Blazing Saddles is a must have comedy for all collections

Blazing Saddles is a true American classic

Blazing Saddles

Deep inside most of us there is that inner child, not the one that so many self help books are concerned with but rather the little kid that laughs at any reference to bodily functions. Usually we make some attempt to hid this puerile side but Mel Brooks not only brings his out in the open he has built a career on it. Among the best of his comedies is his spoof of the beloved Hollywood genre, the western.

Blazing Saddles opens on a work gang laying the track for the railroad. The gang is almost exclusively black and Asian with crude white supervisors. When quicksand is discovered by one of the workers, Bart (Cleavon Little), the decision is made to divert the track through the little cow town of Rock Ridge. To do this the State Attorney General Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman) must rid the sleepy little town of its inhabitants. What better way than to fulfill their request for a sheriff with a black man, namely Bart. What follows is a rapid fire torrent of racial, sexual and scatological jokes so close together that it will take numerous viewings to actually catch them all. With almost every western there is a campfire scene showing the cow boys eating mass quantities of beans, Blazing Saddles take this standard faire to its logical gaseous conclusion. Everything is done in excess here, there is not a single iota of subtly to be found and while almost everyone in the audience will state how crude the humor is they will have to wait until the belly laughs subside to do so.

With so much of a serious nature going on in our modern world it is refreshing to sit back for an hour and a half or so and return to that time in our lives when humor was silly, permitting our adult nature to take the back seat to politically incorrect humor. Yes, political correctness has left the building when Blazing Saddles was made. Almost every racial and sexual slur possible is used, over and over again. Instead of being an insult, Blazing Saddles demonstrates that these words only have the power that we give them. Taken in the context used here these heinous words make us laugh instead of invoking anger. Blazing Saddles twists every scene we loved in the westerns of our youth. This gives an immediate familiarity with the surroundings of the films and the juxtaposition of modern terms in a rustic setting. Instead of being anachronistic this works as the two worlds collide together. Blazing Saddles is just out right funny; suspend all adult sensibilities and sit back to enjoy the stream of jokes.

Simply put, this is a spectacular cast. What is required and thankfully delivered is an intelligent, quick witted group of actors. Cleavon Little as the sheriff presents himself as an urbane individual, able to out wit his dullard foes and the bigoted town he serves. In one famous scene he holds a gun to his head and takes himself hostage. Without the natural charm and humor of Little this scene would have fallen flat, instead it comes across as hysterical. Gene Wilder as the drunken gunfighter Wacko Kid goes beyond the typical straight man and acts almost as a Greek chorus, providing commentary on the events. His laid back attitude plays well off the almost Looney Tunes cartoon nature of the stunts pulled by Bart. Harvey Korman is with any doubt one of the best straight men in comedy. From his days in the Carol Burnett show he has honed his skills to a razor’s edge. Here these talents are taken over the top. Slim Pickens is perfect as the bigoted trail boss Taggart. His crude presentation is contrasted against the more debonair Bart. The late great Madeline Kahn provides much of the sexually based humor in her role as Lili Von Shtupp, the Teutonic, apathetic singer sent to seduce Bart only to fall for his charming ways. Typical of his style, writer/director Mel Brooks makes an appearance as the near sighted, sexually obsessed Governor William J. LePetomane. Each member of the cast provides a synergy, pushing the film to the heights of humor.

Writer/director Mel Brooks is a rare talent. You either are a complete fan or you will find his humor tasteless, there is no middle ground here. In 1974 two of his greatest films were released, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Most comedy writers will go years between hits, this man delivered two of cinema’s best in the same year. Brooks must have begun his career telling rude jokes at recess when he was a child. Fortunately for us, the audience, that child never grew up. Blazing Saddles is humor without restraint. It is so politically incorrect that I doubt it could be made today. While most writers overlay their stories on a consistent universe of their own device, Brooks tosses that aside with every other social norm. At the end of the film the action spills over on to the Warner Brothers set where the fight between the townsfolk and cow boys is enjoined by singing Hilters, chorus girls and an assortment of other film extras. It is this off the wall manner that makes a Brooks film what it is, you can never expect what is coming next.

Personally, it is difficult for me to accept that this is the 30th anniversary edition of Blazing Saddles. My wife and I enjoyed Blazing Saddles repeatedly in the theaters. Warner Brothers did a fine job of commemorating this classic film. The 2.40:1 video is generally clear although there are some signs of age with a few transient speak appearing on the screen. The remixed Dolby 5.1 audio provides a good sound stage but an original mono mix would have been appreciated. The running commentary provided by Brooks is a bit dry at times but does give some insight into the bizarre workings of this man’s mind. For extras there are some gems here. The cast and crew reunion is touching at times, sort of like a sleep away camp reunion after many years. There is a tribute to the late Madeline Kahn whose incredible body of work remains some of the best comedy ever presented on stage, screen or television. Finally, there is Black Bart, the failed television pilot; one viewing will show why this series didn’t make it. After all, it had incredibly big shoes to fill. Blazing Saddles is a must have comedy for all collections, a true American classic.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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