Hoo boy, this one is going to be like asking to be killed by an internet hate mob.
But whatever, I didn't value my peace and quiet anyway.
Today's review is of Mel Brooks's classic film, Blazing Saddles.
Things to Get Out of the Way First
This movie is rated R.
If you remember my Hot Fuzz review, you know that I generally avoid R-rated movies, and why.
That said, I apply a degree of leniency for films that were given the R-rating in the era before the PG-13 rating existed, my rationale being that many of these films may actually be PG-13 films by today's standards.
I would like to believe that Blazing Saddles falls into this category, but I can't lie to myself. If this film's rating were to be re-evaluated in the present era, it would still end up with an "R", though for different reasons. Furthermore, a film such as this one could not be made today.
Which brings us to a point even bigger than the R rating: Blazing Saddles is a movie about racism. And, considering it's a comedy, it does surprisingly little to sugarcoat the issue.
Of course, the point of the film is to satirically attack and expose racism, but in order to satirize an institution, you need to portray it, and there is a contingent of people in this world (and especially on the internet) who take even a portrayal of racism as an affront. There is also a contingent of people who don't understand the concept of irony, who cannot tell the difference between mockery and praise.
To be specific, Blazing Saddles is a movie that is not afraid to use the language of racism as part of its biting criticism of racism. The N-bomb is dropped like a hot potato repeatedly throughout the piece. These acts are highly imitable and thus should not be viewed by children or idiots.
I repeat: keep this movie away from idiots.
With That Out of the Way
Blazing Saddles is a critically acclaimed and widely recognized film from the mind of satirist Mel Brooks. It stars Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, and Madeline Kahn, and has been heralded by some (and notably by Brooks himself) as the funniest movie ever made.
Despite my initial oath to only review movies on Netflix that I haven't been exposed to through other means, I find myself drawn to review Blazing Saddles, both as a favor to myself and to the readers of my blog who have requested a review ever since the film hit Netflix.
How does it hold up, more than 40 years after its initial release? Let's find out.
Blazing Saddles is more story-reliant than most comedies. That said, the story here is pretty straightforward---so much so that the initial plot is summed up in a single song:
There was a peaceful town called Rockridge
Where people lived in harmony.
They never had no kind of trouble
There was no hint of misery.
The town saloon was always lively
But never nasty or obscene.
Behind the bar stood Anal Johnson.
He always kept things nice and clean.
Then all at once the trouble started.
A pack of murderers and thieves
Like swarms of locusts they descended,
Their aim to make the townfolk flee.
Now it is time of great decision
Are we to stay or up and quit?
There's no avoiding this conclusion:
Our town is turning into shit.
Tired of being harassed by bandits, the town of Rockridge requests help from the governor, who, unfortunately, is Mel Brooks.
The governor is completely unaware that the bandits in Rockridge are actually in the employ of Hedley Lamarr, the governor's corrupt state attorney general. Hedley wants to drive the residents of the town off their land so he can buy the town cheaply before he builds a railway there.
Unable to stop their petition from reaching the governor's ear, Hedley decides to pacify his employer with the promise to send a new sheriff to the town to clean up all the crime. But instead of sending a seasoned lawman to the town, he sends a condemned prisoner, Bart, to be the town's sheriff.
The all-white and highly insular townsfolk are none too pleased with the new arrival, and Hedley hopes that Bart's appointment will cause the residents to lose all hope of fending off the bandits.
But Bart is more clever than anyone gives him credit for, and through his quick wits and resourcefulness is able to drive off all comers who would disturb the peace of his new home.
And he's not alone in his quest, as he picks up a friend in the form of Jim, a man who used to be known as the Waco Kid.
Jim is disillusioned enough with society to be more accepting of Bart's leadership, and is quickly won over by Bart's hospitality and courage.
But the day is not won. Though his original plan is in shambles, Hedley is determined to nab that land, so he calls in the nuclear option, in the form of Madeline Kahn.
Lili von Shtupp is a German cabaret dancer that has doomed a thousand men. The one thing she isn't prepared for is true love, and she doesn't find it in Rockridge. But she does find a man with certain...ahem..."talents" she was not expecting. And when the time comes to betray Bart, she can't bring herself to pull that trigger.
Thwarted again, Hedley falls back on one last desperate strategy: the complete annihilation of Rockridge. When word of his plan reaches the town, the citizenry lose all hope, but Bart has an idea so crazy that it just might work.
Will he be able to save the town? Will Lili get a second chance with him? Will the town ever come to accept Bart with open hearts? And will the climax be worthy of the great Westerns that have come before?
Yes, no, yes, and...uh...you have to see for yourself.
The humor in this movie is absolutely daffy.
That's supposed to be a pun, but really, a comparison to Looney Tunes is warranted. Blazing Saddles is far and away the most Vaudevillian of Mel Brooks's films (although it has to beat Silent Movie off with a stick to defend the title), and the film even makes a transparent homage to those same cartoons in one of its most famous scenes.
The comedy is organized in such a way that anything can happen at anytime. Non sequiturs abound. But mingled with all that silliness is a scathing indictment of racial prejudice, courtesy of the caricatures that populate the town of Rockridge.
There's a healthy mix of cartoon violence, risque innuendo, pratfalls, wordplay, and dire insinuations. For all its hyperactive energy, it is remarkably balanced in its humor.
But then comes the ending.
Because We have to Talk about the Ending
Blazing Saddles, in its first two acts, is a highly nostalgic and well-beloved classic comedy.
Blazing Saddles, with its ending included, is peerless.
This can't possibly count as a spoiler, since the movie is over 40 years old, but the ending is simply explosive. Which is amazing, considering that it shouldn't work at all.
In a nutshell, the movie quits on itself. Halfway through the climactic final battle, it just...stops. At which point it abandons the idea of being a Western, or of even being a story, and decides to treat the audience to something completely unrelated.
All other works of art that have tried this have been destroyed by the attempt. When a story is stuck for an ending and decides to just throw itself out the window, that's bad writing. Always.
Except in this one case. I don't know how they did it, and I doubt that Mel Brooks knows how he did it, either. But the ending of Blazing Saddles is one of the most beautiful wrecks ever put to film. It so wildly contradicts the rest of the movie that it can't help but feel at home in that same movie. No one ever did it before, and no one has pulled it off since.
Blazing Saddles is the funniest movie on Netflix right now.
You probably can't watch it with your kids. But it has pretty much everything else. It ranks among the best of Mel Brooks's films. It has had a tremendous impact on comedy, and is worthy of study. The fact that you can watch it for no additional cost on Netflix is insane. Assuming you don't already own this movie in some other format, you should definitely take this opportunity to investigate it.
Speculation on the Future of the Film
It is no secret that Mel Brooks has been trying, for some time, to turn Blazing Saddles into a Broadway musical. Despite previous successes with The Producers and Young Frankenstein, he has yet to accomplish this. As I said before, this film could not be made today, and it would appear that some of the same issues that would prevent that have also hampered it from being adapted for the stage.
Recently, Mr. Brooks has been showing the film at important events, perhaps in a bid to drum up support for a Broadway adaptation. I don't know if it's still happening, or if it's ever going to happen, but there is definitely still an interest in this movie, more than 40 years after its release.
Let's all hope Mr. Brooks gets his wish.
Previous entries in the Netflixing series: