Review: Blazing Saddles (1974)
Time to hang my head in shame once again and inform you that Mel Brook’s classic western satire Blazing Saddles is one of many films that has slipped me by in my time. Only this year did the opportunity come along to try out this comedy with a reputation that preceded it. I was expecting something special given all the praise heaped on Blazing Saddles but how would it stand up to my contemporary and critical viewpoint?
Set in 1874 in the American Old West a group of railroad workers find their plans are scuppered when they encounter quicksand. They have no choice but to take a detour which involves heading through the town Rock Ridge where everyone has the surname of Johnson! State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) wants to acquire the land on the cheap so orchestrates a raid on the town led by Taggart (Slim Pickens) involving the devastation of homes, the murder of the townspeople and the raping of horses! The townspeople respond by writing to Governor LePetomane (Mel Brooks), whose only tending to the affairs of state is in liaisons with his secretary! Lamarr persuades the Governor to appoint condemned black railroad worker Bart (Cleavon Little) to become the new Sheriff of Rock Ridge in the hope the white townspeople will prefer abandoning their town rather than have a black man maintain order. Lamarr’s plan is to leave the town abandoned before acquiring the land but he doesn’t count on the ingenuity of Bart and his deputy Jim (Gene Wilder).
Blazing Saddles begins with Bart working the railroads and standing up to the white men that frequently condemn him and his fellow black workers. After narrowly avoiding death in quicksand and finding his boss, Taggart, more concerned about retrieving a handcar from the sand than the two black men whose lives are in peril. Bart manages to save himself and his friend and responds to Taggart’s lack of concern by hitting him over the head with a shovel. This results in a planned execution for Bart but Lamarr intervenes and has him sent to Rock Ridge as the new sheriff. The townspeople have banners of welcome ready but are stunned when Bart rides into town. They want his blood but Bart manages to slip away to the sheriff’s department by pretending to take himself hostage! The townspeople are thoroughly convinced by the deception and Bart soon settles into Rock Ridge though few, if any, of the residents are settled with him!
As I neared the end of Blazing Saddles I was disappointed to not have enjoyed it more. Don’t get me wrong it has some great and amusing moments with Little and Wilder both being brilliant but despite an ending as ridiculously brilliant as Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), where the raiders and townspeople carry their conflict off the film set into a neighbouring set where a musical is being filmed and then to a cafeteria, I was left feeling a little let down at the end credits. This is by no means a bad film, it’s a good one, but I think I given all the praise heaped on it I was expecting it to be a lot better.
Blazing Saddles is an undoubted comedy classic that everyone should give a try. It boasts some very funny moments, a memorable cast and plenty of absurdity befitting of Brooks but in the end I was left lamenting that special ingredient that was preventing this being the masterpiece that many fans and critics argue it is today. This is still a film all comedy fans should try but for me it wasn’t as good as I was hoping which is a real shame.