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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #115: Blazing Saddles

Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974) is the sort of comedy that is simply not made anymore today. It is smart, politically incorrect, well written, and most importantly, an actually funny parody. Whereas nowadays most parodies just take scenes from existing movies and add easy fart jokes, Mel Brooks and co-writer Richard Pryor wrote an original story spoofing the Western genre with jokes that will be funny until the end of time. That being said, they also put in one heck of a fart joke by showing what really happens when cowboys eat beans for supper around a campfire.

Said fart joke was told to my brother and I by our dad who thought it would be great for us to see this comedic gem the first chance we got. Turns out he was right. This is how classics stay alive: parents telling their kids to see movies in which writers get away with things that would make a movie censor’s head explode. By today’s standards Blazing Saddles may be politically incorrect, but I have noticed that sometimes the more the gags are offensive, the bigger the payoff. Case in point: while watching the movie with friends in university one of the moments that got the biggest laugh was when the black sheriff politely says hello to an old white lady, only to hear the words “Up yours, nigg**” come out of her mouth.

Fortunately, black sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) ends up being the hero of this story, decades before Quentin Tarantino would cast his black cowboy for Django Unchained. Bart is a pawn in a scheme by State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), who, much like the villain in Once Upon a Time in the West, wishes to acquire land in order to control the railroad being built. His problem is the town of Rock Ridge sits on the land he needs and his solution is to have his henchman Taggart (Slim Pickens) and his other gunslingers attack the town to drive out its citizens.

Naturally the townspeople write to the government asking for a sheriff to assist them, but Hedley convinces the gullible governor William J. Le Petomane (Mel Brooks) to send them a black sheriff in order to score political points. Bart was about to be hanged for hitting Taggart on the head with a shovel anyway, so they may as well name him sheriff since the townspeople are most likely going to kill him on sight. What Hedley could not expect was for the townspeople to be complete morons and for Bart to easily outsmart them.

In Rock Ridge’s prison cell he finds legendary gunslinger The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), who at one point “must have killed more men than Cecil B. Demille,” but has become a drunk ever since a kid shot him in the ass. The unlikely duo joins forces to protect Rock Ridge from enemies sent by Hedley such as the humongous Mongo (Alex Karras), and the seductive Lili von Shtupp (Madeleine Kahn) a.k.a The Teutonic Titwillow. Make of that name what you will.

As the dangers to the town increase, Brooks and his writers start to throw logic out the window, but you don’t care because every gag are so damn funny. The final act consists of a massive fight in which the characters not so much break the fourth wall as smash it to bits and then proceed to break everything else they can lay their hands on. Since this is still a spoof at the end of the day, there is also a pie fight.

In an era in which people are so divided, I do so wish there were people willing to pick up Mel Brooks’ mantle and make comedies that are daring, inventive, and yes, offensive. One thing that will unite people is laughter, and I don’t care where you’re from, the sight of a bunch of cowboys farting around a campfire after eating a plate of beans is comedy gold.


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