Sunday, August 28, 2011

Suspend Your Sensibilities For Blazing Saddles!

The Good: Funny, Convincing acting, Historical context
The Bad: Deadly pacing issues, Character types
The Basics: For a film populated by "types," Blazing Saddles makes a good spoof of the old Westerns while adding amusing ethnic commentary.

After the first ten minutes of Blazing Saddles, it becomes clear that it comes from a very different time than ours. The truth is, it's horribly dated. In the first few minutes, the word "nigger" is thrown around about twenty-five times. The thing is, for a change, I'm willing to make an argument for context. The people throwing around the word are redneck Old West Hick Cowboys. And, even at the beginning, they look stupider (singing "Camptown Races" for one) than those they are insulting.

Blazing Saddles is a Mel Brooks film about a town in the old west called Rock Ridge. The town's Assistant Governor, Hedley Lamarr (a pun on 40s film icon Hedy Lamarr) decides to make tons of money off Rock Ridge by attempting to scare the legitimate landholders out of the city. Figuring when the railroad comes through Rock Ridge, the land will be worth a fortune, Hedley attempts to get all of the townspeople to vacate. To do this, Hedley figures all he has to do is appoint a black sheriff to Rock Ridge and the townspeople will want to leave.

Instead, the people of Rock Ridge rally around Bart when he teams with Jim, the former Waco Kid. Together the two men thwart the town's daunting nemesis, Mongo. When Mongo is apprehended, Bart becomes a local (if quietly celebrated) hero. Hedley then becomes determined to get rid of the townspeople by hiring a vicious mob. They are determined to destroy Rock Ridge.

What works is the humor. The film is actually funny. Bart and Jim make an excellent team and their rapport, their lines, are funny. They are in many ways ahead of their time. In truth, they are. The other characters act as if they are from the 1850s while Jim and Bart act as if they are from the 1970s (when the film was made). It's an effective (and funny) juxtaposition. The 70s progressivism is closer to our sensibilities, openly confronting the idiocy of the racism of times distant past.

The sheer absurdity of the ending is also pulled off well (and actually precedes Monty Python And The Holy Grail). The actors deliver their lines and shticks well. Cleavon Little is excellent as Bart and Gene Wilder is good as Jim. The pair acts well off one another; between the two of them and Mel Brooks, they have the timing down perfect. It's refreshing to see.

What fails is the pacing. Horribly. The film takes long to get any momentum, then rushes, then slows awkwardly and then leaps to an absurd and quick conclusion. It's choppy and it feels that way. It's difficult to get and stay interested because the beginning is so deadpanned (and somewhat offensive to some of our more progressive sensibilities) and earnest. The jokes begin as few and far between. Then, they get quick and it's hard to stop laughing all the time. The pacing discrepancies are quite severe.

Outside that, the characters tend to fit "types," rather than being distinct and real. This is one of the faults of a spoof in general. In Blazing Saddles it seems pretty extreme. None of the characters extend to being more than the archetype they represent.

Still, for a film populated by flat characters, Blazing Saddles is funny. It's worth viewing for appreciating a different type of comedy. It's a nice change from today's spoofs which resort (almost exclusively) to juvenile sex jokes. Blazing Saddles has sex jokes, but they're not juvenile. They're actually funny.

For other parody films, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Vampires Suck
Scary Movie 4


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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