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Dog urine row erupts after police staff member tells owner to clean up

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Dog urine row erupts after police staff member tells owner to clean up
A row has erupted after a police staff member was said to have ordered a man to clean up his pet dog’s urine. Steve Schuurman, 56, was walking his six-year-old pet Saluki rescue dog Margot through Bournemouth’s main square last week when she cocked her leg to relieve herself. As the NHS worker walked off, he claims an “aggressive” female member of …
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50 years ago, 'Blazing Saddles' broke wind — and box office expectations

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50 years ago, 'Blazing Saddles' broke wind — and box office expectations

Mel Brooks’ satirical Western Blazing Saddles got mixed reviews when it opened in February 1974, but it became the year’s biggest box office hit. Above, Cleavon Little, left, as Sheriff Bart and Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid.

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Mel Brooks’ satirical Western Blazing Saddles got mixed reviews when it opened in February 1974, but it became the year’s biggest box office hit. Above, Cleavon Little, left, as Sheriff Bart and Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid.

Warner Bros./Getty Images

Fifty years ago, Mel Brooks released Blazing Saddles to gales of laughter and a mighty roar of flatulence jokes.

Also to mixed reviews from harrumphing critics. Typical was Vincent Canby, whose New York Times review lamented the film’s “desperate, bone crushing efforts to be funny.”

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The critics eventually came around, though it took a while. By the film’s 30th anniversary, NBC’s Today Show was acknowledging that its laughs were in the service of a plot that “skewers just about every aspect of racial prejudice.”

And in 2006, when NPR’s Linda Wertheimer reported that Blazing Saddles was being added to the National Film Registry, she was clearly feigning incredulity. “Who could have imagined a film featuring a bunch of cowboys sitting around the campfire, eating beans and breaking wind, to be enshrined in the Library of Congress?”

By then, of course, everyone could imagine. Brooks had subsequently made a slew of genre-spoof classics (Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights) and even riffed on history itself (History of the World: Part I), not to mention the 2000 Year Old Man routines he created with Carl Reiner. The man was a legend.

But in 1974, he was significantly less well-known, having made a couple of mildly successful comedies (The Twelve Chairs and The Producers) and worked in Sid Caesar’s joke-writer stable for TV. So what he was doing in this western parody got, in the words of another of that era’s funnymen, “no respect.”

Upending Hollywood’s version of the Old West

Blazing Saddles starts out like many a Western before it: Big Sky country, a wide open prairie in the 1870s being tamed by a railroad. The foreman is white, his workers mostly African American, and he expects them to be singing as they sweat.

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“When you were slaves you sang like birds,” he smirks. “How about a good ol’ n***** work song.”

Brooks worried about using the racial epithet I’ve just elided. But his co-screenwriter Richard Pryor insisted he use it — and use it often — consciously putting it the mouths of evil or unthinking characters, so that star Cleavon Little could comically mock or demolish them.

Which he does. Repeatedly. And hilariously.

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So, Blazing Saddles is not really “like many a Western before it.” Brooks was upending Hollywood’s version of the Old West, much as Robert Altman’s dark, land-grab drama McCabe & Mrs. Miller had, three years earlier. He just took a different tack. To set his comedy in motion, he had Harvey Korman’s scheming politician come up with the idea of hiring a Black sheriff to scare the townsfolk of Rock Ridge away from their town, so he can buy it on the cheap before any of them learns the rail line will soon be coming through.

His ploy works. When Cleavon Little’s Sheriff Bart rides into view, they are indeed less than welcoming. But they are also less than bright – foiled in their plan to shoot their new sheriff, for instance, when he points his gun at his own head and takes himself hostage.

‘He’s like wet sauerkraut in my hands’

Bart then teams up with Gene Wilder’s Waco Kid, a hung-over gunslinger, at which point the film adopts the rhythms of a black/white buddy comedy. Until, that is, it turns into a spoof of The Blue Angel, as Madeline Kahn’s seductress-for-hire Lili Von Shtupp croons a gloriously off-pitch “I’m Tired” and sets about seducing Sheriff Bart. “He’s like wet sauerkraut in my hands,” she purrs in an accent that suggests she got vocal coaching from both Marlene Dietrich and Elmer Fudd.

To satirize 1970s racial prejudice using 1870s characters, Brooks opted to become an equal-opportunity shredder of genres and conventions. A horse gets punched, as does an old lady. Even Busby Berkeley musicals come in for a brief ribbing when a brawl literally breaks the fourth wall and the cast crashes into a dance number on a nearby soundstage.

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And of course, there’s that campfire scene: cowboys consuming pots of coffee and platefuls of baked beans, with predictable — though unusual for film — results.

‘Bury it.’

When studio executives first saw Blazing Saddles, they were not amused. One distributor suggested they “bury it.” Others wanted rewrites. But Brooks’ contract gave him final cut, and he flat-out refused to make changes.

So on Feb. 7, 1974, the studio opened the film as a test in three cities — NYC, LA, Chicago — considered the most likely to get Brooks’ Borscht Belt sense of humor. Critics were dismissive, but even the most negative reviews conceded that audiences were howling.

And word got around. By the time the weather had warmed, Blazing Saddles was playing to long lines in suburban cinemas across the country.

It ended up the biggest box-office hit of 1974, seen by some 63 million moviegoers in North America (more than would, decades later, see any of the Lord of the Rings movies in U.S. theaters).

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Blazing Saddles became, in short, a pop culture touchstone. And 50 years later, that’s what it remains.

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Fyre Fest Founder Billy McFarland Says Pre-Sale for Sequel Is Worth $110M

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Fyre Fest Founder Billy McFarland Says Pre-Sale for Sequel Is Worth $110M

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In the mood for a sweet, off-beat murder mystery? 'Elsbeth' is on the case

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In the mood for a sweet, off-beat murder mystery? 'Elsbeth' is on the case

Carrie Preston stars an an astute but unconventional attorney in Elsbeth.

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Carrie Preston stars an an astute but unconventional attorney in Elsbeth.

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Carrie Preston won an Emmy Award in 2013, as outstanding guest actress, for her portrayal of a seemingly scatter-brained lawyer on the CBS series The Good Wife. Her character, Elsbeth Tascioni, really was a character. Her conversations tended to derail into unexpected directions. Her questions never seemed to follow any logical path, but they always had a purpose – and she was keenly, almost uncomfortably, observant.

Michelle and Robert King, the writing team that created The Good Wife to showcase the talent of Julianna Margulies, quickly recognized Preston’s Elsbeth as a valuable supporting player. She appeared in six of the seven seasons of The Good Wife, and won her Emmy there.

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Then she returned as the same character in The Good Fight, which the Kings wrote as a sequel series starring Christine Baranski. And now, there’s a third series, this time bringing Preston front and center. It’s called Elsbeth, and the series pilot was written by co-creators Michelle and Robert King, with him directing the premiere episode.

So what are they up to this time? They’ve transplanted Elsbeth from Chicago to New York City, where she’s been hired to officially observe, and secretly investigate, some of the police there. In her new job, she’s given so much latitude, she even can serve as an ad-hoc murder investigator.

Elsbeth, the series, is structured like Poker Face, or, even more obviously, Columbo. I’ve previewed three episodes, and each begins with viewers seeing the murderer commit the crime … and then, and only then, does Elsbeth enter the crime scene and start putting the puzzle pieces together.

As with Columbo, each episode features a prominent guest star as the killer of the week. For the premiere episode of Elsbeth — no spoiler alerts here, because the murder is shown in the opening moments — Stephen Moyer from True Blood is the special guest star. He plays an acting teacher and director who has found a way to dispose of his much younger former student and lover, by making it look like suicide. When Elsbeth arrives at the victim’s apartment, she ignores the dead body and heads straight for the bathroom – where she pokes around until a detective notices her and objects.

The police aren’t sure what to make of her, of course. Wendell Pierce, that wonderful actor from The Wire, plays Capt. Wagner, who is exasperated one moment, impressed the next — which is how everyone reacted to Elsbeth way back on The Good Wife. Carra Patterson plays Kaya Blanke, an officer who soon becomes a friend as well as a colleague.

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But as with Columbo, the most important dynamic is between the investigator and the killer. Elsbeth, like Columbo, is persistent and underestimated. But where Columbo kept his theories close to his vest, or his raincoat, Elsbeth almost delights in revealing her hole cards, to unsettle her prime suspect. Preston and Moyer worked together on HBO’s True Blood, and it’s fun to see them together again here – this time as adversaries.

Other episodes shown to critics feature, as the murderers of the week, Jane Krakowski from 30 Rock and Jesse Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family. Both of them bring a playful energy, sparring with Preston’s Elsbeth – and she really sparkles, with and without them, and carries the series with ease.

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Also, the show’s New York locations add even more to the flavor, and the enjoyment. All together, they make Elsbeth an undeniable throwback to an earlier TV era. But so is Poker Face, which I love for many of the same reasons: Great leading role; delightful guest stars; decent, clever mysteries that are solved by the end of each episode. And in an era where so much TV is so dark and depressing, Elsbeth stands out as a sweet, happy little treat.

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