Today! Because I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille –
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Directed by Mel Brooks (x5)
Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder (x3), Harvey Korman (x3), Madeline Kahn (x6), Mel Brooks (x5), Slim Pickens (x2), Alex Karras, David Huddleston (x2), Dom DeLuise (x6), Burton Gilliam, John Hillerman (x2), Jack Starrett, Carol Arthur, Liam Dunn, Robyn Hilton, Count Basie, Robert Ridgely (x5), Charles McGregor
When people say “They wouldn’t make a movie like this today,” I find that they are normally talking about major studio output. Oh, they’d need a bigger star, they wouldn’t tackle this topic, it doesn’t have blockbuster potential. But in reality, someone somewhere would probably still make whatever movie they’re talking about, if they were able. Quality trumps a lot of financial obstacles, for just the right producer. All that being said, no one anywhere would make Blazing Saddles today.
It’s still funny, ballsy, and wonderful, but I can’t think of a movie aging more uncomfortably than this film. Case in point – you might watch this in your house and think “Oh, some of these jokes are a little rough, but overall it comes out okay.” However, a few years ago I saw this movie in a fairly crowded theater, and no one knew how to react. Was laughing at this wrong? But then why were we all there? It’s not an inherently racist movie, but my God, it goes to some dicey lengths. Richard Pryor’s work on the screenplay is pretty evident, but even at the time the studio was uneasy enough to vote against him also playing Sheriff Bart.
I’ve seen this movie dozens and dozens of times, since I was a little kid – the TV edit, but TV wasn’t editing things the way they are now – so I don’t have a ton of perspective on what works and what doesn’t. The ending has never bothered me, because I don’t remember a time before I saw this movie, but I can imagine that must be sorta jarring now, this fourth wall destroying Hollywood rampage finale to an otherwise locked-in Old West yarn. Oh man, and then there’s all the gay jokes in that Hollywood section. No one would ever make this movie today. No one should try.
On the other hand, despite all the crassness of the dated stereotype jokes, doesn’t the movie point toward more of an overall acceptance for each other? Just a “Hey, let’s all get along”? The only reason the railroad workers help the town of Rock Ridge is that they can then get some land of their own, and everyone live in harmony. And they go for it! It’s a big love tale set in aggressively isolationist times! Is this rationalizing too much? Probably, but from a certain angle, you can get a fairly decent message out of this symphony of campfire beans jokes. (Don’t tell me they wouldn’t do the campfire scene today, though – modern humor hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that this would be verboten. I call bullshit on that logic.)
I typically try to give out the MVP to a minor but deserving figure in a film, but even as great as, say, Jack Starrett’s Gabby Johnson is, he of the terrific frontier gibberish, I have to go with the Oscar nominated new Six-Timer Madeline Kahn, for her amazing channeling of Marlene Dietrich as Lili von Shtupp (never subtle with character names, Mel!).
She leads the acting group, following appearances in #154 Clue, #157 High Anxiety, and #214 Nixon, along with #135 History of the World/#273 The Cheap Detective co-star DeLuise (plus #198 Spaceballs, #282 Johnny Dangerously, and #395 Robin Hood: Men in Tights). Mel becomes the fifth Five-Timer director (Robin Hood, Spaceballs, High Anxiety, History of the World), as well as a Five-Timer actor, for the same films.