This Movie Guy Headline Animator

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Movie Recommendation: BLAZING SADDLES


Blazing Saddles is a 1974 comedy directed by Mel Brooks. The film parodies the Western genre as a whole. We open on a group of African-Americans working on a railroad in the middle of the desert. When a black man named Bart (Cleavon Little) hits his white boss Taggart (Slim Pickens) over the head with a shovel, he's immediately sent to jail. Taggart asks his boss, Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) to have Bart hanged, to which he readily agrees. Lamarr and Taggart are working on building a railroad through the countryside, but they are sidetracked when they realize they cannot claim the rights to a township called Rock Ridge as long as the citizens live there. To get them to move away, he has Governor Lepetomane (Brooks) authorize Bart to be the town's sheriff, making him the first black sheriff in the history of the United States. The townsfolk don't take kindly to Bart, whose only friend in the early going is a drunk named Jim (Gene Wilder) who used to be known as the Waco Kid. When the townsfolk do not leave after Bart's arrival, however, Lamarr has to go to drastic measures to kill the sheriff so that he and his henchmen can take over the town with brute force.

If you've been following my blog over the past couple months, you've probably noticed that I rank Blazing Saddles rather highly on my lists of the greatest films of all time. To explain, it currently rests as my 26th greatest movie of all time, and the fourth best comedy I've ever seen. So I kinda hyped this up a little bit before I even started this recommendation, but it's been hyped for a very good reason. I'm not the only person to think that it's a brilliant comedy - it currently holds a rating of 7.7/10 on the Internet Movie Database, and it currently holds an 89% approval rating on the review aggregate website, It also nabbed three Oscar nominations, and although it didn't win in any of its nominated categories, it has definitely stood the test of time since its release thirty-seven years ago.

I'm going to start with the film's acting, giving a little breakdown of each of the four main characters:

Bart (Cleavon Little): As I previously mentioned, Bart is the African-American man who's sent to the township of Rock Ridge as their newly appointed sheriff. He meets immediate resistance in this 19th-century, all-white town that has yet to offer an acceptance of minorities. Bart is highly-educated and an "urbanite," as Jim calls him; this gives him quite an advantage over the "morons" that populate the West. This role was Cleavon Little's big break, pushing him into the Hollywood limelight. Sadly, it was his only lasting memorable role, especially considering he nabbed a BAFTA nomination for Best Newcomer - it just never panned out. What's really sad about that is that he's absolutely brilliant as our lead in Blazing Saddles, bringing the charm, the bravado and the comedic presence that's absolute necessary for a Mel Brooks lead character.

Jim aka Waco Kid (Gene Wilder): We first meet Jim as he's hanging upside-down in one of the Rock Ridge sheriff station's holding cells. He's a little confused when he meets Bart - because he's black - but he never once judges him for being so. We learn that Jim used to be known as the Waco Kid, the man with the fastest hands in the world. After a series of events, Jim has fallen out of his renown and become a passive drunk, spiraling ever further into self-destruction. But Bart helps bring him out of the grave and gets him sober, making the two a formidable team. Gene Wilder - who also starred in Brooks's other 1974 venture, Young Frankenstein - gives a much more subdued performance than we had ever seen before. Whereas his performances in films like the aforementioned Frankenstein flick and 1970's Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory are very manic and over-the-top, Wilder's Jim is a very passive and laid-back guy, making him instantly likable. The change of character definitely doesn't take away his comedic presence, either.

Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman): Hedley Lamarr is our principal villain in the film, and his want for money and power is his main motivation in everything he does. He's the man who starts this entire situation by placing Bart into the Rock Ridge township, and he suffers consistently as a result. Hedley is actually a very intelligent man, but he tends to associate himself with imbeciles, causing his plans ultimately to backfire. He also has to field the consistent botching of his name - everyone always mistakes him for actress Hedy Lamarr. Harvey Korman is absolutely brilliant as Hedley - in my opinion, he gives the best performance in the film. He's manic, he's over-the-top and he's utterly amazing. There's a scene in the film where Hedley says, "Now you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor." He didn't get a nomination, but he definitely should have.

Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn): Lili, a burlesque dancer and part-time whore, comes into the story after Hedley asks her to seduce the sheriff and get him out of town. She agrees to the plan despite her dislike for Hedley and his awkward sexual advances. Lili asks Bart to come see her after her stage show in the hopes that she can seduce him, but the tables quickly turn and it is she who is seduced by him. Lili becomes enamored with Bart and his, vowing her undying love for him as he leaves her in the morning. There's a story that Madeline Kahn, who nabbed an Oscar nomination for her supporting role, got this part after a very strange audition: when she went into the audition, Mel Brooks simply asked her to show him her leg. She did so, and he instantly knew he had found his Lili Von Shtupp. She went on to star in other big-time comedies like Young Frankenstein and 1985's Clue.

We've also got some fantastic performances from supporting actors like Slim Pickens and Mel Brooks himself, who makes his standard appearances. Also be on the lookout for Alex Karras's performance as Mongo and a great cameo from Dom DeLuise.

The screenplay is also rather incredible, considering all of the childish humor that's strewn about. Don't get me wrong - there's a lot of fantastic jokes to be found inside Blazing Saddles, many of which are still socially relevant to today's society. Yeah, a lot of the references probably fit more back in the 1970s, but there's no reason that you shouldn't be rolling with laughter throughout this film's entirety. If you get the references, then that's fantastic, but even the distasteful humor - such as a prolonged sequence of men eating beans then engaging in the subsequent bodily functions - proves to be so hilarious. I think the reason these scenes of potty and slapstick humor work so well is because Blazing Saddles never tries to be something its not. It never has delusions of grandeur; rather, it knows that it's a silly, goofy movie that's simply meant to be laughed at. I don't know about him as a person, but Mel Brooks's movies are never full of themselves, so to speak.

Just so you know: Blazing Saddles is a little bit openly racist, but it does so for comedic effect. Basically, you never actually think that the filmmakers, the cast or the crew are actually this explicitly racist; rather, it really does feels like they're doing it to that extent just to forward the comedy. It might seen a little unnerving at first, hearing so many drops of the n-word and and other racial slurs, but you get used to it after a while and chalk it up to the fact that Blazing Saddles is really just trying to make fun of extremely racist people. So just kick back and go with it.

I'd also like to take a moment to mention the film's music, which is stellar to say the least. The musical score is very good, but it's definitely upstaged by some of the original numbers written for the film. Madeline Kahn has a rather funny number called "I'm Tired," and the theme song for the town of Rock Ridge is pretty hilarious if you can keep up with the lyrics. But the real cake has to go to the film's theme song, which comes in as my eleventh favorite movie song of all time. Frankie Laine provided the vocals, and it just fits the film so perfectly that it's hard to forget. Here's the song, in case you're interested:

Overall, Blazing Saddles is truly a fantastic comedy and it's definitely worth your time. It's one of the greatest comedies ever to grace the silver screen, and it's made its stamp in cinematic history for a reason. Do yourself a favor and give it a watch. You won't be disappointed.

No comments:

Post a Comment