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Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles

"They said you was hung!" "And they was right."

A railroad magnate wants to build a railroad through the peaceful, sleepy little Western town of Rock Ridge; but of course he must first convince the townspeople to clear out, and has been waging a campaign to force them to relocate. The citizens have been appealing to the governor for a sheriff to oppose the industrialist's band of outlaws; but, being caught between political factions, the governor doesn't know how to respond. Then, a brilliant plan is hit upon: he will send a sheriff who is certain to be hated by the little community, rendering him impotent and allowing the railroad to proceed. He is persuaded to send as the town sheriff a black man named Bart.

Blazing Saddles is Mel Brooks's broad but loving sendup of every Western movie cliche the filmmakers could think of. All the characters are here: Bart, the virtuous, handsome (and here, soul-brother) hero (played by Cleavon Little); the black-wearing gunslinger sidekick (Gene Wilder); the unintelligible, grizzled old coot (Jack Starrett); the slick, duded-up villain (Harvey Korman); even a spoof of Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (which in itself was sort of a spoof of Westerns up to that time), in the form of a Germanic siren (a "Teutonic twat") hired to seduce and destroy the hero (and portrayed by the inestimable Madeline Kahn).

Director Brooks, along with a team of writers which included Richard Pryor, created an hour and a half of wacky, politically incorrect comedy unbound by reality. Visual and word gags fly fast by the viewer, sometimes too many to digest at once. The climax of the film - in which the townspeople and thier allies take on the gang of hired outlaws - is one of the most ridiculous brawls in screen history. The outlaws recruit Mexican bandits, but also bikers and Ku Klux Klansmen, and the huge fight spills out of the Old West setting and onto the Warner Brothers studio lot! (In fact, the villain walks into a screening of Blazing Saddles and sees the hero coming into the theater to pursue him - causing him to be shot outside and land upon Harold Lloyd's star on the Hollywood walk of fame.) Dozens more great gags abound, many of them too rough for the political-correctness grannies of the current movie review world - the uses of the word "Nigger," the farting scene, Gene Wilder's chugging of whiskey, etc.

I caught this on cable when I was younger (reportedly the most-watched program on HBO the year it was released to television) and fell in love instantly. I even took the trouble of tape-recording a showing (though, since this was before many of us had home video, I was able to record the audio only on my little cassette machine). The film has remained immensely popular - with men, at least. It remains one of the most-quotable movies ever. Amuse your friends sometime with the use of the phrase, "'Scuse me while I whip this out."

Blazing Saddles - 1974
Direction: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Alan Uger
Music: John Morris
Featuring: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman

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