Blazing Saddles (1974)
Blazing Saddles (1974)

Genre: Comedy and Western Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: February 7th, 1974 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Mel Brooks Actors: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Burton Gilliam, Alex Karras, David Huddleston, John Hillerman

 


 

W

hile laying track for a railroad, swinging axes and sometimes passing out in the sweltering sun, a singing contest of sorts breaks out between the laborers and their back-breaking supervisors. This is much to the annoyance of boss Taggart (Slim Pickens), who orders two of the black workers, Bart (Cleavon Little) and Charlie (Charles McGregor), to survey up ahead for a possible patch of quicksand. Once they’re up to their necks in the syrupy stuff – and conspicuously abandoned – Bart finally manages to relieve himself of his unfortunate employment, thanks to a handy shovel, though it proves to be a very temporary reprieve.

Taggart soon informs corrupt Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) that the railroad needs to be diverted through the peaceful town of Rock Ridge. All that stands in their way are the rightful owners. And so, a plan is hatched to send Taggart and his goons to burn, loot, murder, and rape (the people and livestock alike), to scare the citizens into fleeing. But the townsfolk are determined not to give up so easily. After the sheriff is killed and the church is bombed, they send a telegram to the governor (Mel Brooks) to plead for a replacement lawman. Lamarr surveys the situation first, however, plotting once again to drive the people from their land – by hiring a sheriff so offensive that they’ll leave on their own. And so, Bart is saved from the hangman’s noose and given a badge.

The racism, slurs, and dismissal of the value of life is somewhat shocking as much as it is ironic, even though it’s all conducted in jest – and as an exaggeration of real prejudices of the era. Part of the uncomfortableness is due to the seriousness in which many of the players conduct themselves; despite the comedic scenarios, several of the supporting cast behave earnestly, which increases the sting of denigrations – while also increasing the hilarity. It’s terribly funny, even as it intermittently offends (there’s also violence against women, again done phonily, thrown in for good measure).

Although there’s a storyline at work, writer/director Mel Brooks peppers his script with countless asides (many of which are anachronistic for this late 1800s Western), breaks in the fourth wall (including one that reveals the fakery of movie sets themselves, lending to the concluding joke in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”), over-the-top nonsense (scenes that couldn’t exist anywhere but in a spoof), flashbacks, and even genuine stunts. He also favors puerile humor, such as a sequence in which cowboys gather around a campfire, eating beans and passing gas. Additional plot points play out like thematically related skits – from a formidable assassin called Mongo (Alex Karras) to an anticipated saloon performance by the “teutonic titwillow,” seductress Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn). In many ways, the film is a montage of Western parodies, strung together by recurring characters.

But despite the narrative shortcomings, many of the gags are outstanding – even simple one-liners and jokes written on items in backgrounds. And goofy, quotable lines of dialogue are abundant (including recitations from other movies). Also of note are the songs (occasionally supplemented by dancing), written by Brooks himself (the title tune is performed Frankie Laine), which give the picture the feel of a stage play adaptation, in line with the lighthearted absurdity of the whole ordeal. And, of course, there’s Gene Wilder as an uncommonly unbiased gunslinger, the Waco Kid, who gets some of the best moments. In the end, no Western cliche is safe from lampooning in “Blazing Saddles,” which literally devolves into something less than a complete movie (or something outlandishly experimental); even the classic ride off into the sunset is given a perfectly foolish send-up.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10