Featuring everything from the undeniable symphonic bliss of campfire farts to the breaking of the fourth wall only to require a taxi back to the main event, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles is one of the funniest films ever made. This 1974 comedy simply wouldn’t be made today and there’s something special about that.
Brooks not only broke every rule in the book with this picture, he sent up the mythology of progress with a leering, goofy good time. And that’s really all he’s interested in, as Blazing Saddles lacks structure in a way that other flicks like Caddyshack would revel in. There are no efforts to lampoon any genre in particular and there’s no need to focus on such small things.
Yet there is a plot, sort of. In the American West, a railroad is being constructed. It has to pass through the town of Rock Ridge, which is filled with Johnsons. The attorney general Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) wants to drive out all the Johnsons in order to buy the land along the railroad’s proposed route. To do this, he employs a group of thugs and nasties.
The town presses the governor (Brooks) to get off his duff and hire a new sheriff. He obliges and Bart (Cleavon Little) is brought in. Bart is black, which means they call him Black Bart. The townspeople are far from pleased, but Bart does have the assistance of The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) and works toward saving the town.
Most people know that none of that matters. Blazing Saddles is structurally unsound and patently ridiculous, an asinine assault of a movie that never lays aside an opportunity for grossness or lewdness. And I mean that in the best possible way.
Locking in for Brooks’ comedic gold is a brilliant cast that also features Slim Pickens as Taggart, Lamarr’s hapless helper. Whether he’s insisting that his boss can use his tongue “prettier than a twenty dollar whore” or coming up with an overly “Jewish” solution to running the obstructionists out of Rock Ridge, he’s a marvel.
And let’s not forget the charming Madeline Kahn, who manages to play Lili von Shtupp in a way that passes directly through Marlene Dietrich on its way to heaven. Her musical number is the stuff of musical dreams, while her “womantic” encounter with Black Bart is anything but “ordinawy.”
But more than any cast can bring to this masterwork, it’s Brooks’ penchant for excess – and indeed his gleeful insistence on sinking his teeth into every “too far” moment possible – that makes this movie so memorable. Mongol’s faceoff with Black Bart is an example of this, as it veers into Bugs Bunny lunacy without missing a cartoonish cue.
And then there’s the grandiloquence, typified in the beautiful campfire scene that many grim globs likely now consider too crass. It’s 2014, after all, and we’re above such fart-based funniness. For my money, however, there’s never been a more necessary time to rewatch a sequence so deliriously full of cheek squeaks that it hurts.
In a day and age where everything seems dangerous and every headline suggests we aren’t mature/thin/pretty/hip enough, there’s something spectacular about watching Blazing Saddles. Its rectal turbulence, its seam-splitting sensations, its turtle burps, and its great brown clouds are masterful things worthy of praise.
If that’s not enough, it pays to recognize how splendidly Brooks has his Blazing Saddles mosey into the sunset. As if sending up Top Hat isn’t enough, he has his characters settle outside the walls of their own movie. It is a marker of this picture’s lack of reticence and a sign of a madly comic mind hard at work on pressing buttons and breaking down walls.