Mel Brooks wins guffaws with his ‘Blazing Saddles’
By Robert McMunn – The Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) March 23, 1976
Mel Brooks, the master of madcap humor is on the loose again. Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” gives your funnybone a workout in an irreverent view of stereotype westerns that hears no resemblance to John Wayne and Randolph Scott horse operas.
Legends take a beating in Brooks films. One of the top satirical directors in the business, he injects his zany, high energy comedic talents into the 93-minute film that seems much shorter.
From start to finish, there are laughs galore. Brooks keeps the audience interested by filling the movie with sight gags, one-liners and sophisticated jokes to keep one thinking.
In between, there are scenes not usually seen in westerns: steers mingling with cowhands in a saloon, Indian chiefs speaking Yiddish and Arab gunslingers.
Since most Brooks’ movies are relatively uncomplicated, “what you see is what you get” is the rule of the film. “Blazing Saddles” is played strictly for fun, and if it seems disjointed, that’s Brooks’ style and personality. Nonstop energy and a keen comedy eye are his forte.
MORE MEL: Free to Be…You and Me: A one-of-a-kind, star-studded message to kids (1973)
Along with Woody Allen, Brooks is the most versatile, perceptive and satirically intelligent comedian in the U.S. today. “Blazing Saddles” unquestionably is Brooks’ film. He wrote the musical score, directed it and co-starred as Gov. LaPetomane and a Yiddish speaking Sioux Indian chief.
Brooks did everything in the film (or so it seemed) but water the horses. At last count, about 500 Westerns have been made in the U.S. so it’s hard to write an original screenplay. Most western plots haven’t changed since the 1950s.
Brooks takes a standard B western plot of a ruthless land grabber trying to gobble up a town from God-fearing folk and weaves it into a satire of the horse opera genre.
The plot is hackneyed, but the performances are first-rate. It’s hard to pinpoint a star, because camera time and lines are almost equally divided between Cleavon Little, as Sheriff Bart of Rock Ridge, the first black lawman appointed by Brooks; and Gene Wilder, playing the booze-loving Waco Kid, owner of the “Fastest Hands in the West.”
MORE: Gene Wilder interview on writing & acting, movies & stardom, and working with Mel Brooks
Little, however, gets top billing due to most screen time. Besides, his name appears first in the credits.
Harvey Korman plays Headley LeMarr, the scheming grabber who’s more inept than villainous. His plan to take over Rock Ridge and give it to the railroad backfires as Little continually outthinks him.
Little plays the sheriff with a tongue-in-cheek skill that belies the entire film. The cast seems to be having the time of its life. Most of the cast smiles throughout the film, almost as if a laugh is a line away. Usually it is.
Wilder and Madeline Kahn, as the “Bavarian Bombshell,” Lily Van Schtupp, are members of Brooks’ repertoire company. They played in “Young Frankenstein,” and are filming Brooks’ latest creation, a top-secret production not even his wife knows about.
Kahn, usually a top-flight actress gives the only bad performance in the film. Her German accent is too thick and she overacts.
Wilder counterbalances Kahn by being quietly effective as the gunslinger who is Little’s Man Friday. Comedy is Wilder’s forte, especially under Brooks’ direction, because their comedy styles blend. Wilder favors more sophisticated humor, like Brooks, although the director will go to almost any lengths to coax a laugh from the audience.
Wilder, Kahn, Korman and Little are veteran actors, but Howard Cosell’s sidekick on Monday Night Football, Alex Karras, steals the show.
Karras plays Mongo, a dim-witted cowboy dispatched by Korman to kill Little. Instead, he ends up knocking out a horse with a solid right in one of 1975’s most memorable film highlights.
Too bad horses aren’t eligible for Academy Awards, because this horse’s dive and crossed-eyed and bewildered expression are more captivating than those of some actors who make $200,000 a picture (Burt Reynolds are you listening?).
“Blazing Saddles,” with Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, Harvey Korman & Madeline Kahn
Movie review by Mike Deupree – Cedar Rapids Gazette (Iowa) March 21, 1974
Any movie that includes a gigantic pie-throwing scene featuring 40 swishing dancers, Tarzan, Cheetah and Adolf Hitler can’t really be called ordinary. Particularly when it’s a western, set in 1874.
“Blazing Saddles” is definitely not ordinary, then, but it is typical — typical Mel Brooks.
Brooks was the architect of some of the funniest skits that graced the old Sid Caesar television show; if you remember these you know what to expect from “Blazing Saddles.”
The skit has been stretched to 93 minutes and laden with R-rated language, but the formula is the same, with plenty of sight gags, one-liners and parodies.
Laughs from language
Not all the gags work, and occasionally the film gets its laughs from its language alone, but nobody said the movie is perfect. It’s just very funny.
Cleavon Little is Bart, who’s appointed sheriff of Ridge Rock by the governor, egged on by evil businessman Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman).
Hedley believes the presence of a black sheriff will so disgust the town’s residents — all of whom are named Johnson — that they’ll leave and he can make a fortune by selling the land to the railroad.
That’s enough of the plot to give you an idea of what goes on (actually, it’s about all of the plot) as Brooks clobbers every cliche of every western movie.
MORE: About Young Frankenstein, the 1975 comedy-horror movie that people still talk about
The film is technically good, as is the acting. Best are Korman and Madeline Kahn, who plays a lisping Marlene Dietrich-type named Lili Von Shtupp.
A good word also has to be said for a couple of University of Iowa products that appear in the film, Gene Wilder and Alex Karras. Wilder is excellently low-key as the Waco Kid, fastest gun in the world, until he hit the booze.
Karras, more familiar until recent years as number 71 of the Detroit Lions, is hilarious as Mongo, a dimwitted beast who has a fistfight with a horse.
“Blazing Saddles” is in no danger of being remembered as a classic film, but a couple of sequences do approach that level.
Bart’s entry into Ridge Rock (on a golden Palomino with saddlebags by Gucci) and his subsequent reception by the residents is probably the best sequence in the film.
The last ten minutes or so are the worst, and seem like an afterthought. Maybe that’s true, because the film originally ran 125 minutes before cuts were made.
If you aren’t offended by some rough talk and you don’t regard western movies as sacred, you’ll get plenty of belly laughs from “Blazing Saddles.”
Oh, yes: Count Basie is particularly good in his role as Count Basie, and if that makes any sense to you, you haven’t been paying attention.
ALSO SEE: Spaceballs: Mel Brooks’ Star Wars spoof movie got big laughs in 1987