(0081X) Blazing Saddles

Blazing SaddlesFebruary 17, 1974 | 7 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? Yes

What did I expect? An utterly hilarious and tasteless western parody.

What did I get? Rude, sunny, and not what you’d call ironic, Blazing Saddles ripples with a restless comedic energy that frequently feels something close to musical (it’s also got a lot of good music in it). Arguably the most enjoyable movie of the entire Boffo project, it’s seldom a jot less than fully realized and blazingly memorable. Gleefully, scurrilously anachronistic, Blazing Saddles is properly scattershot and quite sedate in its hilarity. The secret to its hold on us, however, is elusive, as all really great movies must somehow be.

The enduring potency of Blazing Saddles stems from the unbeatable combination of countercultural social values and establishment production values, which is a harder trick to pull off than you’d think. Among the great comedies, Blazing Saddles is the one that most resembles an unsinkable battleship. By 1974 Brooks was a veteran of LPs, TV, and movies; to his credit, his empathy for the downtrodden trumped his underlying formal timidity. In a way, that makes Brooks’ audacity all the more striking, for what grounds Blazing Saddles most of all is that it dares to imagine an America free of racial preference.

Despite its thudding, instinctive innocence — Bart cons gullible Lyle (Burton Gilliam) into breaking out into “De Camp Town Ladies,” for instance — Blazing Saddles is (of course) thuddingly, instinctively profane. The repetitions of “faggot” and “nigger” fall uncomfortably on our ears today, but the movie lacks malice. In an odd way, Blazing Saddles is a clear precursor to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. But where Tarantino’s use of that loaded word seems anything but carefree, Brooks hardly seems interested in it; it’s just a part of the fabric of the time that sorely needs upending.

Blazing Saddles shares a key trait with the previous #1, The Exorcist, which is the grandaddy of the modern horror movie without sharing much of its DNA. Similarly, Blazing Saddles is the one movie that is most responsible for Airplane!, The Naked Gun, and Scary Movie without being of the same group, quite. Blazing Saddles is not actually targeted at adolescents; it’s intended for adults, fart jokes notwithstanding. The showbiz rigor embedded in its seemingly blithe gags suggests a guiding ethic absent in those later movies.

One of the most impressive things about Blazing Saddles is how smashingly well it showcased its cast, supplying the signature role to at least a half-dozen actors, including Cleavon Little, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Gilliam Burton, Alex Karras, and John Hillerman — not to mention Count Basie. (By the way, did Brooks and Peter Bogdanovich have some kind of actors’ exchange program going? Kahn, Hillerman, Gilliam, and Liam Dunn were all Bogdanovich discoveries.) Furthermore, the movie is expansive enough to allow each actor his or her proper space; Korman’s energy is nothing like Kahn’s, whose energy is nothing like Little’s, but Blazing Saddles effortlessly contains them all.

Even when Blazing Saddles isn’t being “funny,” it’s still pretty darn amusing, as in the languorous scene in which Bart and Jim get to know each other. That scene is jam-packed with indelible phraseology — “You was just pulling my lariat . . . oh, deary dear . . . well raise my rent,” etc. While never for a nanosecond suggesting anything like a conventional homosexual relationship, Bart and Jim obviously constitute the implied romantic partners of the movie — as the long final shot emphasizes.

What here smacks of 1974?  The emphasis on race.

IMDB score: 7.7

My score: 10

Director: Mel Brooks

Writers: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, and Alan Uger

Starring: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Burton Gilliam, Alex Karras, David Huddleston, Liam Dunn, John Hillerman, George Furth, Jack Starrett, Carol Arthur, Richard Collier, Charles McGregor, Robyn Hilton, Don Megowan, Dom DeLuise, Count Basie, Karl Lukas

IMDB synopsis: The Ultimate Western Spoof. A town where everyone seems to be named Johnson is in the way of the railroad. In order to grab their land, Hedley Lemar, a politically connected nasty person, sends in his henchmen to make the town unlivable. After the sheriff is killed, the town demands a new sheriff from the Governor. Hedley convinces him to send the town the first Black sheriff in the west. Bart is a sophisticated urbanite who will have some difficulty winning over the townspeople.

Get it at Amazon!

2 thoughts on “(0081X) Blazing Saddles

  1. Woodrowfan says:

    I thought the ending was lame, as if Brooks reached the end and suddenly didn’t know what to do. But otherwise I love the movie.

  2. dswidow says:

    Excellent critique of this movie. I never thought of the “combination of countercultural social values and establishment production values” in quite the way you’ve put it. Good insight. Saw this movie again recently, and it’s still just as funny as the first time.

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