Last night, I took my 20-year-old son to a theatrical screening of Blazing Saddles; he’d never seen it before. My wife had actually recorded the movie on our TV, but my son (God bless him) insisted that his first viewing of the movie be in an actual theater. (In case you’re wondering, he loved it, and on the way home, he used his phone to re-view clips from the movie on YouTube.)
I’m too lazy to write an actual review today. Plus, there are legendary movies, such as this one, that have had so much written about them, I’m loathe to think I can add anything fresh to the critical summary. (I think the first two Godfather movies are two of the best American films ever made, which is why I’ve always balked at reviewing them.)
Nevertheless, I’d like to share some post-viewing observations of Blazing Saddles. (WARNING: Spoilers abound!)
- It’s been said that Blazing Saddles paved the way for future cinematic spoofs such as Airplane! But Saddles‘ style remains fresh and unique. It’s well-known that Airplane! is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the 1957 airplane melodrama Zero Hour with some well-placed non sequitor jokes added. That’s not to knock Airplane!, which I adore. But by contrast, Blazing Saddles plays as though someone put a stately Western painting on a wall and then threw everything they could find at the painting. (Even comedy Western-makers would never have conceived of using Count Basie’s music on their soundtrack, much less putting Basie and his orchestra in the middle of a Western desert.)
- As wacko as this movie’s sensibility is, it’s sobering to realize how much of its racial commentary is (sadly) still so relevant. Here’s a small town that some villains are preparing to wipe off the map, and the citizens are desperate for help — until their help arrives in the form of a charming, well-spoken African-American. And amazingly, said African-American continually keeps his cool, even as the nastiest racial epithets are thrown at him. Replace Sheriff Bart and the local yahoos with Pres. Obama and the far-right Republicans, and you have an allegory for our time that was created four decades ago.
- Legions of moviegoers have criticized Mel Brooks for his bad taste, which is a bit like criticizing the sky for sometimes being cloudy, since vulgarity is Brooks’ stock-in-trade. Nevertheless, amidst the movie’s frequent exhalations of curse words and flatulence, the one element of the movie that still bothers me is Brooks’ depiction of homosexuals as high-pitched sissy “faggots” (the word used in the movie) who seem stuck somewhere between the male and female genders. (This appears to be a major hang-up of Brooks’; “fag” jokes also loom large in Silent Movie, High Anxiety, and [Lord knows] The Producers.) It seems strange that a movie so intent on exposing the idiocy of racial bigotry, and that has its own depiction of male bonding (Sheriff Bart and The Waco Kid riding off into the sunset together, albeit in a limousine), has an antiquated view of gayness that was already disintegrating at the time the movie was made. It’s one non sequitor that the movie could easily have done without.
But at the end of the day’s sunset, Blazing Saddles still holds up as a superbly lunatic film. It tosses so much craziness at you that you’re still laughing at its best gags even while some weaker gags are popping up on the screen. If it can truly be considered a Western, it’s one of my favorites.