Film-Forward Review: [BLAZING SADDLES]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Directed by: Mel Brooks.
Produced by: Michael Hertzberg.
Written by: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor & Alan Uger, from a story of Bergman.
Director of Photography: Joseph Biroc.
Edited by: Danford Greene & John C. Howard.
Music by: John Morris, Mel Brooks & Vernon Duke.
Released by: Warner Home Video.
Country of Origin: USA. 93 min. Rated: R.
With: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman & Madeline Kahn.
DVD Features: Audio commentary track by Mel Brooks. Back in the Saddle documentary on the making of the film. Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn documentary excerpt. Black Bart, 1975 TV Pilot of proposed series spin-off. Additional scenes. Trailer. English & Spanish audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles. All-new digital transfer.

It is a marvel how this hit 1974 Western satire, Mel Brooks' directorial breakthrough, has been underrated within critical discussion on the New Hollywood of the 1960s and '70s, particularly in its outright demolition of genre conventions and stereotypes. Though on initial viewing its gags appear to be scattershot and/or hit-or-miss, one can see how methodically - even subtly - Blazing Saddles goes about lampooning clichés associated with Westerns, ultimately extending its mockery toward the society that engendered them and the audience attitudes they reflected - not just of the 1800s, but also the era in which the movie itself was made.

A black sheriff (Little) takes charge of the town of Rock Ridge, as part of a scheme - unbeknownst to him - to drive the townspeople out to make way for the railroad. This premise provides the film with a canvas on which it subversively highlights the racism latent in Hollywood Westerns in as trenchant a way as possible. It is a scathing rebuke of hatred and blind fidelity to authority that few major films have achieved since.

What stands out in this DVD edition is the craftsmanship and care with which the film and its self-aware tone have been assembled. From the pristine cinematography to the musical cues connecting sequences, it established a form of comedy that - despite its dependence on topical, and inevitably dated, references - currently remains in vogue: the anachronistic allusions to popular culture; and its non-sequiturs, like having characters directly address the camera and then refer to themselves doing so.

The casting is nearly flawless. Gene Wilder as disgraced hero, the Waco Kid; Harvey Korman as slimy archetypical villain Hedley Lamarr; Brooks as the lecherous governor; and Madeline Kahn as Dietrich-wannabe Lili Von Shtupp all imbue their roles with varying degrees of underlying hysteria. Also hilarious is the comic chemistry Hollywood Western veteran Slim Pickens has with Korman.

In fact, probably the movie's sole flaw is its casting of Cleavon Little as Sheriff Bart. The filmmakers seem to have wanted a non-threatening African American for the role; however, this results in the film's protagonist being its least interesting and blandest character - a crucial mistake, since this gives the supporting players more appeal, causing some loss of dramatic focus. It is in this way that the film is most out-of-date: the casting of the admittedly amiable Little nevertheless plays like a concession to audiences, as if intended to make the rest of what occurs in the movie more acceptable. On the other hand, some of the jokes, involving the use of the n-word and how well blacks are endowed, would undoubtedly be seen by studios now as being too risqué in today's more politically-correct climate.

DVD Extras: Most of the additional scenes are outtakes that were later used in a sanitized version for TV. The "making-of" doc provides informative interviews with original story creator and co-screenwriter Andrew Bergman, who describes the collective scripting process. The commentary is entertaining insofar as it provides some classically surreal Brooksian lines. It runs only an hour into the film, and apparently was recorded by Brooks without watching the film at the same time, with him sounding as if he is reading from notes and not being able to comment directly on what is happening onscreen. For fans of the film, Brooks divulges only a few interesting anecdotes, such as having originally wanted one of the film's writers, Richard Pryor, to play the sheriff - an idea nixed by studio execs. Another snippet of production background Brooks recounts, about Kahn's audition, is amusing, but also found on the too-brief excerpt from a Lifetime channel documentary on the late actress. Finally, the TV pilot (starring Louis Gossett, Jr., as Sheriff Bart) is remarkable for how unfunny it is, and for its producers' clueless notion that the film's anarchy could be adapted and diluted to standard sitcom format. Reymond Levy
August 2, 2004



Archive of Previous Reviews, 180 Thompson Street, New York, NY 10012 - Contact us