Thursday, September 01, 2016
(In Memory of Gene Wilder 1933-2016)
Directed, starring, and songs by Mel Brooks and screenplay by Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Al Uger from a story by Bergman, Blazing Saddles is the story of a State Attorney General who conspires to have a railroad be built on a town while getting an African-American railroad worker to be its sheriff only for the sheriff to gain the trust of the locals to fight back. It’s a film that is a spoof of sorts on the western genre that includes some well-intended anachronisms as well as a commentary on race relations and ideas of the American West. Also starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, David Huddleston, Alex Karras, and Dom DeLuise. Blazing Saddles is an off-the-wall and rip-roaring film from Mel Brooks.
Set in the American West, the film is about a railroad worker, who was about to be hanged for hitting his boss with a shovel, who becomes the sheriff for a town that is under the threat of bandits unaware that that the bandits are working for the State Attorney General wanting to build a railroad through the town. It’s a film that sort of makes fun of the western genre where it plays into every cliché that happens as well as provide some commentary about the modern world where this town is aghast over the fact that their new sheriff is African-American. The film’s script doesn’t just play into some satirical commentary on race relations but also what men of power would do to stop this sheriff only to be outwitted.
The script also has gags that doesn’t just play into clichés but also subvert many stereotypes of the genre such as this dim-witted henchman named Mongo (Alex Karras) who is revealed to be quite philosophical. Another gag in the film is the fact that it’s intentionally anachronistic where it adds to the film’s subversive approach to the genre as well as the fact that the antagonist Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) is mistakenly called Hedy Lamarr. It adds to some of the absurdity that is in the script as well as the fact that it refuses to take itself too seriously.
Mel Brooks’ direction is quite simple in terms of the compositions he creates yet he definitely brings in a lot of the visual tropes that is expected in the western genre with its usage of wide and medium shots to capture the beauty of its locations. Shot in the back-lot studios of Warner Brothers, the film definitely play into some of the artificial aspects that is common with the genre while also creating these moments that are offbeat. Even with the anachronistic elements such as an audition scene for Lamarr’s posse where there’s German soldiers from World War I, bikers, and Ku Klux Klan members as well as a scene in the climax where the film literally breaks the fourth wall. It’s among these moments of the absurd that makes it so interesting while Brooks isn’t afraid to be politically-incorrect as it add to a lot of the humor that occurs in the film. Even as Brooks is willing to go into lowbrow territory just to maintain that sense of joy and laughter without deterring too much from the story. Overall, Brooks creates a witty yet sensational film about an African-American sheriff fighting for liberty, justice, and German sausages.
Cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc does excellent work with the cinematography as it is very straightforward in its approach to the daytime exteriors while using some light for some of the interiors and scenes set at night. Editors Danford Greene and John C. Howard do nice work with the editing as it is very straightforward with some stylish cutting for some of the transitions. Production designer Peter Wooley and set decorator Morris Hoffman do amazing work with the look of the town as well as the office of Lamarr and Governor Le Petomane. The sound work of Gene S. Cantamessa does superb work with the sound as it‘s straightforward in playing up the chaos of the West. The film’s music by John Morris is wonderful for its orchestral-based music that play into the world of the American West as it includes some songs written by Mel Brooks that are very funny.
The casting by Nessa Hyams is great as it features notable small roles and appearances from Robyn Hilton as the governor’s busty secretary, Ralph Manza as an actor playing Adolf Hitler, Count Basie as himself, Robert Ridgely as the hangman Boris, Rodney Allen Rippy as a young Bart, Anne Bancroft as an extra at the congregation, Richard Collier as the town doctor, Liam Dunn as the local reverend, Carol Arthur as the local schoolmarm, Charles McGregor as Bart’s friend Charlie, Burton Gilliam as Taggart’s henchman Lyle, and David Huddleston as one of the locals in Olson Johnson who isn’t receptive about Bart because he’s African-American. Dom DeLuise is fantastic as filmmaker Buddy Bizarre who is trying to make a Busby Berkeley-style musical while Mel Brooks is superb in a dual role as the dim-witted Governor William J. Le Pentomane and a Yiddish-speaking Indian chief the young Bart meets. Alex Karras is excellent as Mongo as this big and strong man who looks and seem like the dumbest person around yet is surprisingly philosophical where he eventually helps Bart and Jim.
Slim Pickens is brilliant as Taggart as Lamarr’s henchman who is the personification of every cliché of the western genre where he says all sorts of shit and does idiotic things. Madeline Kahn is amazing as Lili Von Shtupp aka the Teutonic Titwillow as German seductress/performer who is asked by Lamarr to seduce Bart only to fall for Bart. Harvey Korman is incredible as Hedley Lamarr who always has to correct people for saying his name wrong as he is this state attorney general trying to do whatever he can to destroy a small town so he can get this railroad built. Gene Wilder is phenomenal as Jim aka the Waco Kid as the fastest gunslinger in the world that is trying to escape his past while later helping out Bart in every way where Wilder provides a lot of humor without doing much. Finally, there’s Cleavon Little in a sensational performance as Bart as a railroad worker who becomes sheriff for a town unaware that he is meant to cause trouble only to win over the people and do whatever it takes to outwit and outplay the bad guys.
Blazing Saddles is a magnificent film from Mel Brooks. Featuring a great cast, hilarious gags, witty commentary on social and racial issues, and some off-the-wall humor. It’s a film that isn’t just a great spoof on the western but also manages to do a lot of things and more to create something that is full-on entertainment. In the end, Blazing Saddles is an outstanding film from Mel Brooks.
Mel Brooks Films: The Producers - (Twelve Chairs) - Young Frankenstein - (Silent Movie) - High Anxiety - (History of the World, Part 1) - Spaceballs - (Life Stinks) - Robin Hood: Men in Tights - (Dracula: Dead and Loving It)
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