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Blazing Saddles

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Blazing Saddles

Starring: Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little
Director: Mel Brooks
Rated: R
RunTime: 93 Minutes
Release Date: February 1974
Genres: Western, Comedy

*Also starring: Harvey Korman, Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Alex Karras, Slim Pickens, David Huddleston, Burton Gilliam, John Hillerman, Dom DeLuise

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Brian Koller read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

There are plenty of reasons why 1970s should be viewed as the Golden Age of filmmaking. The most obvious of all those reasons is better quality of movies, at least compared with present times. That is evident not only in cinema industry as a whole, but in careers of individual directors. Some people whose names today are synonymous with mediocre or downright bad filmmaking actually happened to make very good films in 1970s, and some of those films are even considered to be the classics. The best known example of such phenomenon is the present-day career of Mel Brooks, actor, screenwriter and director whose comedies in last two decades were, to say the least, extremely disappointing. The disappointment is even greater when we compare such letdowns with the movies Mel Brooks used to make in 1970s. In that period he created some of the most original and entertaining comedies in the history of American cinema. One of such films is BLAZING SADDLES, ultimate western spoof made in 1974.

The plot of the film takes place in the unnamed Western territory in 1874. Hedley Lamarr (played by Harvey Korman) is corrupt attorney general in the administration of incompetent governor William J. Le Petomane (played by Mel Brooks). Small town of Rock Ridge lies in the path of encroaching railroad and Lamarr sees that as an opportunity to make himself wealthy. Bunch of cowboy goons, led by his trusted lieutenant Taggart (played by Slim Pickens), is sent to terrorise the town and force citizens to sell all their land to Lamarr. Instead of fleeing, good folk of Rock Ridge petition governor to send them a sheriff. Lamarr grants them their wish in the form designed to offend them - Bart (played by Cleavon Little), black railroad worker who awaits execution for striking his racist boss with a shovel. Bart comes to town, and, naturally, good citizens turn out to be racist bigots. The only help comes in the form of Jim a.k.a. The Waco Kid (played by Gene Wilder), town's drunk and former expert gunslinger that would become his friend and mentor. Despite everything, Bart manages to do his job and take care of terrorising cowboys, gradually earning the respect of the citizens. Frustrated Lamarr uses another approach and employs femme fatale talents of Lily von Schtupp (played by Madeline Kahn), bar singer who should seduce the sheriff. That plan fails when Lily gets seduced by Bart instead, and Lamarr takes last ditch attempt by assembling the small army of bandits that would raze the town to the ground. Bart must use all their ingenuity in order to save Rock Ridge and gets an absurd, but nevertheless effective idea how to foil Lamarr's plans.

The screenplay for BLAZING SADDLES was written by five different people (Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, Alan Uger) and because of that plot gets weak and quality of humour in the movie is uneven. But, in general, the film is extremely entertaining, and Brooks as director keeps the good pace, making this film 93 minutes of pure fun. Brooks as parody maker has one great advantage over his colleagues in later decades - this film, despite sometimes loose plot, is actually very tight in terms of general theme. And Brooks also shows a great fondness for the object of his parody - the movie is full of references to classic westerns and Golden Age Hollywood, references that couldn't be made by someone who wasn't very familiar with the period and that type of cinema. Brooks also enjoyed privilege of having truly superb cast at his helm. Cleavon Little, his lead actor, was actually replacement for Richard Pryor, too controversial comedian at the time, but his performance was great. Others were also great, each creating memorable characters - Gene Wilder as alcoholic sidekick, Harvey Korman as pathetic over-the-top villain and, finally, Madeline Kahn in Marlene Dietrich impersonation almost as iconic as German actress herself. Brooks also gave his acting contribution in the role of governor that could be seen as role model for Clinton. Brooks obviously enjoyed working in this film (as well as the rest of cast, painfully trying not to burst into laughter in front of cameras) and also helped write few memorable songs ("The Ballad of Rock Ridge", "I'm Tired" and "The French Mistake") together with John Morris. The general result is short, but effective film that could be seen thousand times and still make people laugh.

There is another reason why this film should be appreciated, and it is probably the same reason why 1970s are viewed as the Golden Age of filmmaking. Only in that period BLAZING SADDLES could have been made. Two decades earlier the same film would be crucified as iconoclastic, subversive, insulting to the memory of pioneers and opposed to all old American values and other pillars of society. Two decades later the same film would be equally unacceptable because of the way it treats the new sacred cows of Hollywood - Jews, blacks, Indians, women and homosexuals and all the other "oppressed minorities". Looser standards of censorship, together with the lack of "political correctness" enabled Brooks to turn this film into equal-opportunity satire, in which anyone might get mercilessly ridiculed. From our point of view, and especially after experiencing low standards of Hollywood humour in last two decades, viewing experience of BLAZING SADDLES is quite refreshing. Huge popularity of this film, still uncontested after so many years, really shouldn't be that surprising.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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