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Blazing Saddles (1974)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

"Never give a saga an even break!"

I greatly enjoy movie Westerns. I was growing up when Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were mainstays of entertainment, especially for young people. I count quite a few Westerns among my favorite movies. However, that doesn't mean I can't enjoy a parody of Westerns. This movie satirizes the Western genre, but does so in a way that shows affection for the great movies that constitute its target.

The movie centers on telling the tale of Bart (Cleavon Little, brilliant as Bart) an intelligent, resourceful and charismatic young black man and his experiences in and around the town of Rock Ridge in the American west, circa 1874.

The film first shows Bart laying railroad track under the immediate supervision of Lyle (Burton Gilliam). When Lyle's foreman Taggart (Slim Pickens) discovers the railroad route may have encountered quicksand, he tells Lyle to send a couple of rail workers to investigate. Lyle selects Bart and Charlie (Charles McGregor) to travel down the rails on a handcar. When as suspected they encounter quicksand, Lyle and Taggart rescue the handcar, but leave Bart and Charlie to die. Bart proves more resourceful than they expect, saves himself and Charlie from the quicksand, and takes some seemingly justified but limited revenge on Taggart.

When reporting the quicksand discovery to corrupt and villainous Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman, excellent as usual), Taggart tells Lamarr that the new railroad route must go through Rock Ridge. Lamarr, who plans to grab the land on which the railroad must be built, plots how to drive the citizens of Rock Ridge from their homes. While planning this Lamarr notices that Taggart has a bandage around his head. When Lamarr inquires how he was hurt Taggart requests that AG Lamarr execute Bart for his attack after the quicksand discovery. Lamarr puts the two things together and decides to have the Governor (Mel Brooks, who also wrote and directed this masterpiece) appoint Bart as the sheriff of the all-white community of Rock Ridge.

When Bart arrives in Rock Ridge he finds the citizens less than thrilled with the Governor's choice for their new sheriff. He also discovers that a jailed drunk named Jim (Gene Wilder, great as usual) once was known as the Waco Kid, a super fast gunslinger. They strike up a friendship. As Bart makes progress winning popularity with the townspeople, Taggart sends Mongo (Alex Karras, very good in this unusual role) and Lamarr sends Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn, outstanding as Lili, received an Oscar nomination for this comedy role). Bart deals with each threat, turning both to his advantage. Events lead to a final showdown between the good and bad guys.

When one looks over some of the names listed above: Mel Brooks, Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman and last but surely not least, Madeline Kahn; one might develop a high expectation for this film. Add to that, Richard Pryor as one of the talented writing crew. Blazing Saddles broke very important new ground on several fronts. Besides the truly exceptional comedic aspects, the film also had tremendous social significance in the fight against race prejudice and in opening up Hollywood movies to other topics which had been taboo. The extra features on the 30th anniversary DVD go into some depth about many of those advances the film made.

If you enjoy Westerns, or if you'd enjoy a parody of them; if you wish to see one of the films that broke down Hollywood's taboos; if you would like to see some of the best movie work of the comedic giants listed above; or perhaps most importantly: if you enjoy hilarious screwball comedy, then watch Blazing Saddles. Since I rate it so highly, I cannot help but think you will enjoy it too.

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