Review of 'Blazing Saddles'

blazing_saddles.jpg The railway being built across the American west finds it has to divert through the town of Rock Ridge. The corrupt State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) sends a gang of thugs, headed by his inept assistant Taggart (Slim Pickens), into the town to drive the townspeople away. The townspeople demand the equally corrupt (and inept) sex-crazed Governor William J. Le Petomane (Mel Brooks) send them a sheriff to protect them from the thugs. Lamarr comes up with the idea of sending in Bart (Cleavon Little), a railway worker sentenced to death for hitting Taggart on the back of his head with a shovel, as a black sheriff which he believes will cause the people to leave the town because they will be so offended or they will lynch the new sheriff but in either case allow him to take over the town. Unfortunately for Lamarr, Bart quickly wins over the grudging support of the townfolk, the assistance of “Jim”, the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), whose love of drink has left his rock steady shooting hand not so steady, the love of town heart-throb and Lemarr's girl Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn), as well as the admiration and undying support of Lamarr's largest henchmen, the dim-witted walking mountain Mongo (Alex Karras). Lamarr is forced to take more direct action…

This is a Mel Brooks classic comedy that has always amused. “Blazing Saddles” is a deep satirisation of racism in all it's forms never mind the trademark parodying of modern culture and the film industry itself (the finale of the film spills out into the surrounding lots of the Warner Brother studio in California). The repeated use of the “n-” word to describe black people will undoubtedly offend (used here by both white and black alike here) but I think serves as a slap in the face to the viewer forcing them to pay attention. The sheer idiocy of those in the film that use the term negatively is clear for all to see while those who are the target recognise their idiocy and are able to, for the most part, laugh off the naivety. Getting beyond this we find a silly and often tremendously funny film full of quotable lines such as (Lili) “Is Bismark a herring?”, (Bart) “One more step and the n- gets it!”, (Jim) “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know…morons.” or (Bart) “Where are the white women at?”.

In this farce of a film the actors fully throw themselves into their roles and tremendously amusing dialogue. The unknown Cleavon Little has the perfect amount of child-like innocence yet strength of character to convince as the sheriff ensuring this film steers this film away from being a film about racism and into rich comedic territory. He is surrounded by a tremendous cast of comedians, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks himself as the governor (and an Indian chief), Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens and, of course, Gene Wilder who fully commit their talents to the film. The writing of the film and the actual production was evidently quite a lot of fun for all involved and it really shows on the screen - This is a film full of life and humour.

The sets and costumes are surprisingly good though with a few nods to the sensibilities of the time the film was shot. The beauty of the US west scenery is celebrated and certainly taken advantage of to set the tone for the film. Location shooting was the order of the day here with only the interior shots coming from a sound-stage.

A few amusing moments:

  • Lamarr requesting from the black workers a good, old-fashioned n- song resulting in their singing “I Get No Kick from Champagne”
  • Lamarr racing up two two black railway workers sinking in quicksand in order to rescue…the railway cart they were riding on.
  • Rock Ridge citizen “Howard Johnson” (familiar to many as the name of a multi-national hotel chain) running a “one flavour” ice cream stand (referencing Baskin-Robbin's “31 Flavours”)
  • The repeated mistaken use of the name Hedy Lamarr (a well-known actress of the time) for Hedley Lamarr (evidently there was a law suit against Brooks by Hedy that was quickly settled out of court “just pay her the money”)
  • The famous scene where Lamarr's henchmen are eating copious amounts of beans and “stale coffee” around a campfire with the expected, pungent bodily function result…
  • Mongo riding into town on a steer with “Yes” and “No” on the rear of the animal then a short time later punching out a horse (no, the horse was not hurt in the filming, it was trained to fall over)
  • The “Telegram for Mongo” that Bart delivers in full delivery boy dress to Mongo that hearkens back to days of short cartoons from Merrie Melodies and the like…
  • The amazing final battle that takes in not only the townspeople and the henchmen but escalates to take in the entire film studio then the streets of Los Angeles…
  • The final scene (not giving anything away) where Bart and Jim ride off into the sunset only to stop their horses and get into a limousine to continue the journey…

A strong punch in the face of racism but at it's heart a silly and fun film. A comedy classic.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2019-11-17

Directed by: Mel Brooks

Studio: Crossbow Productions

Year: 1974

Length: 93 minutes

Genre: Comedy