Mel Brooks’ take on the Western is a hilarious film, perhaps one of his funniest ever made, that by today’s standards would be deemed totally offensive.
A railroad is being built courtesy of Hedley LaMarr, a dastardly government figure who only cares about money and even has duped Governor Lepetomane for his own good bidding. When the railroad construction finds a glitch, LaMarr decides he must build it through the small town of Rock Ridge, a place known for everybody having the same last name of Johnson. After a somewhat failed attempt to send his goons, led by Taggart, to drive the townsfolk out, LaMarr comes up with a brilliant idea.
Bart, an African-American who was working as a railroad worker, is appointed the new sheriff of Rock Ridge. When he arrives to town, he is met with constant resistance from the townsfolk until he meets Jim, a drunken former gunslinger known as The Waco Kid. The two instantly become friends and when LaMarr learns Bart isn’t doing what he’s “hired” to do, he resorts to bringing in big lug Mongo and what that fails, he attempts to get German singer Lili Von Shtupp to seduce Bart but she ends up falling for him. Learning LaMarr’s plans, Bart has something in mind, but will he be able to get the support of the townsfolk who can’t stand him?
You have to hand it to Mel Brooks. The comic legend has done something both brilliant and insane. Known for his comic spoofs, Brooks tackles the Western in this film that makes its intention known. In the days where African-Americans were known more as slaves during the Old West, Brooks collaborated with the likes of Andrew Bergman, Alan Uger, Norman Steinberg, and Richard Pryor, to turn the genre upside down and then adds some unexpected hilarity in one of the craziest finales in his filmography.
Originally to have been played by Pryor, Cleavon Little is hilarious as Bart, the hero of the film, who on many occasions in the first half hour of the film is referred to as the dreaded “N” word from various characters. He has great chemistry with Gene Wilder, who brings the funny when needed as Jim, the Waco Kid. A scene involving a certain herb will bring to mind Wilder in a scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when he tries a concoction he makes in the experiment room. The funniest thing about the Waco Kid is how fast he can sling his gun or move his hands, but done in such a way it’s completely ridiculous but still brings the laughs after all these years.
Harvey Korman also brings the laughs as the villainous Hedley LaMarr, an obvious play on a famous Hollywood diva, with whose name is constantly repeated by characters when they address him. Madeline Kahn has a hilarious musical number as Lili Von Shtupp, channeling her inner Marlene Dietrich to a tee with such comic fashion. Slim Pickens, as LaMarr’s henchman Taggart, is quite funny as he’s truly not the smartest man in the lot. Brooks himself plays the philandering Governor, who is obviously being more of a puppet and in addition, has a hilarious second role in a flashback as an American Indian leader who speaks Yiddish rather than the native language. Former football star turned actor Alex Karras makes a memorable entrance as big lug Mongo, who has one of the funniest scenes ever when he knocks out a horse!
Brooks’ intentions to make fun of racial stereotypes succeed in this hilarious Western spoof and while in today’s cinema, it will be deemed offensive with Brooks himself stating that it can never be remade, Blazing Saddles has stood the test of time after four decades as one of his funniest films ever made.
WFG RATING: A+
A Warner Bros. Pictures production. Director: Mel Brooks. Producer: Michael Hertzberg. Writers: Mel Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Alan Uger, Norman Steinberg, and Richard Pryor. Cinematography: Joseph Biroc. Editing: Danford Greene and John C. Howard.
Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Alex Karras, Burton Gilliam, David Huddleston, Liam Dunn, John Hillerman, George Furth, Jack Starrett, Carol Arthur, Richard Collier, Charles MacGregor, Robyn Hilton, Dom DeLuise.