Mel Brooks hasn't made a funny movie since Spaceballs, but hey -- it's tough to live up to the legacy of Mel Brooks, even when you are Mel Brooks. Perhaps the funniest of the classic Brooks films (which include The Producers and Silent Movie), is Blazing Saddles, his sendup of Old Western horse opera cinema.
The films of Mel Brooks have a special kind of magic -- brainless while intellectual, zany yet low-key, occasionally sending audiences into hysterics, but most often inspiring a sardonic smirk. The humor in Blazing Saddles is sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, but always mocking and tongue-in-cheek.
Blazing Saddles tells the story of the little Old West town of Rock Ridge. This town, naturally, stands in the path of the new railroad construction. Villain Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) plans to buy up the land and resell it to the railroad. "Unfortunately," he says, "there is one thing standing between me and that property -- the rightful owners." In order to get the land, Lamarr sends his band of mercenaries to drive the townsfolk out.
To further seal the town's doom, Lamarr convinces the governor (played by Brooks) to assign the town a new sheriff -- the first black sheriff in history. Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) receives a cool reception from the townspeople at first, but soon wins their confidence by defeating Mongo, the biggest of the bad guys. Unfortunately, the rest of the gang still plans to destroy the town and run the railroad through.
"Scuse me while I whip this out."
If Blazing Saddles were any other film made in 1974, it would probably take more flack for its portrayal of black men and its liberal use of the N-word. In this way, however, it operates much like The Simpsons -- although the ethnic characters act in stereotypical and sometimes silly ways, the white characters are even dumber. It would be silly to complain that minorities are portrayed in a negative light when everyone else in the film is a moron, too. The town of Rock Ridge is a study in hillbilly caricature, and some of the film's best jokes come at the expense of the "white folks'" bigotry. Not that Brooks left everything to chance: Richard Pryor is listed as one of the films' writers.
Gene Wilder as Jim, the Waco Kid.
"Steady as a rock."
What happened to Gene Wilder? He was hilarious in The Producers, and brilliant in Young Frankenstein, but after Blazing Saddles, the man suddenly lost steam. The last trace of him on film was in TV's "Something Wilder," and now we hear he's doing theater in London.
Blazing Saddles is liberally sprinkled with 70's character actors. Slim Pickens plays the leader of the mercenary gang, John Hillerman (better known as "Higgins" from Magnum P.I.) plays Howard Johnson, and Dom DeLuise gets in a last-minute appearance as Buddy Bizarre. The boat holding the principal actors wouldn't float quite so well if this sea of 70's schlock weren't beneath it. And that's about enough of that particular metaphor.
When the Mel Brooks box set of movies came out, Blazing Saddles was not included. That's a pretty telling fact: it means that the studio knows this film will sell very well all on its own.