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BLAZING SADDLES (director/writer: Mel Brooks; screenwriters: from a story by Andrew Bergman/Norman Steinberg/Andrew Bergman/ Richard Pryor/Alan Uger; cinematographer: Joseph Biroc; editors: John C. Howard/Danford Greene; music: John Morris; cast: Cleavon Little (Bart), Gene Wilder (Jim,The Waco Kid), Slim Pickens (Taggart), David Huddleston (Olson Johnson), Mel Brooks (Gov. William J. LePetomaine/Indian chief/World War I aviator in badmen lineup), Harvey Korman (Hedley Lamarr), Madeline Kahn (Lili Von Shtupp), Dom DeLuise (Buddy Bizarre), Alex Karras (Mongo), Liam Dunn (Rev. Johnson), Burton Gilliam (Lyle), Robyn Hilton (Miss Stein), Claude Ennis Starrett Jr. (Gabby Johnson), John Hillerman (Howard Johnson), Robert Ridgely (Boris the Hangman), Count Basie (as Himself); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Michael Hertzberg; Warner Brothers; 1974)
“Somehow the raunchy humor seemed to pass me by.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mel Brooks (“The Producers”) goes all out in a scatological attempt to create a tasteless, profane, politically incorrect comedy filled with vulgarities, racial slurs, Jewish jokes, Chinese slurs, boob jokes, sexist jokes, fart jokes, stupid white man jokes, and even Howard Johnson jokes. It plays as both a Western satire and a commentary poking fun at racists. Based on a story by Andrew Bergman, it’s scripted by Bergman, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Alan Uger and Norman Steinberg. At the time, Pryor was considered too controversial to play the black sheriff; instead the part was played by the more subdued Cleavon Little. Most of the jokes were aimed at film buffs and fans of low-brow sight gags. It threw everything in schlocky juvenile comedy against the wall and though there were many misses, a few gags worked. Those who love it, really go hog wild for it. Those who find it crude, not that funny, delightful only in parts, and highly overrated, like myself, seem to be in the minority.

It opens outside the rural lily white town of Rock Ridge and a railroad labor gang of Chinese and black workers are being insulted by racist crew chief Lyle (Burton Gilliam) and his boss Taggart (Slim Pickens). When the blacks are asked to sing a spiritual, they instead sing a Cole Porter song. This results in the whites doing their own silly version of “Camptown Races” to show the blacks what they were talking about.

The plot involves the venal, greedy, psychopathic Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), don’t call him Hedy, scheming to pull off an illegal land grab by clearing the folks out of Rock Ridge to take over the land so that when the railroad goes through, he can sell the land back to the railroad for a healthy profit. Hedley gets Taggart to kill the sheriff, loot the stores, rape the cattle, and bomb the church. Olson Johnson, a town leader where just about everyone is named Johnson, sends a letter to the governor asking for a sheriff. Sleazy Governor William J. LePetomaine (Mel Brooks) is obsessed with having sex with his big chested secretary (Robyn Hilton), and turns the matter over to Hedley to handle. Hedley comes up with the bright idea that if he sends a black sheriff, the racist town would never accept him. So he gives railroad worker Bart (Cleavon Little), awaiting execution for hitting the bigot Taggart over the head with a shovel, a last minute reprieve from medieval-like executioner Boris and appoints him sheriff. The town, as expected, is offended to have a black man as sheriff. But the sheriff befriends his lone prisoner Jim, who used to be known as The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder). That was before he became an alcoholic and had the rep as having ‘the fastest hands in the West’ and had “killed more men than Cecil B. De Mille.”

The film is a “film within a film,” as it concludes on the Warner Bros. studio lot and the set of another movie, and in the parking lot two of the stars grab a limo to go to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to find out how their film ended.

Brooks has two other small roles as an outlandish Yiddish-speaking Jewish-Sioux Indian chief and as a WWI aviator recruited by Hedley to attack Rock Ridge. He also wrote the songs and lyrics for three of the film songs: “I’m Tired,” “The French Mistake,” and “The Ballad of Rock Ridge.” The title song was sung by Frankie Laine. Madeline Kahn plays Lili Von Shtupp with a lisp, in an insulting imitation of Marlene Dietrich as a sultry cabaret singer who can seduce any man (Which wasn’t funny or sexy). Football behemoth Alex Karras plays a lovable dumb beast sent by the baddies to smash up the town and kill the sheriff. Its most famous scene involves cowboys eating beans around a campfire and farting in unison.

Somehow the raunchy humor seemed to pass me by.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”