movie's director and co-writer.  There's my classic movie rental tip for you.  Spend some time with Lili Von Shtupp.

Send out for some schnitzengrüben, in case you get hungry.

1 comment:

  1. Lilies owes as much to this Marlene performance -- in Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" -- as the one in "Destry." 😊


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