Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Blazing Saddles" Review

Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” may be crude, perverted and racist, but only to those who take comedies too seriously. To be clear, this is not a family movie. Perhaps you’ve seen other works by Brooks, like “Young Frankenstein,” “The Producers,” or “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” While these films may have their moments, they are not nearly as tasteless as “Blazing Saddles.” It is ripe with racial and sexual humor and certainly is not suitable for everyone. But for those who are mature enough to watch it and immature enough to enjoy some it’s jokes, this may be Brooks’ best movie.
The plot of this 1974 mock-western is as follows. In 1874, while laying tracks, slave railroad workers run into quicksand. The railroad company decides to buy land in the small western town of Rock Ridge and redirect the railroad through it. An evil politician named Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) has a sinister plan to turn a profit out of this. Hedley convinces the fumbling, inept governor (Mel Brooks), to appoint a black slave named Bart (Cleavon Little) to fill the freshly made vacancy of town sheriff. Idealistically, this will cause unrest in the highly racist town; and the subsequent chaos will make the town unlivable. The people will subsequently move out and Hedley will buy the land cheaply and sell it to the railroad company for a large profit.
The movie wouldn’t be as interesting if the plan worked as simply as that. And it doesn’t. Or, at least in the long run it doesn’t. At first, the townspeople are aghast. When Bart approaches an elderly woman and says, “morning, ma’am, and isn’t it a lovely morning,” her short and simple response is “up yours nigger.” It doesn’t seem as though the new sheriff will catch a break. The citizens of Rock Ridge are both extremely conservative and extremely stupid. They hold church meetings, in which everyone’s last name is Johnson, where they vent their frustrations in “authentic frontier gibberish” about having a black sheriff. They aren’t willing to accept Bart as sheriff and, as a result, almost assist Hedley in destroying Rock Ridge.
Eventually, the townspeople learn of the plan and begin to support Bart in his quest to unite and save the town. However, Hedley has one more trick up his sleeve to assure that the railroad gets built as planned.
While the negative portrayal of racist whites throughout the movie probably isn’t that shocking and is indeed warranted, many people, black or white, may be somewhat offended by the stereotypes of blacks. It would seem to many that slaves need more respect than they receive in this movie, simply due to the suffering they endured at the hands of whites. Some of the stereotypes don’t even really fit in with the time period, no doubt intentionally so. One such stereotype is black men’s supposed affinity for white women. At one point, Bart yells to a group of KKK members, “hey, where the white women at?” I would agree that the humorous portrayal of the slaves is much more insensitive than that of the whites.
But how seriously should you really take this film? It is an off-the-wall, ridiculous comedy. Importantly, it never takes itself seriously. Many of the characters are completely unbelievable, and numerous anachronisms exist, such as Gucci saddles being used and slaves singing a Frank Sinatra song while at work. To top it off, the ending takes away any credibility the movie may have somehow had.
Mel Brooks has a history of spoofing even his own ethnicity, Judaism, in films such as “History of the World Part I” and Star Wars spoof, “Spaceballs.” The fact that he is willing to do so means that he never has the intention of creating anything more than harmless fun.
If you’re not willing to take into account the nature of this movie, you may be offended and appalled at more than just the black-white issue. The film in general is tasteless. If you are willing, I would highly recommend “Blazing Saddles.” The plot is well-developed and entertaining and sets up Mel Brook’s trademark humor exceptionally well.