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Friday Film Review: Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles (1974)
Genre: Comedy/Spoof
Grade: A-

“He rode a blazing saddle, he wore a shining star.
His job to offer battle to bad men near and far.
He conquered fear and he conquered hate.
He turned dark night into day.
He made his blazing saddle a torch to light the way.”

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a bromance so here goes with one of the funniest movies from Mel Brooks. Not only is it an homage/spoof of the great Western classics but it’s also a social commentary on race relations of the time. A comedy with layers. The first time I saw it was in its 1975 summer re release in theaters and, to be honest, most of it went right over my head. I still thought it was funny then but with age and movie watching experience, I can understand a bit better what Mel Brooks was trying to do with it.

Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), the crooked Assistant to the crooked Territorial Governor William Lepetomane (Mel Brooks), wants some land to sell to the railroad. The only problem is it’s currently owned by the citizens of the peaceful town of Rock Ridge (all with the last name of Johnson). He schemes to send his hired thug Taggert (Slim Pickens) and his band on a No 6 – where they go tearing into town awhooping and ahollering and ashooting everything. When this fails to send the townsfolk fleeing, he maneuvers the Gov into appointing a black sheriff, Bart (Cleavon Little), to replace the one Taggert and the boys shot. But along with his deputy, Jim the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), Bart settles into town and begins to slowly win the town over. Undeterred, Lamarr then sends Mongo – who is more of a what rather than a who – against the town but Bart soon tames Mongo thus earning his devotion. Well if the Beast didn’t work, maybe Beauty in the form of Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn) will be able to bring Bart to his knees. Bart, however, turns the tables on Lili after a night of hot lovin’. But Hedley is supremely greedy and keeps trying. Can the townspeople pull together, overcome their prejudices, give Bart the 24 hours he asks for to devise a brilliant plan to save the town – after all, they’d give it to Randolph Scott – and prevail?

The poster for the movie has the line “Never give a saga an even break” and this one doesn’t. Is it vulgar? Does it offend most ethnic/social/whatever groups? “You bet your ass!” The film gleefully skewers a lot about the Western genre – the cavalry escapes but little else. The references to bits and pieces of famous westerns come thick and fast but the film is still funny even if you don’t catch all this. It’s also chock full of anachronisms including Cole Porter songs, Count Basie and his Orchestra, Boris the medieval executioner, Hedy Lamarr jokes, mentions of Academy Award nominations, German storm troopers and a tollbooth with flashing electrical lights. It was un PC before PC even existed. It goes for shameless laughs and usually succeeds including more than once when the actors break the “fourth wall” to address the audience directly plus the ending which shows that the whole thing is just a movie. The not-to-be-missed campfire scene is movie making history.

Blazing Saddles is also a powerful commentary on race. Sort of like the original Star Trek of a few years prior, it uses a different setting – in this case the historic west of a hundred years ago instead of the far distant SF future – to shine a spotlight on current social situations. I think most people will already know that there are offensive racial slurs used in the film but they are words which would have been commonly used in the historic time period and I think Brooks deliberately employs them to make a point. Plus, it’s the white characters – the common clay of the new west, you know … morons – who are portrayed as racist while every other POC – including the Indians/NA – isn’t. Could the film be remade today? I have my doubts.

But beyond all this, the film is LOL funny. Bart is the dazzling urbanite in the sophisticated Gucci ensemble. Jim has “probably killed more men than Cecille B DeMille.” Hedley Lamarr uses his tongue “prettier than a $20 whore.” Mongo is “only pawn in game of life.” Lili the “Teutonic Titwillow” flatly announces that “everything below the waist is kaput.” Honestly I’ve never gotten tired of rewatching the entire film and probably never will. It’s that great. Sure the plot is off the rails – so to speak – from almost the beginning and the ending certainly takes it beyond even that. But the writing is brilliant, the casting is fabulous and it’s totally quotable. And those elements are what helps make a movie for me.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

32 Comments

  1. Sami Lee
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 04:44:24

    I know what you mean about not ‘getting’ the movie’s depth the first time around. I was only about 8 yrs old when I first saw it and laughed myself silly when Bart held himself hostage to avoid being lynched. OMG. But when you understand the layers the movie goes beyond slapstick and becomes a keeper.

    Having said that, the horse punching scene remains one of my favorite pieces of cinema, ever :)

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  2. Dani Alexander
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 04:57:34

    Another great movie review! I haven’t checked your archives, but I recommend all of Gene Wilder’s old movies, especially anything he did with Richard Pryor. Those two had the best bromance known to mankind. Watching them interact irl at interviews was one of the highlights of my tween years.

    Stir Crazy
    Silver Streak (best comedy/suspense/romance in my opinion)
    See No Evil, Hear No Evil (campy but funny in that campy over-acting way)
    Even Another You isn’t terrible (not my favorite) but still really good.

    Just in case you were looking for more movies for your Netflix queue =D

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  3. ShellBell
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 05:20:26

    Absolutely love Blazing Saddles. Cleavon Little was brilliant (loved him in Temperatures Rising!). Like Sami, I was too young to understand everything about it at the time but can certainly appreciate the different nuances of the story now. The only other Gene Wilder movies I have enjoyed were Silver Streak and See No Evil, Hear No Evil. Also loved Mel Brooks’ History Of The World!

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  4. DS
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 05:37:29

    I was in college and it took me three tries to see it. The theatre in town showing it had long lines and was sold out nearly every show.

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  5. Dabney
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 06:17:35

    My husband and I have had a running argument for years about which is the better film: Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein. For him it’s the former; me, the latter. They are both a hoot and we loved sharing them with our kids when they got older.

    I think I love YF so much because it’s so full of awful puns which I adore.

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  6. miz_geek
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 06:39:45

    A few weeks ago, my husband and I were watching a documentary about German refugees in Hollywood in the period before and after WW2. They showed footage of Marlene Dietrich, and my husband watched, with a look of dawning realization on his face. “Hey, that’s the Teutonic Titwillow!” He hadn’t ever realized who the character was based on (or really how dead-on she was).

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  7. Sandra
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 06:41:47

    I love this movie. There’s just so much done right. Mel Brooks could be a genius at times. (I even named one of my cats Mongo in tribute to Alex Karras — bow-legged, wide shoulders, no neck, and a real sweetheart underneath.)

    And I’ve always been a Gene Wilder fan. Silver Streak, with that wonderful Henry Mancini score; Young Frankenstein; Willy Wonka. Even the Frisco Kid, with Harrison Ford in one of the first movies he made after Star Wars.

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  8. Hilcia
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 07:11:23

    My favorite quote, the one I use to this day: “I’m so tired of being tired.” Of course, the inflection has to be there to make it work… I can’t make it work without doing the Madeline Kahn impression. I love this movie.

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  9. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 07:17:30

    I loved it. Loved it. I saw it with a bunch of other students, and we were supposed to be cool, yaknow.? But five minutes in and we were weeping.
    the other funny from that time I still love is Airplane.
    Feminists got pissed at the “hello boys” scene, but a certain bra manufacturer made a whole campaign on it.

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  10. MarieC
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 07:26:07

    Great review! My favorite Mel Brooks film! So many great one liners. It wasn’t until after a few viewings that I noticed that Richard Pryor was one of the writers for the film.

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  11. Darlene Marshall
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 07:31:56

    I love Blazing Saddles (and now I’ve got the song stuck in my head), but Young Frankenstein is still the movie from which you’d find our family spouting the most dialog.

    Thanks for the fond memories!

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  12. Jayne
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 08:07:47

    @Dabney: @Darlene Marshall: “Werewolf? There wolf!”

    Don’t worry. I have plans for “Young Frankenstein.”

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  13. JulieB
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 08:58:44

    And don’t forget the campfire scene.

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  14. HellyBelly
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 09:28:24

    @Darlene Marshall: “frau Blucher!” (did you have to neigh…?)

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  15. Darlene Marshall
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 09:43:28

    @HellyBelly–Always! And then there are those times we enjoy a roll in the hay…

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  16. Sue T
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 09:53:31

    Oh boy, I loved Blazing Saddles! But I have to say I’m in the YF campside. It’s Gene Wilder. There’s just something about him. I just love him. Thought he was great in Willy Wonka too. Ah – the oldies but goodies. It’s fun when you do these.

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  17. JMS
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 10:04:19

    “A wed wose. How womantic.”

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  18. JMS
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 10:09:34

    This was such a funny movie, and you’re right – they could NEVER make this again. I have to watch it again, it is one funny line/scene after another.

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  19. LynneH
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 11:24:57

    The Waco Kid <3<3<3

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  20. willaful
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 12:04:42

    My favorite bromance — I feel madly in love with Gene Wilder when I first saw it around age 9. Later in my teens, started to see the hotness of Cleavon Little.

    I think the use of offensive words is brilliantly done. We don’t only see the words — we see that they can *hurt*. Without preachiness or losing the comedy.

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  21. JoanneF
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 12:14:46

    It’s twoo! It’s twoo!

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  22. Jayne
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 12:49:42

    @willaful: I first fell for Gene Wilder after watching “Willie Wonka.” And then I saw “Start the Revolution Without Me” and that cemented it.

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  23. Jayne
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 12:53:07

    @Hilcia: A friend and I do that at work. We’ll look at each other, sigh, and say “I’m so tired. Tired of playing the game. Ain’t it a friggin’ shame? I’m so tired.” All the while trying to match that breathy voice of hers.

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  24. Kate Pearce
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 13:19:48

    Love this movie too, so un pc but so hilarious. Introduced it to my kids recently who all loved it. :)

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  25. Sunita
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 15:00:59

    “Well, my name is Jim, but most people call me… Jim. ”

    I heart Friday mornings.

    I can’t wait for the YF review. Ah, sweet mystery of life.

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  26. Kinsey
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 16:16:41

    Madeline, we lost you way too early.

    “Oh God, I think I love him!”

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  27. JMS
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 16:39:48

    I remember this being in the theatre, but I was too young to see it (or appreciate it). He had so many memorable movies, and used a lot of the same actors in them. Cloris Leachman was hysterical in “High Anxiety”. I’m so glad to see her back in “Raising Hope”. She is still one of the funniest actresses around.

    Bart: “I better go check out this Mongo character.”
    [Bart reaches for his gun]
    Jim: “Oh no, don’t do that, don’t do that. If you shoot him, you’ll just make him mad.”

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  28. Praxidike
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 17:12:16

    My favorite scene is the gum scene. “Did you bring enough for everyone?” “No.” BANG. “… he’s strict.”

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  29. Sunita
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 17:42:16

    Jayne, may I please put in a request for Spaceballs?

    DARK HELMET!!!!!

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  30. Plonit
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 19:43:07

    It’s even funnier if you understand the Yiddish.

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  31. Kinsey
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 22:19:33

    My nephews somehow ran across Spaceballs on Netflix and went nuts, told Diva all about it. So she bugged us till we streamed it…of course there are parts of Spaceballs that aren’t really appropriate for a 10 year old, but then she’s seen the uncensored Blues Brothers several times and all she cares about is the music and the car crash scenes. So now she’s hooked on Spaceballs and wants to watch it once a week.

    I refuse to let her see Blazing Saddles till she’s around 17 or 18 – don’t feel like explaining the racial context to her at this stage. I’m not sure she’s ever heard the N word and her best friend is African American so we don’t need to go there quite yet.

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  32. Marguerite Kaye
    Feb 12, 2012 @ 05:53:55

    Oh, how I LOVE this film. It’s one of those that you keep quoting and quoting and quoting, and no matter how many times you do it’s still hysterical. I first saw this at the cinema in a double bill with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and I hurt when I got out, but while I think the Monty Python film has dated, I think the fact that Blazing Saddles is so subversively un-pc actually gives it staying power. Thank you so much for this, I’m going to watch it again now.

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