Thursday, May 29, 2008

Harvey Korman (1927-2008)

Sad to hear that Harvey Korman passed away Thursday at the age of 81. He had a long and successful career, and he's perhaps best known for his contributions on The Carol Burnett Show but for me he'll always be Hedley Lamarr, the moustache twirling villain of Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles.

Hedey ("That's Hedley!") is an Attorney General who tries to use his proximity to a boobish governor (played by Brooks himself) to snatch the land (" snatch!") of the town of Rock Ridge in order to run a railroad through it and make himself a bundle of money. Though the entire cast of Saddles — Cleavon Little, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, and, of course, Gene Wilder — is aces, Korman owns the movie and all of its best scenes. When he rustles up a posse of the worst hoodlums the West has ever seen, he motivates them for their big assault on Rock Ridge with, "You will be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost-certain Academy Award nomination for the Best Supporting Actor." When Pickens' right hand man Mr. Taggert suggests they scare away the citizens of Rock Ridge by slaying the first born child of every house Korman pauses then shakes his head. "Too Jewish," he says.

Korman gave Hedey ("That's Hedley!!") a straight face through even the most ridiculous lines of dialogue ("Gentlemen, please! Rest your sphincters!") and in a way he was the perfect Brooks villain: evil, but mildly so, in a way that encourages the audiences to hate him; hate him so much, in fact, that they enjoy when he reappears because then it's time to hate some more. Korman and Brooks worked together again three more times: in High Anxiety, History of the World: Part I and Brooks' last film, Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Though all three of those films are uneven, Korman's great in all of them.

Korman never did get that "almost certain" Academy Award nomination (though he did win several Emmys for The Carol Burnett Show) but in my book Hedey ("That's Hedley!!!") is one of the great movie villains. I've seen Blazing Saddles at least a dozen times, and just caught it again at Cannes the annual Cinema de la Plage, where it was my pleasure to watch the movie with a couple hundred French people who clearly didn't get half the jokes but who loved Korman and delighted in his schemes and his delicious comeuppance (spoiler alert: Little ultimately defeats him by shooting him in the balls). Wherever Harvey is now, I hope he is doing that voodoo that he do so well.


Blogger Wealthy Pete said...

I think the Academy should honor him with a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. That would be the best tribute... although probably a horrible precedent.

His role also added the word "kinky" to my dictionary of most-used exclamations. Ala, "State your crime", "Stampeding cattle" "That's not much of a crime", "Through the Vatican", "Kinky!"

3:16 PM  

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