Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…