Tuesday 20 February 2018

Movie Review: Blazing Saddles (1974)

A satirical western comedy, Blazing Saddles mixes the hits and misses in a wildly uneven effort.

It's the era of rail expansion in the wild west. When a railway construction crew encounters quicksand, the re-route suddenly makes the small town of Rock Ridge extremely valuable. Evil Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) and his main hired gun Taggart (Slim Pickens) hatch up a plan to scare away Rock Ridge's residents. Lamarr convinces corrupt Governor William J. Le Petomane (Mel Brooks) to appoint black man Bart (Cleavon Little) as the town's new Sheriff.

The Rock Ridge residents, all called Johnson, are scandalized, but Bart teams up with semi-retired gunslinger the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) and proves his worth by subduing the rampaging goon Mongo (Alex Karras). For his next attempt, Lamarr sends in alluring singer Lili von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn) to seduce Bart into submission.

Directed and co-written by Brooks (along with four other writers), Blazing Saddles does not even try to take itself seriously. With a non-plot consisting of contrived set-pieces and mostly juvenile antics leaning heavily on racial stereotypes, at least half the film's jokes are of the eye-rollingly bad variety. The performances are routinely over-the-top, and all the scenes featuring Korman, Pickens and specifically Brooks himself are played at the amateur pantomime level.

The better sequences feature Little and Wilder, who appear to be enjoying themselves and understand the difference between winking at the audience and screaming at them. The film's main running gag is the insanity of having a black man in charge of anything, and when it works it's thanks to Little, who brings a sense of detached cool with a glint of humour to the role.

The farting-around-the-campfire scene is perhaps the best remembered joke, and can probably take the blame and the credit for popularizing body function humour in countless low brow comedies. But the funniest thing in Blazing Saddles is the dense Mongo, a not-easy-to-stop horse-punching man-tank.

The film's ending strays far from movie conventions and into the realm of the intentionally ridiculous. It can be perceived as either ferociously hilarious or recklessly condescending.

Blazing Saddles fires wildly in all directions, causing a ruckus despite plenty of off-target shots.

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