Saturday, August 20, 2016



Director: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, and Alan Uger based on a story by Andrew Bergman

I recall once reading that John Wayne dodged the draft for WWII due to a foot deformity and that he hated horses. I know the first part of that statement is true, I doubt the second one is, but I recalled such anecdotes often while watching the last scenes of "Blazing Saddles", where the "heroes" are riding off into the sunset towards their car-and-drivers, it really personifies all that "Blazing Saddles is trying to do. 

After Mel Brooks's failed second feature, "The Twelve Chairs", he started to stumble upon an idea to really take a sharply satirical look at feature film and genres. In the same year, 1974, he would make arguably the two greatest spoofs of all-time, long before "Airplane!" officially got credited with creating the comedic subgenre, with "Young Frankenstein" and of course, with "Blazing Saddles". I used to think it was just a satire of Western movies, which it is, but looking at it again, it’s not just pulling the rug out from under them, and it's pulling the rug out of film, Hollywood, and basically film altogether. Most westerns, in the old days especially were morality plays or “oaters” as they were colloquially called, where the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black, but those don’t play particularly well anymore (or I doubt even much then for that matter), because they overlooked prevailing thoughts and attitudes of the time in favor of documenting this mythology of the Old West that America's romanticized. 

Here, they’re embellished and placed in an absurd reality of a Mel Brooks film. I wouldn't go so far that narratively, it's bordering closer to realism, but culturally depicting the true perspectives and attitudes of the time, you can argue that it might've touched on some more painful truths that permeate the times then and perhaps now. “Blazing Saddles,” has a plot that’s about as difficult to explain as most David Lynch movies, but the film is actually more in the tradition of the best Marx Brothers movies, which basically ignores plot and instead moves from one hilarious scene to the other, and because Mel Brooks is behind it, as well as numerous other comedy legends like Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg and Richard Pryor (Who was originally supposed to play Black Bart), it’s incredibly funny. People who think that violence and sex and drugs are the “taboo” subjects to make comedies about nowadays, would be astonished as everything from race, sex, disheartening bodily odors, the entire Western genre, the Western filmmaking style, filmmaking in general, and about fifty other subjects, that get annihilated in the film. 

Pretty much from the first joke about quote-unquote “Campfire Songs,” to the numerous breakings of the third wall, there’s not a subject that isn’t parodied; it even has a score that sounds similar to the music from “Shane,” when the Count Basie’s orchestra isn’t leading it. The bulk of the story involves an old Western town that’s supposed to be destroyed for a railroad orchestrated by Hedley LaMarr (Harvey Korman), and while the town refuses to leave, they insist the Governor (Brooks) of the state names a new Sheriff to protect him from LaMarr's gang. In response, and with LaMarr's influence, the Governor names Black Bart (Cleavon Little) Sheriff, which, well look at his name. Anyway, once he gets to town he hires an old drunk, Jim (Gene Wilder) as his Deputy, with him being basically the only one he can trust. 

Meanwhile, there’s… I wasn’t kidding when I said the plot was complex, if not completely indescribable. This helps anyway, the more things in the movie, the funnier it gets. The movie is basically a bunch of scenes, like the notorious campfire eating scene, which takes the humor from the highest of brows to the scatological low. My favorite is the scene involving the Ku Klux Klan after Jim and Bart attempt to crash Lamarr's call for more criminals to join in with his gang. I'm not even sure how to bring up the subplot involving a touring dancer Lili Von Shtupp (Oscar nominee Madeleine Kahn). 

This movie eventually had to break off the backlot and attack the studio itself; it’s the final yank of the rug, completely demystifying the last of Western mythology, even using the pie fight ending that Stanley Kubrick didn’t use in “Dr. Strangelove…” Rug pulled, everybody now on the floor, like a half built old Western movie set in a studio basement. 

Brooks would use this idea of simply taking a genre or a film and make jokes about it, like "Spaceballs", "Silent Movie" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" and probably my favorite of these second-tier Brooks films, "High Anxiety" but in terms of absolute wall-to-wall comedy and absolute destruction of it's target, "Blazing Saddles" is his best pure satire. 

No comments: