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9/6/16

BLAZING SADDLES - REVIEW


As far as Western spoofs go, it doesn't get any more classic than Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. The film, which follows Cleavon Little's black sheriff as he is sent into a small racist town to defend it from bandits, was a big hit back in the day and it's still seen as one of the greatest comedies of all time.

As with many other Mel Brooks comedies, Blazing Saddles could have easily backfired and been dismissed as being in poor taste but the writing (Richard Pryor helped with the script) is so clever and so funny that it somehow completely works as a biting parody of Western clich├ęs and the genre's reluctance to acknowledge the unapologetic racism of the times. The plot is set into motion when Harvey Korman's corrupt State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr decides to drive the people of Rock Ridge out of town in order to lower land prices. He appoints an African American sheriff to shock the inhabitants away but when that doesn't work he tries various other dastardly plans which all hilariously backfire. The scene-stealing Madeline Kahn is the seductress tasked with charming Bart (Little), Slim Pickens is the main bandit doing Lamarr's bidding and Gene Wilder is The Waco Kid, the fastest gun in the West and Bart's buddy.

Although one can't help but wonder how the film would have played out with Pryor in the lead role as was originally planned, it's hard to deny how good Cleavon Little is in this movie: his Bart is funny, clever and charming as hell. The whole cast is perfect from Harvey Korman's brilliantly idiotic villain to the ridiculously cool Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks himself who takes on a few roles in the film including a Yiddish-speaking Native American chief. The story doesn't make a whole lot of sense, especially in its third act when Lamarr basically reveals himself to be the cause of Rock Ridge's problems despite going out of his way to stay in the shadows up to that point and when everyone has to build an exact replica of the town overnight but this is a cartoonish comedy that even includes a Looney Tunes reference and ends by literally breaking the fourth wall so it totally works.

Like Young Frankenstein, you can tell right off the bat that great care was put into the cinematography and the score to make the film look and sound exactly like a real Western and this all helps give a timeless quality to the whole thing. The few songs in the movie are so good you could definitely see Blazing Saddles being turned into a The Producers-style Broadway musical so here's hoping Brooks finds a way to make that happen somehow. One of the best aspects of the film which made it very much ahead of its time are all the anachronisms thrown in from cars to the Count Basie Orchestra in the middle of the desert and the Warner Bros. Studios-set finale with Dom DeLuise's lavish musical being interrupted by the biggest Western fist-fight ever.

Blazing Saddles is not only still hilarious and one of Mel Brooks' very best movies but it's quite probably one of the best comedies of all time. I simply can't recommend this one enough: it's a classic with tons of wit, charm, silliness and it's an absolute must-see.

Masterpiece.

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