JULY / AUG 2017: BY CAROL STARKEY
Mel Brooks is hilarious, right? Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Spaceballs. Young Frankenstein. Brooks produced all of those movies, and they never fail to crack me up. True, some of the humor is juvenile, but they’re movies I quote and I know if I need a laugh, they’ll do the job. Many reviewers hold Blazing Saddles in high esteem, but I thought a lot of the humor fell flat.
The movie is a spoof on stereotypical westerns and was revolutionary for its time. A black man becomes the sheriff, and must win over the town he resides in before they lynch him. He and this town are all that stand in the way of the railroad expansion, but it feels like Brooks is trying too hard to be funny. He mocks cowboys and their gassy diet; he makes fun of the burlesque lifestyle; he ridicules the rich owner of the railroad, but I didn’t laugh once and only smiled once or twice.
One thing that bothered me was the constant use of the n-word, though the script used it more to point out inherent racism than as an actual insult. Even Cleavon Little, the actor who played the black sheriff, had no problem with using it and reassured one of his fellow white actors it was all right to use that term. Brooks himself has acknowledged he remade the film today, he couldn’t use that word.
Not that the entire movie is terrible, but I think part of the movie’s charm is gone because all the jokes in this movie are ones everyone knows, though some of them were new at the time. Until Blazing Saddles, there had never been a farting cowboy in a movie, so when the ring of cowboys pass gas and belch, audiences must have found it hilarious. 40 years later, it’s not new or hilarious. The cowboy who’s an ace shot even when he’s drunk isn’t original, and Brooks’s breaking of the fourth wall, while amusing, isn’t bust-a-gut hilarious.
The acting pulls this movie down. Gene Wilder lacks his normal charisma, giving a pale performance of the drunk cowboy who never misses his target. Mel Brooks often plays a small part in his movies and Blazing Saddles is no different. Here, he lacks his usual humor. Instead, he’s raunchy and almost a caricature of himself. Even Dom DeLuise has a lackluster performance. If the actors had given a little more life to their roles, this movie may have stood the test of time better, or at least stood on the merits of its actors. Instead, the one shining star is Madeline Kahn. She delivers as the seductress who falls in love with the man she was hired to con and later pulls no punches with her scandalous song in front of a crowd of men.
If you have an hour and a half to kill, I don’t recommend Blazing Saddles. Try one of Mel Brooks’s other movies, or if you’re in the mood for a funny western, give City Slickers a try.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Starkley lives in New England with her husband, three daughters, and numerous pets. She likes to read, write, bake, and dabble with the clarinet. She also infrequently blogs.