There are funny movies. And then there’s “Blazing Saddles.”
Depending on who you ask, “Blazing Saddles” is among the funniest movies of all time. And if you’ve ever seen it, you likely agree. This is Mel Brooks at his absolute best. It’s sharply written and blatantly offensive, to the point where you cringe and shift your weight. But therein lies the beauty of the entire experience. “Blazing Saddles” knows there are limits, and it doesn’t for one second care at all.
I never, ever in a million years thought I’d get the chance to review “Blazing Saddles,” but Warner Bros. is releasing it again on Blu-ray disc in a super duper 40th anniversary edition. Has it really been that long since this motion picture started making audiences of grown adults giggle like school children? This unforgettable comedy, one of Warner Bros.’ most successful ever, is listed as #6 on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) list of the best comedies of all time – “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs.” First released in 1974, “Blazing Saddles” grossed nearly $120 million at the domestic box office and has sold more than 4.6 million DVDs. The Western film genre spoof is one of Brooks’ top commercially successful films, along with “Young Frankenstein,” which was released the same year.
As you likely remember, “Blazing Saddles” stars Cleavon Little as an unlike sheriff in the town of Rock Ridge, Harvey Korman as the villain, Madeline Kahn as a Marlene Dietrich-style chanteuse, Gene Wilder as the wacko Waco Kid and Brooks himself as a dimwitted politico, among other things. As good and colorful as the characters are, don’t be mistaken: this canvas belongs to Brooks, and he fearlessly takes on the responsibility with the greatest of ease. Nothing is sacred to Brooks, and when you’re won a Tony, an Emmy, a Grammy and an Oscar, it doesn’t have to be.
The plot here is simple enough, but the way it is executed is what really sets “Blazing Saddles” apart. Brooks worked pretty hard to satirize racism and bigotry, but in a way that establishes the humor as the dominant undertone. When Sheriff Bart (Little) rolls into Rock Ridge (which, incidentally, is inhabited folks who all share the same last name of Johnson), it is because Hedley Lamarr (Korman) thinks the simple minded citizens will run away from a Black man (he wants to lay some railroad tracks right through town), and they do. But that’s where Jim the “Waco Kid” (Wilder) saves the day and helps to assure everyone that they have nothing to fear…except for Lamarr’s right hand man Taggart (Slim Pickens) and his band of thugs. From here, “Blazing Saddles” picks up speed and doesn’t slow down until we’ve found out “…where the white women at?” and have accumulated “…a shitload of dimes.”
I digress. “Blazing Saddles” is outrageous for so many reasons, not limited to the way Brooks mocks Hollywood itself when the film concludes. Almost everything that can go wrong does, from the bad guy getting shot in the groin to Klansmen and Nazi soldiers being hired to chase out the Rock Ridge citizens to Taggart’s vile henchmen excessively farting around an otherwise peaceful campfire. There’s a pie fight. There are fist fights. There are scantily clad women. Ping pong. Gunfire. And so much more. When combined, and done so in a mere 93 minutes, it is darn near cinematic perfection. Nearly every Western cliché you can think of is worked into “Blazing Saddles,” and they’re all ever so well placed that you won’t notice until they are specifically called out by one or more of the performers on screen.
Don’t think that because “Blazing Saddles” is so over the top with its humor that it sacrifices its quality in the process. The performances are extremely strong here, especially Little and Wilder working together in the lead roles to save the day. You could argue that “Blazing Saddles” is a little bit like a buddy film, but the ability everyone on camera has to engage with their roles deeply is quite powerful. Brooks was always notable for having some regulars take up roles in his films on a pretty consistent basis, and I applaud their ability to work with his direction and develop characters with personality and flair in each instance.
“Blazing Saddles” was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2006, and I have no doubt that it will continue to entertain audiences for years to come. I hope to one day be able to show it to my children as an example of what great movie comedy can be. Deliberate filmmaking is often so pointed it can plant its seed and not want to move, but in this instance, “Blazing Saddles” has successfully penetrated the senses of humor of millions in the past and present. Here’s to hoping it does so on into the future, too.
Given it is 40 years old, “Blazing Saddles” looks pretty clean on Blu-ray disc. The film’s 2.40:1 1080p High Definition video transfer is bright and crisp with very little grain. Brooks used natural light all the way through in a pretty creative manner, and it works to lend necessary authenticity to an otherwise somewhat challenging to take seriously film. The old west looks more realistic than you’d expect from a film that puts comedy above all else, but the Blu-ray transfer here is pretty solid given the film’s age and multiple repackaging instances over the years.
It’s a pretty easy to pick up on audio track, with a little bit of everything from sex to gunfire to fistfights to horses galloping. “Blazing Saddles” sounds as thorough as it probably could, with natural background noise doing more than its fair share in an effort to offer weight and balance. I appreciated the thorough DTS-High Definition Master Audio 5.1 English soundtrack’s ability to help add to the film’s timing and comedy details. It all sounds clear and is easy to pick up on, which helps when you’re gut is busting with laughter.
Here is where the good stuff comes to life. We’re given 10 collectible art cards and an all new featurette called “Blaze of Glory: Mel Brooks’ Wild, Wild West.” Also provided are extra scenes, a Brooks audio commentary, the theatrical trailer, a vintage featurette called “Back in the Saddle” and the 1975 pilot episode of the proposed TV series spinoff called “Black Bart.” If you’re at all interested in the place in history “Blazing Saddles” has carved out for itself, watch these special features!
A Final Word:
This is vintage Mel Brooks, and if you forget it, just watch a few of your favorite scenes and you’ll get the necessary reminder. “Blazing Saddles” is better than ever before thanks to this special edition, and I’m as excited as ever to carve out space on my shelf for it. No matter the situation, if you need a laugh, this is your film.