Blazing Saddles [retro review]

“‘Scuse me while I whip this out.”

The Scoop: 1974 R, directed by Mel Brooks and starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, and Madeline Kahn

Tagline: Never give a saga an even break!

Summary Capsule: Mel Brooks takes a popular film genre and — wait, get ready for this — spoofs it. But before that was a given.

Drew’s Rating: One star for every fart around the campfire… and baby, that’s a lot of stars

Drew’s Review: Ask any random group of people what Mel Brooks’s best film is, and the ones who don’t smile nervously and start edging away are likely to give you a wide array of answers. Purists might say it’s surely Young Frankenstein, for being the most subtle (by comparison) of Mel’s movies, and one he’s not actually in. Nerds will head right for Spaceballs, bringing up the spot-on skewering of every major sci-fi franchise popular at the time. Hell, some oddballs might even point to History of the World, Part 1, just to be different… stranger things have happened.

Regardless, the important thing is that all of these people are wrong — it’s actually Blazing Saddles. The reasoning behind this bold proclamation — almost certain to bring the death threats a-rollin’ in, just you wait — is both absurdly simple and oddly profound: it’s the only Mel Brooks movie with a moral. Granted, a rather obvious and oversimplified one — racism is wrong, but helping each other as an alternative to death makes everything kosher — but a moral nonetheless. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good mindless comedy with nothing to say as much as the next guy, and probably his neighbor too… but that socially redeeming element is just icing on the cake, the difference between a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and a Breakfast Club. In this case, it’s what elevates Blazing Saddles from “another damn Mel Brooks movie” to “the BEST damn Mel Brooks movie, period.” Feel the grandeur.

In case you needed a plot, it’s not too complex, stemming from a pretty simple concept — what if you transplanted 1974 into 1874? Taking the idea and running with it, everything from Gucci saddlebags to Sinatra tunes come into play as bad, bad Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) plots to snatch land from the little town of Rock Ridge. Counting on frontier intolerance to do his job for him, he appoints a black sheriff (Cleavon Little) into office, hoping the townspeople will leave of their own accord. But when Sheriff Bart teams up with ex-gunslinger The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) and manages to win the respect of his town, the question becomes: will they be able to defend it from Lamarr’s motley crew of scum and villainy? And even if they can, will Hollywood itself survive the brawl?

All else aside, one thing is certain — while Brooks is right in knowing that the best way to highlight social injustice is not to protest, but rather to mock it (just ask Mark Twain), that wouldn’t mean a thing if the movie weren’t drop-dead hilarious (again, see Mark Twain). Lucky for all concerned, then, that it is; indeed, Saddles is not just funny, but also innovative enough that you don’t feel like you know every joke before ever watching it, an occasional problem with Brooks’s work. Certainly, any number of his staples are in full effect — playing bit roles in his own films, characters talking directly to the audience and watching themselves in the movie, penis jokes by the truckload — but as this is one of his earliest films, they don’t yet feel forced or stale. (I’m looking at you, Dracula: Dead and Loving It.) And while one of my few problems with Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the fourth-wall-breaking finale, Blazing Saddles returns things to the regular storyline just in time to give us a proper ending. It’s a much-appreciated touch.

So what have we learned today, children? Well, not much (what do you expect for free?), but then again, we’re not talking about high-brow intellectualism here. It’s a Mel Brooks joint, so you already know what to expect — just with the added bonus of this being one of his funniest, and as we established earlier, the only one with a moral. To sum it all up: bigotry = bad, Mel Brooks = good, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, Asian, Jewish, Indian, or mongoloid — as long as you know how to kick ass with style when the chips are down, it’s all good, baby. Head down to the video store and ask a clerk to whip a copy out for you today.

If only E-Z Pass had been invented earlier

Intermission!

  • All the cattle in completely random places?
  • Everyone in town has the same last name. Hmm…
  • There’s a Howard Johnson’s ice cream parlor, with… one flavor.
  • I didn’t even know Gucci MADE saddlebags.
  • That’s Dom DeLuise as the gay director in the movie’s climax, and Count Basie is in the orchestra in the end.
  • Watching a man punching out a horse is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
  • It seems pretty tame these days, but the scene of Taggart’s gang sitting around a campfire eating beans and farting was considered extremely crude at the time; so much so that the fart noises were edited out of TV broadcasts for years.
  • James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor were both contenders for the role of Black Bart at different times. (Pryor’s notorious unreliability caused studio execs to nix him as the lead, but he was one of the scriptwriters, and came up with the character of Mongo.)
  • During shooting, Mel Brooks supposedly ran into John Wayne, who asked if he was the one making the western with all the farting. Brooks affirmed that he was, and mentioned that he’d like Wayne to have a small part in it. The Duke allegedly responded, “Naw, I can’t do a movie like that, but I’ll be first in line to see it!”
  • Hedy Lamarr sued over the spoofing of her name, and won a small settlement.

Groovy Quotes

Hedley: My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought, careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.
Taggart: Ditto!

Hedley: It’s not “Hedy,” it’s “HEDley.” Hedley Lamarr.
Petomane: What the hell are you worried about? This is 1874, you’ll be able to sue her!

Bart: ‘Scuse me while I whip this out!

Bart: Oh baby, you are so talented… and they are so dumb.

Bart: Are we awake?
The Waco Kid: We’re not sure. Are we… black?
Bart: Yes we are.
TWK: Then we’re awake… but we’re very puzzled.

Bart: What’s your name?
TWK: Well, my name is Jim, but most people call me… Jim.
Bart: Okay, Jim – since you are my guest, and I am your host, what’s your pleasure? What do you like to do?
TWK: Oh, I don’t know. Play chess… screw…
Bart: Well, let’s play chess.

Mongo: Mongo only pawn in game of life.

Charlie: They said you was hung!
Bart: And they was right!

Hedley: I want you to round up every vicious criminal and gunslinger in the west. Take this down: I want rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperadoes, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswagglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, [crap]-kickers and Methodists!
Taggart: Could you repeat that, sir?

TWK: Oh boys – look what I got here.
Bart: Hey, where are the white women at?

Hedley: Be ready to attack Rock Ridge at noon tomorrow. Here’s your badge.
Bandito: Badges? We don’t need no steenkin’ badges!

Buddy: What in the hell do you think you’re doing here? This is a closed set!
Taggart: Piss on you – ah’m workin’ for Mel Brooks!

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5 Comments

  1. Drew, I’m going to mess with your head by saying the best Mel Brooks film is none of the ones you’ve mentioned. I’m speaking of To Be or Not to Be, AKA the Mel Brooks film which Mel Brooks didn’t actually write or direct. It’s wacky shenannigans in Nazi-occupied Poland. Plus there’s Christopher Lloyd as a very high-strung SS officer.

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