When we saw Sofia Vergara in costume for Machete Kills, we thought of a couple of things: the Austin Powers Fembots and this costume rendering by Vittorio Novarese. Although it doesn’t appear in the film, this design was created for Madeline Kahn’s character, Lili Von Shtupp, in Blazing Saddles (1974). Kahn received an Academy Award nomination for her hilarious mash-up of a character: part saloon girl, part Marlene Dietrich and completely unforgettable.
In this early version of a costume for Kahn’s hilarious musical number, “I’m Tired,” Novarese outfits her with an Iron Cross at her neck, an eagle splayed across her hips and a Prussian army helmet with a large spike on top. The ensemble is completed with matching spikes (or gun barrels?) protruding from the bust of her merry widow.
In the end, Blazing Saddles backed away from this potent image. Although we don’t know why the costume was changed, in the final film Kahn wears a sheer negligee and a black merry widow sans spikes. The aggressive, military flavor of her original outfit was transferred to a chorus of four male Prussian soldiers bearing bayonets.
Designer Novarese is best known for his work on such historical productions as Cleopatra (1963), Cromwell (1970) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). His work on Blazing Saddles proved that he was also adept at the creation of costumes for comedies—even the most pointed ones.
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