Directed by Mel Brooks
Written by Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryer, and Alan Uger
Cast: Slim Pickens, Cleavon Little, Harvey Korman, Gene Wilder, and Alex Karras
Length: 1 hour and 33 minutes
Genre: Comedy, western
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“In order to ruin a western town, a corrupt politician appoints a black sheriff, who promptly becomes his most formidable adversary.”
After being sent into quicksand by his foreman (Slim Pickens) and then told to quick slacking on the job, Bart (Cleavon Little), a black railroad worker, takes a shovel to his racist boss. This earns him a trip to the gallows to be hanged; however, he is saved when the ambitious Attorney General, Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), realizes that the railroad needs to go through the nearby town of Rock Ridge. In order to scare the people away, he decides to appoint Bart as the new sheriff since he knows the townspeople will not accept him. Bart makes his way into the all-white town of Rock Ridge and, after being threatened by the entire town at gunpoint, seeks refuge in the sheriff’s office where he meets Jim (Gene Wilder), the once great Waco Kid. The two become partners and, after saving the town from the imposing Mongo (Alex Karras), decide to defend it from Hedley’s evil machinations.
Like all of Mel Brooks’ films, Blazing Saddles (1974) is a parody; in this case, it lampoons the Hollywood Western genre. The movie takes all of the fantasy of Westerns and pulls back the curtain, showing the brutal, and funny, realities; these include an infamous scene where multiple cowboys are sitting around a fire eating beans, before a cacophonous spree of flatulence affects the men. When Jim asks Bart his background, he tells of how his family followed the wagon train since they were people of color, and when the Sioux attacked, they had to create their own wagon circle for protection (basically driving around in a circle) since the main caravan wouldn’t allow them in. In addition to the nitpicking of logic in the Western world, Blazing Saddles (1974) takes shots at just about every stereotype that crops up in the genre.
It shouldn’t be news to anyone that African Americans were treated terribly in the past (not to say they aren’t still, but that’s another discussion), especially in the West. With most settlers and people in power being white, racial slurs were a common part of daily speech, so this ever present in the outlaws and less intelligent white people of the film. The people of Rock Ridge, though well-meaning, are actually “simple” folk, and almost everyone in the town has the last name Johnson, alluding to a single common ancestor to everyone in town. When Hedley decides he wants to recruit all of the worst people possible for an assault on the town, there is a line for them to sign up among such personages as banditos, outlaws, Nazis, bikers, rednecks, Arabs, and KKK members. All are presented with different music transforming as each stereotype appears on screen (mariachi music goes into Germanic symphony which segues into banjo and Eastern music respectively). In addition to making fun of and subverting stereotypes, Blazing Saddles (1974) could be considered as part of the category of counter-cinema due to its approach.
There are two ways in which a film can challenge the cinema system: in form and content. Blazing Saddles (1974) does this in both veins. In its form, the film breaks the fourth wall multiple times, even leading to the ending taking place outside a theater that is currently showing Blazing Saddles. In content, as a parody of Westerns, there is a famous scene in which the white railroad men tell the black workers to sing a slave working song. As a response, Bart leads them in a barbershop quartet rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You.” This befuddles the racist foremen, who then suggest singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “The Camp Town Ladies”, before demonstrating and making fools of themselves.
Though I didn’t touch on it much in this review, Blazing Saddles (1974) is an irreverently funny film. It is difficult to get across without actually seeing the movie, so I thought I would focus on what sets it apart from other parodies. The jokes are often on-the-nose, goofy, and a bit off color, but that is the exact point of the movie. It shows the ridiculousness of the romanticized Western genre and does so in a way that is entertaining and fun. I will admit that this isn’t my favorite Mel Brooks film, but it makes me laugh every time that I watch it, and I think that is something we all need sometimes.
Verdict: 4 classic bean-induced fart scenes out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Mel Brooks, people with a goofy sense of humor, Western fans, and people above the age of 17 unless accompanied by a responsible adult.
Not recommended for: Those who don’t understand counter-cinema, people who dislike Mel Brooks, die-hard Western fans, the easily offended, or people who think Django Unchained (2012) is the best Western with a black protagonist.