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Blazing Saddles (1974)

January 25th, 2006 · No Comments

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Black railroad worker Bart (Cleavon Little) is sent to serve as sheriff of Rock Ridge, in the hopes that his appearance will offend the townspeople and drive them away so that evil state attorney Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman) can snatch their land. Sheriff Bart teams with the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) – a gunfighter who had the fastest hands in the west until personal “tragedy” drove him to drink – to help the town combat Lamar’s mean gang.

The climactic melee ends up crashing through the walls of Burbank Studios and spilling into Hollywood before Little and Wilder ride off into the desert sunset in a stretch limo. Along the way, white people, blacks, Indians, Protestants, Jews and nearly every other social class are made fun of and the taste of everyone in the audience is pushed to (at the time) new levels of acceptance.

Originally titled Tex X when it was a thirty page treatment by Andrew Bergman, later Black Bart once Mel Brooks began writing it (with Bergman and Norman Steinberg & Alan Uger and Richard Pryor), this is deservedly one of the best known and most highly regarded comedies of all time.

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Among the cast, Gene Wilder (replacing Gig Young, who was sent away in an ambulance drunk the first day of shooting), Madeline Kahn (who shines channeling Marlene Dietrich) and Alex Karras (the former Detroit Lions defensive lineman as “Mongo”) are hilarious in nearly every second of their screen time. They’re simply mesmerizing.

The great Slim Pickens and Burton Gilliam are also drop dead funny as shitkicking cowboys. While Cleavon Little is passable in the lead, it is difficult to watch the movie today and not wonder to what heights it would have soared if the studio had granted director Brooks’ wish to cast Pryor in the part.

Brooks’ brilliance as a director was in the picture’s casting, music (Brooks wrote three songs, including Kahn’s memorable Dietrich ditty “I’m Tired”) and his insistence not to pull any punches with the material, even after Warner Brothers got nervous over a number of scenes.

My favorite bit is Bart’s arrival in Rock Ridge and the reaction he gets from the town’s morons. Anything involving Wilder, Kahn or Karras sends the film into another stratosphere. The movie is inventive and wild and groundbreaking from the opening credits and stays that way through the end.

Tags: Western

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