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Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles

A Daringly Funny Western Spoof

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

By

Never Give a Saga an Even Break!

Blazing Saddles

Warner Brothers
So politically incorrect it probably couldn’t be made today by anybody but John Waters, Blazing Saddles is crude, rude, and enormously funny, with Mel Brooks' irreverent wit and a fantastic cast. It’s a great reminder of a time when we took ourselves a little less seriously, and when a great director could make a daring, provocative, funny movie into a mainstream box office hit.

The Plot

Plot, schmot. Blazing Saddles is an absurd, stitched-together reversal of western stereotypes, a series of great set-ups for punch lines and sight gags, and a flimsy excuse to explore the premise of a black man installed as sheriff in a whiter-than-white frontier town. There’s never been anything quite like it, before or since.

Be warned: the film makes liberal use of the “N-word,” now so reviled that we dare not write it here, and it does feel odd to hear it in this 1974 comedy. But don’t be concerned that the movie is racist. The characters certainly are, but the movie isn’t.

In fact, Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) has more brain cells operating than the rest of the good citizens of Rock Ridge combined. Bart is installed by scheming political boss Hedley LaMarr (Harvey Korman) in a very silly plot to empty the town of its residents so LaMarr (everyone keeps calling him “Hedy”) can buy up the land cheap and make a fortune when the railroad comes through.

Bart manages to survive his first meeting with the townsfolk and gradually win them over with his ability to outwit LaMarr and his band of dim, bean-eating thugs. (Who can forget that immortal scene?) With the help of the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), and man-beast Mongo (Alex Karras), Sheriff Bart cooks up his own silly plot to save the town, and the whole thing falls apart into a move-within-a-movie, including a pie fight at the Warner Brothers commissary. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

The Cast of 'Blazing Saddles'

Cleavon Little is dazzling as Bart, with his suave, fringed cowboy outfits and a Gucci saddle on his showy palomino. Richard Pryor, one of the writers, was considered for the role, but was too controversial at the time. A shame, but Little is wonderful, a great talent who died too young.

Wilder, with his wry, dry, perfect comic timing, steals the movie as the Waco Kid. He’s a hopeless drunk with a mild manner and the fastest hands in the West, a gunslinger who doesn’t really like to kill people all that much. He’s world-weary and warm at once, slipping into an easy friendship with Bart.

The late, much-lamented Madeleine Kahn steals the movie right back as Lilli Von Schtupp, with a dead-on impersonation of Marlene Dietrich by way of Elmer Fudd (“I must see you in my dwessing woom after the show”) and a Teutonic dance-hall schtick that just won’t schtop. Parodying Dietrich’s famous turn as “Frenchy” in Destry Rides Again, she sings Brooks’ tune “I’m Tired” as an exhausted floozy supported by a troupe of dancers wearing pointy WWI German helmets. Bwilliant.

Korman is way, way over the top as the corrupt LaMarr, with his bone-stupid sidekick Taggart (Slim Pickens) and gang of rowdies. Karrras, a popular football star, is sweet as the lumbering Mongo.

Director Brooks makes three appearances - as a marauding Indian chief who speaks Yiddish; the bumbling Governor LaPetomane, complete with a secretary dressed like a Vegas showgirl; and a World War I flying ace in a line-up of bad guys applying to join Taggart’s crew.

The stereotype of the saintly, hard-working townspeople is turned on its head by the able supporting cast, including a foul-mouthed school marm, an equally profane preacher, and cowardly, red-neck business owners who all seem to be named Johnson. (Including Howard Johnson, whose ice cream store advertises “One Flavor.”)

The Backstory

Blazing Saddles was Brooks’ first major picture following the success of The Producers, another wildly inventive film starring Gene Wilder. Brooks wrote all the songs in the movie, including the nonsensical "Blazing Saddles," sung over the opening credits by Frankie Laine in a self-parody.

Shot on the set for the sci-fi adventure Westworld, one of the working titles was "Black Bart." "Blazing Saddles" won out, with the tag line “Never give a saga an even break!” The film ranks sixth on the American Film Institute’s list of the best comedies of all time.

'Blazing Saddles' - the Bottom Line

More recent gross-out comedies like There's Something About Mary have long since surpassed the cruder scenes that helped make Blazing Saddles a box office hit, but no mainstream picture since has been able to take on the issue of race with such frank humor. Blazing Saddles leaves you with laughter – and a wistful feeling that when it comes to the discussion of race in America, we’ve somehow lost ground since 1974.

Recommended for You:

If you like Blazing Saddles, you may like Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, The Producers, or The 12 Chairs.

'Blazing Saddles' at a Glance:

Year: 1974, Color
Director: Mel Brooks
Running Time: 93 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers
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