#140 Blazing Saddles
(1974, Mel Brooks)
“What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?”
I’ve mentioned before how difficult it is to review comedy, particularly comedy that chooses never to take itself too seriously anyway, so why take it seriously as a reviewer? Because I must, damn it! Today’s review is for Blazing Saddles, another of Mel Brooks’ most well-loved parody movies.
Blazing Saddles parodies westerns, and seems intent on throwing in references to the Blaxploitation genre that was popular in the seventies too. The plot, an excuse for jokes as always with Brooks, involves a small frontier town named Rock Ridge. After the town gets attacked by bandits, their sheriff is murdered, and they call on attorney general Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) to provide them with a new one.
Lamarr, of course, is corrupt and in fact was the one who ordered the bandits to attack the town in the first place. He has plans to build a new railroad through Rock Ridge and wants the town flattened in order to do so. He decides to fulfil their request for a new sheriff, but in an attempt to get the townspeople to tear each other apart and distract them, he decides to send a black railroad worker named Bart (Cleavon Little). However, with the assistance of his deputy, Jim (Gene Wilder), Bart catches on to Lamarr’s plans and tries to formulate a plan to win over the townspeople and turn them against Lamarr.
As usual with Mel Brooks movies, the jokes are either outright hilarious or they’re awkward and uncomfortable, and this is still the case with Blazing Saddles. The hilarious moments outweigh the awkward ones, but the awkward ones are still there and still very noticeable. An example is the extended fart joke as the bandits sit around a campfire eating beans, which went on too long for my liking and just simply wasn’t funny.
However, there is little awkwardness out of the racial issues, which was a possibility due to different attitudes of the seventies, but oddly, it all holds up. Admittedly, this may have something to do with the fact that Richard Pryor was a co-writer, but it’s still impressive. Even the use of the infamous “n-word” feels period-appropriate (for the 1800s, not the seventies!)
Blazing Saddles does feel a little unfocused when it starts out unfortunately. The plot is a little too muddled and sometimes set up in a way that it’s obviously leading to specific jokes rather than because it advances the plot. It doesn’t feel as effective as the plot of Young Frankenstein in all honesty.
Where Blazing Saddles really works well is in the interaction between Little and Wilder. Little plays his role with charm and cockiness, while Wilder is oddly subdued for once, and this actually works well for his character, since it makes his absurd gun-slinging skills even sillier. His introduction as he’s hanging upside down is also a fantastic way to introduce him.
So, Blazing Saddles then. A good comedy movie, not as good as Young Frankenstein but definitely worth watching.
Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks & Dom DeLuise
Written by Andrew Bergman, Mel Brooks & Richard Pryor
Produced by Michael Hertzberg
Music by John Morris, songs by Mel Brooks
Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc
Edited by Danford B. Greene & John C. Howard
Favourite Scene: Any time Jim demonstrates his impressive gun-slinging skills, especially when he manages to shoot several guns out of people’s hands while still folding his arms.
Scene That Bugged Me: The extended fart joke. Really unnecessary and not particularly funny.
Watch it if: You’re John Wayne (who loved it)
Avoid it if: You’re Hedy Lamarr (who tried to sue)