At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Blazing Saddles

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Black Comedy-Western/ Stars: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, Dom DeLuise, Mel Brooks, Liam Dunn, George Furth, Burton Gilliam, John Hillerman, David Huddleston/ Runtime: 93 minutes

I feel it must be said that although Mel Brooks made several very popular and memorable films in the ’70s, I sincerely doubt that, with the exception of Young Frankenstein, any was more popular than Blazing Saddles. Indeed, made just several years after the morals’ code had been lifted in that wonderfully magical land that is Hollywood, this is a film which was actually able to provide humor in new and, for the time, very shocking ways. Indeed people could fart, swear, use certain words, punch horses in the face, and make fun of any religion, creed, race or whatever was there to make fun of. Put another way movie goers: there was really truly no holds barred when it came to this film trying to get the most laughs possible out of this film and its 93 minute runtime. Indeed suffice it to say that absolutely nothing was sacred at this time in Hollywood history, and few filmmakers genuinely managed to capitalize on this as well as Brooks, especially with this film. Indeed, armed with a strong comedic cast of regulars, and a chock-full of jokes script, this is a truly uproarious ride from beginning to end and proves without a doubt that the West was actually kinda fun after all.

The plot is as follows: The story of this wild and woolier than a wooly mammoth tale deals with a plot concocted by a greedy land grabber of an Attorney General who, in order to get a railroad through the town of Rock Ridge, first murders the town sheriff, and then decides to attempt to drive the citizens out of town and to them thar hills as quickly as humanely possible by sending them a sheriff that he predicts will last no more than 24 hours. The reason for this? No reason of any significance other than that the man he is chosen is black. Yet, this particular man has no desire to just sit idly by and let either the town kill him or the town be taken out. Thus it is that our hero, and yes his name is Black Bart, sets out with the help of both an extraordinary sense of resourcefulness as well as the aid of an alcoholic, once-notorious gunslinger on the dual mission of both defeating the bad guys, and securing the admiration, albeit not necessarily the respect, of the town’s slightly backward, but full-on kooky citizenry.

Now I have to be honest with you movie goers: this film’s screenplay by Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger, all from originating from a story by Bergman no less, is completely and totally irreverent to the point that this film manages to pull off the remarkable feat of never managing to pass up an opportunity to point out a cliché and in the process manages to spare absolutely nothing or no one along the way. Yet although the language within this film is definitely R-rated to the hilt, it is such that it never becomes truly and genuinely offensive; in fact, I would actually attempt to argue movie goer that the way this film manages to pair up the language and the characters manages to account for a great deal of the boisterous humor on display during the course of the film.

Also worthy of note I feel is the fact that Mel Brooks’ marvelous fast-paced style of directing truly helps make this a film that, in addition to the witty dialogue, is also chock full of delightful and also perfectly timed sight gags into the comedic masterpiece that it is heralded as today. Indeed to be fair, the directing style may in fact be one of the extremely broad burlesque in regards to taste, yet the film makes up for that by deciding to pack itself even more to the brim with subtle touches for audiences to find in repeat viewings especially when it comes to both the clever set decoration and also the production design. Indeed suffice it to say, Brooks knew that this film would literally have at least 5-10 distinct laughs-a-minute, and therefore made it impossible to catch them all in one sitting thus you will always find something new to chuckle at every single time you watch this film.

Now the performances in this film are all absolutely pure and true comedic gems. This of course starts with the comedic titan that was Mr. Harvey Korman, and as to be expected, he is especially delightful as antagonist Hedley Lamarr, as he manages to portray a man whose ability to scheme and plot comes attached with all the finesse of a precocious and quite childish at times spoiled brat. Not to be outplayed by Korman however is Cleavon Little as our protagonist Black Bart, and he manages to find a winning performance here as he presents just the right amount of both bemused superiority, complete with shy grin and sly twinkle in his eyes, and sense of comedic timing for when things really start to get out of hand near film’s end. Mel Brooks’ regular Gene Wilder is also in standout mode here as he manages to present a perfect parody of the gunslinger, complete with fondness for booze and a strong sense of self-deprecation, and Madeline Kahn also manages to continue to demonstrate just how extraordinary her comedic versatility as an actress truly was with her turn in this film as a Marlene Dietrich-type dance hall entertainer who possess an accent that, as best as I can figure, seems to be a distinct cross mixture of German and something you might hear in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Of course, due to his love for also being in front of the camera as well as behind it, Brooks also makes two droll appearances in the film as the giddy, yet slightly if not fully off his rocker, Gov. Lepetomane as well as an Indian Chief that ironically isn’t speaking in the language of a particular Native American tribe, but rather complete and total Yiddish instead. Indeed even the other supporting roles are equally as well-cast and extremely well-acted to perfection by including, but not limited to, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Liam Dunn, and Dom DeLuise near film’s end. Indeed it really is almost as if Mel Brooks just went through his little black book, called up all of his friends, told them about the film he was making, and then managed to find a part for each and every one of them that would work best for their particular comedic style thus making for one enjoyable ensemble.

All in all it’s sad to say, but I do not think we will ever see a comedy the likes of Blazing Saddles ever again especially in the current PC climate that has permeated our culture for quite some time. Indeed is this movie crass, crude, and oftentimes teetering between offensive and comedic genius? Oh absolutely. Beyond any and all doubt in the world. Is it still a great movie though? Absolutely. Indeed from beginning to end, Blazing Saddles is proof that the Old West was fun, and if you haven’t seen this film, then you owe it to yourself to find a way to see it immediately. Trust me when I say: you have never seen a movie quite like this one. On a scale of 1-5 I give Blazing Saddles a solid 4.5 out of 5.