Director: Mel Brooks
Starring: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman
I should start by admitting that I’m not really a Mel Brooks fan. For a few years in middle school, I WAS a Mel Brooks fan. Silent Movie was the funniest damn thing I had ever seen in my entire life. Then I, well, grew out of it, but I don’t mean to say that I hate the man’s movies either. On the contrary, I love a few of his films. Unfortunately, Blazing Saddles isn’t one of them.
The plot, such as it is, involves an evil government agent (Korman) appointing a black sheriff (Little) to the town of Rock Ridge in order to force the residents to leave so he can build a railroad through the town. The sheriff rallies the town folk to stand up to the baddies, and mayhem ensues.
Doesn’t make sense? Doesn’t matter. Plot has never been the point of a Mel Brooks film. The point is the gag. Gags galore. Visual gags, sound gags, punny gags, reference gags, clever gags, crude gags. That’s the point of a Mel Brooks film. Blazing Saddles delivers tons of gags, to varying degrees of success. There are moments in the film where I am legitimately laughing out loud, plenty of moments where I find myself smiling from the silliness, but there are also moments where I feel the humor is too forced, or where I roll my eyes. I absolutely adore when Sheriff Bart yells at the Ku Klux Klan members, “Where the white women at?” and the “French Mistake” number has me falling out of my chair, I’m laughing so much. But I’ve never found the classic campfire beans sequence amusing, even when I was in middle school, and there are plenty of other sequences I view with ambivalence. To be fair, I have pretty high-falutin’ taste in film, so really, was Mel Brooks comedy ever going to appeal to me? But, to play the other side of the coin, Airplane!, which can easily be grouped in the same category of movie as Blazing Saddles, is one of my favorite films of all time, as is Brooks’ own film Young Frankenstein, and I have never – NEVER - laughed harder at a film than when I saw Borat in theaters. I was laughing so much and so hard that my husband thought he might have to call in for an oxygen tank. Lowbrow humor and the silly gag have their place in my film world, but they have to be spot on. I don’t think the humor in Blazing Saddles is.
Why isn’t it? The film feels too anarchic to me. It feels like Brooks was barely able to keep the train on the tracks in terms of big picture. I’ve always found the ending bizarre and problematic, a gigantic “WTF?” to cap everything off. Mel Brooks’ scenes that he’s in (he makes a habit of appearing in his films) are beyond wacky, and not in a way I enjoy.
I will say, though, that I adore Gene Wilder in this film. I totally have a crush on 1970s Gene Wilder, and as Sheriff Bart’s alcoholic but sharpshooting deputy Jim, he brings a bit of gravitas to the film. Not much, to be sure, but when everyone else is essentially running around with a plunger on their heads, waving rubber chickens in the air, the man who is still and silent for a moment seems more serious than the grave. The scenes between Sheriff Bart and Jim are probably my favorite in the film; they work for me.
I got a chance to see Blazing Saddles on the big screen in a crowded theater (thanks, yet again, to the Dryden). Everyone around me was laughing the whole way through. I laughed out loud at some bits, certainly, but on the whole I was significantly more silent than my fellow audience members. And to me, that’s the ultimate test of a comedy; if I’m uncharacteristically quiet in a crowded theater that is laughing its collective ass off, then this is not the comedy for me. I hesitate in calling this a “bad” film, as I really don’t think it is. It’s just… not for me.
Ultimately, it’s very difficult to criticize comedy. Blazing Saddles doesn’t totally work for me, but I know it works for many, many people. What makes one person laugh could bore someone else to tears, and it all comes down to personal taste. Blazing Saddles is certainly one of Mel Brooks’ stronger entries, but it’s not my favorite. Because it’s not to my taste. Simple as that.
Arbitrary rating: 6/10