director Mel Brooks
Between Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (1974), Mel Brooks stumbled onto his preferred form of movie comedy: the genre parody or send-up. He’d tackle silent movies, Hitchcock, and even Star Wars (1977) through this methodology. But 1974 was probably his best year as both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein were landmarks in 1970’s comedy.
While I think that Young Frankenstein is a better and funnier movie, Blazing Saddles is perhaps a more radical attempt at sending up genre, poking hard at racism in America, in the American West, and ultimately in the American Western. With Richard Pryor as one of the four credited screenwriters, the gags playing on the black sheriff in the rigorously racist West turn on clichés of the genre and truths in American history and life.
The humor is broad and schticky. And edgy for the 1970’s. So oft-quoted at the time, popularly referenced, watching it now seems to see it in a different context, perhaps more of a film of its time more than anything. More than its own relevance today.
It’s interesting that 1974 was also the year that Fred Williamson/Jack Arnold’s Boss Nigger came out because that blacksploitation styled revisionist Western also featured an African American sheriff in a town that didn’t cotton to him. Brooks’ film is far more playful, obviously, but it’s interesting to see how this concept was playing out in pop culture at the time, in the face of a genre deeply dyed in the wool of racist depiction and cultural omissions.
Blazing Saddles has a terrific cast. Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, and Brooks himself, plus Slim Pickens, Liam Dunn, John Hillerman, and David Huddleston all get some laughs in with hilarious delivery.
But I don’t know. Though I hadn’t seen it in decades, this is one of those films that played so much in my childhood that it feels somewhat embedded in my consciousness. And revisiting it bears a familiarity quite profound. But I didn’t find it terrifically funny. Enjoyable, sure. But as classic as it is considered?
I watched it with my 14 year old son, who I think enjoyed it reasonably well. Still, I think it’s a film that made much more of an impact in its day than it could today. And its impact shouldn’t be overlooked because in a sense this is a post-Blazing Saddles world. Not that the impact has the profundity of a before and after but because there has been a Blazing Saddles, there hasn’t really been a need for another.