Blazing Saddles (1974)
“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.