Appellate Judge Michael Stailey's sole experience with a blazing saddle compelled him to swear off habanero chiles forever.
Our reviews of Best of Warner Brothers: 20-Film Comedy Collection (published July 14th, 2013), Blazing Saddles (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary (published May 12th, 2014), The Mel Brooks Collection (published May 1st, 2006), and The Mel Brooks Collection (Blu-Ray) (published December 21st, 2009) are also available.
What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is a-goin' on here?
He rode a blazing saddle.
Facts of the Case
I rememba back in 1874, our little town of Rock Ridge were unders attack by a gang'a hornswogglin', cattle rustlin', flim-flam, rigga raggers! Theys may have killed our sheriff, but we were dang blang mad, an' there's no way theys were gonna run us off'n our land! So's we all voted to stand an' fight, and we wired the Governor to sends us a new sheriff! Only that slimy, sidewinding, sigger sucker Hedy Lamarr (that's Hedley!) sends us a ni…
I'll take it from here, Gabby Johnson. Sheriff Black Bart arrived in town to fanfare, a laurel and hearty handshake, and shock from us all. He may have tricked us into letting him stay, but we did everything in our power to send him packing. As if things couldn't get any worse, the evil Mongo came riding into town. Now we were really done for!
Stop being so melodramatic, Reverend Johnson. Bart captured and tamed Mongo, sobered and deputized the Waco Kid, wooed and captured the heart of the deadly beautiful Lili Von Shtupp, and earned enough of our trust to come together and save our town from that damn Hedy Lamarr (that's Hedley!).
Well, I'm not gonna tell you everything. Buy the damn movie and see for yourself!
Oh, Howard Johnson…quiet down, eat your beans, and let the nice film critic finish his review.
You go right ahead, dear.
Thank you, Harriet Johnson.
Unlike his first two feature films—The Producers and The Twelve Chairs—Mel Brooks did not originate the idea for Blazing Saddles. Andrew Bergman's story, Tex-X, came to Brooks by way of agent David Beagleman, after an attempt by producer Richard Zanuck, director Alan Arkin, and star James Earl Jones failed to get off the ground. Hesitant about taking on a project he didn't write, Mel assembled a team of writers to develop the script, in a manner much like the golden days of television. His team included Bergman (Striptease), a young comic named Richie Pryor (yes, that Richard Pryor), a lawyer named Norman Steinberg (Johnny Dangerously), and his writing partner, dentist Alan Uger (Family Ties).
With the script complete, now came the casting challenge. Mel wanted Pryor to play Bart, but the studios wouldn't take the risk. Instead, Mel signed classically trained actor Cleavon Little, whose comedic timing and sweet disposition made him a cast and crew favorite. The other trouble came in casting the Waco Kid. Mel wanted grizzled veteran Dan Dailey to play the role, but Dailey's health and poor vision prevented him from signing on. Next on the list was John Wayne, who turned it down because the film was "too dirty." Finally, Brooks signed actor and recovering alcoholic Gig Young to the role. On the first day of filming, hanging upside down in the jail cell, Young went into seizures and was taken from the set by ambulance. A panicked phone call to New York found Brooks's good friend Gene Wilder—he had been reading the script and lobbying for the part during the writing process—who hopped on a plane and, less than 24 hours later, was on the set and ready to go. The rest, as they say, is history.
Blazing Saddles was awarded the #6 slot on the American Film Institute's list of Top 100 Comedies, and deservedly so. This film redefined the concept of feature film comedy for generations to come. A year before the debut of Saturday Night Live, and six years prior to the release of Airplane!, Brooks schooled American audiences on a new brand of in-your-face humor. Drawing from years of experience writing for Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner, Mel fuses raucous Catskills standup with modern political satire and the idiosyncrasies of the human condition, to create a whole new form of funny. Never before have we seen characters reveal their hypocrisy and innermost thoughts so freely and uninhibitedly: Lamarr's devious and skillful manipulation of the dimwitted Governor LePetomaine; Taggart and Lyle's blatant disregard for the health and well-being of their second-class workers; and the citizens of Rock Ridge's disdain for anyone whose last name isn't Johnson and who doesn't fit nicely into their lily-white redneck community. Brooks proves that humor (in words and song) can be a powerful tool to both entertain and educate by holding up a mirror to the ridiculousness of ourselves.
The true genius of Mel Brooks is in his attention to detail. Instead of a film moving from one punch line to the next with nothing but empty space in between, Brooks fills each moment with little laughs, satire, puns, homages, commentary, and in-jokes…
• The rear view wedding portrait hanging in Lamarr's office.
These are the little things that most directors would never even bother with. For Brooks, these details are the glue which hold the bigger laughs together, creating a rich tapestry of human foibles. All the more for audiences to enjoy.
The performances here are all top-notch. Cleavon Little's delivery is smooth as silk, executing each and every one of Brooks's jokes with maximum impact and making it all look so easy. Gene Wilder is brilliantly understated as the Waco Kid, a stark contrast to the neurotic nebbish Leo Bloom in Brooks's The Producers. Building upon his brilliant TV work, Harvey Korman steals every moment, whether it's toying with Taggart and the Governor or trying to outsmart Bart, he takes everything so seriously, you can't help but laugh. The beautifully funny Madeline Kahn does a dead-on impersonation of Marlene Dietrich, taking everything one step over the top while never venturing beyond the bounds of believability. Alex Karras elevates the classic dumb-jock persona into an art form, as the lovably misunderstood Mongo. Slim Pickens and Burton Gilliam exemplify every idiot redneck ever captured on celluloid.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, this new digital transfer is probably the most impressive presentation of Blazing Saddles ever released. Granted, there is still evidence of dirt, scratches, and the occasional flicker effect, but the grain has been kept to an absolute minimum and the colors bring back the vibrancy of the 1970s. The remastered Dolby 5.1 Surround track isn't quite as impressive as its video counterpart, with most of the action still taking place in the front three channels. Forget about the rear speakers or the subwoofer; they won't be needed. Alternate French and Spanish tracks have both been included, even though the packaging only lists Español.
As for the bonus features, this is where Warner Bros. stumbles and falls. If you are going to tout something as a "30th Anniversary Special Edition," you might want to follow through. Instead of an expensive anniversary present or the obligatory flowers and candy, we get a leftover cake from a wedding that never took place.
These are the so-called "special features…"
Scene-Specific Commentary by Mel Brooks
Two Blazingly Boffo Documentaries
• Back in the Saddle is a 28-minute featurette culled from interviews with Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Burton Gilliam, producer Michael Hertzberg, and co-writer Andrew Bergman, showcasing clips used from the G-rated televised broadcast. It's a nice look back at the film and its genesis, but again, don't sell chopped liver as prime rib. And don't steal things from other releases to pad your bonus materials! This one was taken from the 2003 Special Edition VHS release.
• Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn is a four-minute excerpt from Lifetime Television's Intimate Portrait series. Why Warner didn't include the entire hour-long episode is beyond me, especially if they're labeling this as a documentary.
Black Bart: 1975 Pilot Episode
Round out the package with an original theatrical trailer and unimpressive menus, and you have a 30th Anniversary disappointment. Then again, we came for the reception, not the party favors.
From Frankie Laine's opening title track to Bart and Jim driving off into the sunset in a Cadillac limo, there is not one inch of this canvas left unpainted, which is why Blazing Saddles seems untouched by time. Each viewing makes for new discoveries, and new appreciation for this comedic masterpiece. At $19.97, there is no reason why this title shouldn't be a part of your DVD collection.
This court exonerates Mel Brooks and company from any charges leveled against them. However, Warner Bros. executives and those responsible for this 30th Anniversary release are sentenced to 30 years of hard labor in the California desert for lying to, cheating, and hornswoggling an unsuspecting public. This court is adjourned.
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Review content copyright © 2004 Michael Stailey; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.