Warner Bros. // 1974 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 12th, 2014
Never Give A Saga An Even Break.
The 1970s were the heroic era for parody filmmaking. Though they existed before and would continue to the present, something about the 1970s seemed to produce the yardstick films by which parodies are still measured today. I suspect part of the reason has to do with the declining power of the Hollywood studio system. At the height of its fortunes, Hollywood was generally only willing to poke good-natured fun at its products like musicals, screwball comedies, and Westerns. But once independent productions were more the norm, filmmakers felt free to play merry hell with genre conventions and boundaries of good taste. The result is a string of films that still play as fresh today, from Young Frankenstein to Airplane!. Though some may quibble, for me the jewel in the crown of parody filmmaking is Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. For its 40th Anniversary, the film gets a solid Blu-ray release that fans will appreciate.
Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman, High Anxiety) is a corrupt politicians who wants to collude with the railroad company to level a small town. His plan starts with appointing a black sheriff, Bart (Clevon Little, Vanishing Point), much to the shock of the town. But with his trusty sidekick the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein) at his side, Bart soon figures out what's going on and does his best to save the town.
I don't think too much more ink needs to be spilled in defense of Blazing Saddles. It's a classic of the genre for three reasons: beautifully written, perfectly acted, and doesn't miss a beat. What struck me on this, my two dozenth viewing, is exactly what I think makes it a great parody. See, I first saw Blazing Saddles when I was maybe 13. I didn't grow up on the Western, so I had only the vaguest notion of what the film was riffing on. And still I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. Watching it today, having seen more Westerns and generally being more conversant in culture in general, it's just as funny in a different way. That's what's missing from contemporary parodies. If you haven't seen the films they reference, you're out of luck. In contrast, the best parodies work both as a parody of the genre while also offering an example of that genre. Even if you don't realize the movie is funny, it's still a solid Western tale of lawmen and railroad barons battling it out for the hearts and minds of frontier townsfolk. Put another way, Blazing Saddles works as a Western for people who don't know or like Westerns.
Which brings us to this 40th Anniversary Blu-ray. The film has obviously earned a spot in the cultural canon, and this Blu-ray does a fine job of honoring that. The disc comes packaged in a standard case that's tucked into a sturdy cardboard sleeve that also contains an envelope full of 10 postcards featuring scenes/dialogue from the film. The disc itself house a 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer that looks great. The previous edition of the film was encoded with VC-1, so eagle-eyed fans might detect a slight upgrade. Though one might wish for a full and complete restoration, Blazing Saddles looks pretty amazing for a 40 year old film. The opening shows a bit of wear and tear, but after that it's smooth Technicolor sailing. Detail is strong, with good grain throughout, and colors pop appreciably. A few scenes look a bit soft, and there is some noise here and there, but this is still the best the film has looked since its original run. The film's DTS-HD 5.1 track also sounds surprisingly good for a film of this age...the all-important dialogue is always clear and crisp, and the various musical cues sound warm and natural. The original mono track would have been a nice addition, but this track is fine.
Extras start with an all new featurette that focuses on Brooks and includes a new interview with him. The rest of the extras are from previous editions of the film and start with Mel Brooks showing up for a commentary, and he's charming and informative in equal measure. Though he only comments on two thirds of the film, it's worth a listen for fans. Then we get the featurette "Back in the Saddle," which includes interviews with most of the major players in the film. We also get 10 or so minutes of deleted scenes that show just how good the material that made it into the film really is. As a curiosity, we get the pilot episode for a TV series based on the film starring Louis Gosset in place of Cleavon Little. It's awful, but interesting. Finally, the film's theatrical trailer is included.
Time to quibble. If there's one thing about Blazing Saddles that doesn't work for me it's the ending. The whole "we're in a movie" shtick just doesn't work for me. But perhaps that's a personal idiosyncrasy, since I don't like it in Monty Python and the Holy Grail either. Blazing Saddles has also proved itself to be one of the greatest comedies. It deserves the best treatment money can buy, including a full restoration and a perfect Blu-ray release. Though this disc is good, it's far from perfect, and some fans might be feeling the pinch of an anniversary cash-in this time out. Purists might also wish for the film's original mono track as well. The new featurette is pretty solid, but it might not tempt a lot of fans to upgrade their previous Blu-ray editions, new encode or not.
I can't say enough good things about Blazing Saddles. It's as perfect as a comedy gets. The film works as a parody of Westerns, a vehicle for two of the most talented comic actors of their generation (Wilder and Kahn), and an example of what quotable dialogue should sound like. This Blu-ray is a solid effort, great for fans who haven't bought the film in hi-def yet, though those who have the previous edition might not need to upgrade. If, for whatever reason, you haven't seen it Blazing Saddles (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary is the perfect way to correct that mistake.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (German)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
* German (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* TV Pilot
* Lobby Cards