>> Thursday, June 5, 2008
USA/C-93m./Dir: Mel Brooks/Wr: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Alan Unger/Cast: Cleavon Little (Bart), Gene Wilder (Jim, the Waco Kid), Slim Pickins (Taggart), Harvey Korman (Hedley Lamarr), Madeline Kahn (Lili Von Shtupp), Mel Brooks (Governor William J. Le Petomane)
Blazing Saddles has been called the greatest Western comedy ever made. It is certainly that, but it is much, much more. It’s stiletto-sharp satire of racial prejudice. It’s a boundary-busting celebration of vulgarity. It’s nearly a Warner Brothers’ cartoon. It’s almost a musical. And, like most Westerns, it also happens to be a booze movie.
First and foremost, it’s a parody--a film about jokes rather than plot. However, the story, what there is of one, is as follows. It’s 1874 in an unnamed Western state, and the Attorney General, Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), hatches a scheme to make a quick profit by buying up land when he discovers that the railroad must divert through the backwater town of Rock Ridge. He sends a band of cutthroats to run off the residents; but rather than pulling up stakes, the citizens wire the governor (Mel Brooks) to send them a new sheriff. Undaunted, Lamarr convinces the governor to appoint Bart (Cleavon Little), a black railroad worker, to the post, certain that the citizenry will never accept the new sheriff due to the color of his skin. Can Bart defeat frontier racism and the nefarious schemes of Hedley Lamarr? With the help of alky gunfighter, the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) and a lot of ingenuity, Bart manages to save the day.
Blazing Saddles is an exceptionally funny film--so funny that it garners a guffaw before the first word is spoken (thanks to the exaggerated whip crack that precedes the lyrics of the opening theme). The writers take aim at every Western cliché, including the whiskey-sodden gunfighter (in the form of Gene Wilder’s shaky-handed Waco Kid), and few comedies have a better hit to miss ratio. Many of the pop culture jokes, such as references to Olsen and Johnson, Laurel and Hardy, Randolph Scott, and Douglas Fairbanks will likely to go over the heads of younger viewers, as will the comically exaggerated imitations of Gabby Hayes and Marlene Dietrich. However, silliness is eternal, and Mel Brooks’ inspired lunacy will stand the test of time.
The movie will also endure because it is one of the smartest films ever produced on the subject of racism. Like Dr. Strangelove (1964), Blazing Saddles ridicules its dark subject with subversive humor and is a more effective statement for the use of the jokes. It isn’t an easy to create an entertainment that is sophisticated and juvenile simultaneously, but Brooks and his sparkling cast make it look easy. The cast is, of course, top notch; and Korman, Kahn, Little, and Pickins give career-topping performances. Like good whiskey, this comic gem has just improved over time.
Drinks Consumed--Whiskey, beer, and wine
Intoxicating Effects--Hangover, the shakes, passing out, bad breath
Potent Quotables--BART (regarding the Waco Kid’s boozing): A man drink like that and he don’t eat, he is going to die.
Video Availability--Blazing Saddles is available on DVD (Warner Brothers) as a standalone disc or as part of The Mel Brooks Collection (Fox). An ultra-sharp Blazing Saddles [Blu-ray] is also available.
Similarly Sauced Cinema--For more alky gun slinging, check out Lee Marvin as Kid Shelleen in Cat Ballou (1965).