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  Blazing Saddles Carry On Cowboy
Year: 1974
Director: Mel Brooks
Stars: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Burton Gilliam, Alex Karras, David Huddleston, Liam Dunn, John Hillerman, George Furth, Jack Starrett, Carol Arthur, Richard Collier, Charles McGregor, Dom DeLuise
Genre: Western, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 4 votes)
Review: The Old West, where the railroad is being built by the oppressed workers while their bosses look on and crack the whip, but on this stretch those overseers are wondering when they are going to start singing as they did when they were slaves. The assembled black workers strike up an acapella version of I Get a Kick Out of You, but that's not what those cowboys want to hear at all, and demonstrate what they prefer, singing and dancing to Camptown Races until the foreman Taggart (Slim Pickens) arrives and breaks it up. He wants a couple of the workers to check out the territory up ahead...

But there's a problem with that, as there's quicksand, though that was not the only drawback director Mel Brooks found to complain about in this untamed country. His target this time around was the Western, and if there had not been so many jokes in Blazing Saddles it would have been a very angry film indeed, as if he were channelling all his rage at the injustices he perceived the genre to represent into his talent for humour. It was surely no coincidence that shortly after this was a surprise success the whole style of cowboy stories was pretty much shot down in flames by Brooks, and except for occasional hits it was never the draw it had been again.

Naturally, this rankled with the critics, and Brooks is still excoriated within those ranks for exposing the deep flaws in a whole range of movies they held dear, never mind that no Western made afterwards would ever be able to be viewed in a wholly beneficial light again. Yet while you could argue that those slamming Brooks were elitist about a populist style of movie, actually Brooks was doing the same, except his form of elitism was far less forgiving of what they illustrated. Yes, he implemented as low a form of humour as he and his team of writers - who included the once-mooted to star Richard Pryor - could dream up, but he was tackling what he saw as the dire prejudices of Westerns, and by extension American history, on their own terms.

Of course, simply because Brooks could not take Westerns seriously anymore doesn't mean you cannot either, and plenty of fans of them still look to Blazing Saddles as one of the funniest films ever made. Nowadays you'd be lucky to get away with such strong racial gags on such a movie, but crucially they were not racist, as Bart (Cleavon Little), the black rail worker who becomes the sheriff of Rock Ridge, genuinely sticks to the old cliché and cleans up that town. He is employed for that role not because the scheming boss Hedley Lamarr (a sublime Harvey Korman) wants this result, but because he fully expects the idiocy of the simple folk to ensure Bart fails thereby getting rid of them so he can put the railroad straight through their homes.

No matter how you might argue against Brooks and what he did here, you cannot accuse him and his team of not knowing their terrain, as many set ups and actual references to other Westerns were offered. There's the over the hill gunfighter in Gene Wilder's Waco Kid, one of the finest roles he was ever offered as his amused calm is the source of much laughter, Madeline Kahn as the Marlene Dietrich send up singer who monotones her way through I'm Tired, and all sorts of details that mark the Wild West out as the breeding ground for, shall we say, the less sophisticated. At times Bart is akin to a Groucho Marx - even at one point Bugs Bunny - breaking the fourth wall and always with the correct quip for any given situation, but that letting the audience in on the joke is taken to extremes with one of the most hilarious finales of any comedy as a brawl invades the whole studio lot. Don't listen to those who couldn't see past the crudity - Blazing Saddles was sharp as a tack. Music by John Morris.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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