Blazing Saddles (1974) ****1/2
Directed by Mel Brooks
Here begins my Iconic Irreverent Comedies Marathon which will include six other films—Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Animal House, Caddyshack, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, This Is Spinal Tap and A Fish Called Wanda. For the most part, I’m not a huge fan of envelope pushing comedies, so unless it was a hit while I was in high school or college (There’s Something About Mary, American Pie,
The only other Mel Brooks comedy that I’ve seen is the recent musical version of The Producers, though I’m not really sure if only the original ought to be counted as a Mel Brooks film. Either way, the remake of The Producers didn’t work for me. Yet, I did see it on Broadway, and I found the production to be one of the best shows I’ve ever witnessed. It’s the stage version that helped me appreciate Brooks’ strange comedic genius. I knew Blazing Saddles was going to be a racial comedy set in a small western town. I expected it to be raunchy, which is what I expect many of the other films on the marathon to be as well. In general, I don’t like it when a movie equates being disgusting with being funny. In American Pie, one of the characters unknowingly drinks urine. As I watched him do so, I’ll admit that I wasn’t bored. In fact, I had a strong reaction of disgusted recoil. I remember everyone else in the movie theater screaming in laughter. Personally, I didn’t laugh at that because a man drinking urine isn’t inherently funny. Even a man drinking urine and not knowing it isn’t inherently funny. Though, drinking urine (or any other disgusting liquid for that matter) can be hilarious. It’s simply all about how the scene is written, acted and directed. Good raunchy comedy incorporates its raunch into an established comedic situation. It’s similar in horror films as well. Just because you see something vile on screen doesn’t mean that it’s scary. The gore must again be incorporated into the horror itself.
Blazing Saddles is surprisingly not raunchy at all. If I remember correctly, the film has no disgusting moments, unless you count the scene with the beans which I thought was hilarious. It brought out the giggling eight year old in me. The nonstop humor instead can be categorized into different styles. There are explicit examples of verbal sexual humor, and at the same time there are also subtle double entendres which I enjoyed more than the blatant jokes. Sometimes, it would take me a few seconds to think about what was just said before I understood the joke’s double meaning. Because of this, I bet some lines went right over my head. Still, though, there were very few moments watching Blazing Saddles when I wasn’t laughing.
Another type of humor obviously has its roots in Vaudeville and Abbot and Costello routines. These jokes are quite tame in comparison to other types, but what’s really wonderful about Brooks’ writing is that his tame jokes are usually just as funny as his irreverent ones, if not more so. A final type of humor bravely embraces what often is a taboo subject especially for white comedians—racial humor. The first two sentences of Blazing Saddles contain racial slurs—the first towards Chinese and the second towards blacks. Of course, Mel Brooks doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, which is made clear in the way he ridiculously showcases the stupidity of the white bigots.
The plot of Blazing Saddles is so screwy that I won’t go into it in detail. Besides, what’s important in this film is its nonstop humor. It’s unfair to fault Blazing Saddles for its weak storyline because it wasn’t intended to work on its own. To put it another way—if Blazing Saddles were to be remade into a drama with the same plot, then it probably would be unbearably awful. Obviously, the five screenwriters, including Brooks and Richard Pryor among others, thought up the comedic sequences in the film and then molded the storyline to fit the comedy. In order for a comedy with a lousy plot to work, it has to be extremely funny or else there’s nothing for the audience to grasp onto.
Gene Wilder plays against type as a laidback, alcoholic gunslinger named Jim. He’s the deputy sheriff of a small town called Rock Ridge. A new sheriff is brought into town by cross-eyed Governor William J. Lepetoman, played riotously by Mel Brooks himself. The sheriff’s name is Bart, played by Cleavon Little. By the way, Bart’s black and the townfolk, all of whom have the last name Johnson, definitely don’t like this idea. Recently deceased Harvey Korman plays the evil Hedley Lamarr, who wants to run the people out of town so that railroad tracks can go through it.
Madeline Kahn was deservedly nominated for an Oscar playing Lili Von Shtupp, a German cabaret dancer with a solid reputation as a mankiller. Kahn is absolutely hilarious in every scene she’s in, speaking with a deep voice and a heavy lisp. It’s funny how those two elements perfectly parody a German accent. Wilder, Korman, Brooks and the rest of the supporting players hit almost every single comedic pitch out of the ballpark. Cleavon Little oozes with charm, making him very likeable, which is important since he’s on screen longer than anyone else. His comedic talent equals the legends of comedy which act alongside him.
The film’s ending quickly delves into anarchy as characters run off the Blazing Saddles set and into a movie theater showing Blazing Saddles. Because the film parodies the Western among other things, the film’s final scene appropriately has Jim and Bart ride off in the sunset, literally going nowhere.
Again, what makes Blazing Saddles a spectacular film is its brilliantly funny screenplay executed perfectly by some of the great comedic actors of all time. Most of the laughs come from utterances that have nothing to do with what’s going on in the film itself. Therefore, to explain its humor, it’s probably best to simply display some of its great quotes. I’m sticking to the non-R rated ones, so keep in mind that these examples don’t give you a complete picture of what Blazing Saddles is all about.
“Go do that voodoo that you do so well!”
“Is that a ten gallon hat or are you just enjoying the show?”
“I’m tired of men coming and going, going and coming—always too soon.”
“Stampeding cattle.” “That’s not much of a crime.” “Through the
‘You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons!”
“You are my guest, and I am your host. What is your pleasure? What do you like to do?” “I don’t know. Play chess… screw.” “Let’s play chess!”
“You will be risking your lives while I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for the Best Supporting Actor.”
“Unfortunately, there is one thing standing between me and that property—the rightful owners.”
“I got it! I know how we can run everyone out of Rock Ridge.” “How?” “We kill the first born male child in each household.” “Too Jewish.”
“Where’s my froggy?”
“We’ll head them off at the pass!” “Head them off at the pass? I hate that cliché!”
“Now I don’t have to tell you good folks what’s been happening in our beloved little town. Sheriff murdered, crops burned, stores looted, people stampeded, and cattle raped. The time has come to act, and act fast! I’m leaving!”
“What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?”
“Well can’t you see that’s the last act of a desperate man?” “I don’t care if it’s the first act of Henry V. We’re leaving!”
And my personal favorite:
“My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.”