Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ten Statements About....BLAZING SADDLES (1974)

Yes, I love Pryor and Wilder...but this is just as effective
a comedy team.
"Take this down. I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists."
"Could you repeat that, sir?"

1) Even watching this now, after over thirty-five years, it strikes me how it helped form one of my principle rules when it comes to spoofs and satires. Namely, when you burn away all the gags and the broad performances and the genre-shattering final ten minutes, you still have a story that not only works within the genre its spoofing, but manages to make a valid point about racial politics on top of it.

Fuck Dr. Evil...Hedley Lamarr is the True Face of Comedic Evil!
2) God, I love the sheer delicious joy with which Harvey Korman attacks the role of Hedley Lamarr. He's one of the few movie villains I forgive for thinking himself evil because, damn it, he's so good at it.

3) After watching Gene Wilder's Waco Kid, I have to wonder how effective he could've been in a straight thriller--maybe even as a villain. The sheer control he has in this role is so at odds with how we usually think of Wilder (i.e. ranting, screaming, running about) that if he harnessed that quality for a serious flick...well, it could've been truly chilling.

4) I have to wonder if teens today--and I first saw this as a teenager--would look upon the frequent use of the racial epithets in this film the way we did back in the day. Would it have the same impact given how devalued these words have become?

5) Alex Karras may not have been an actor, even when he was trying to be an actor...but I can't think of another person who could've made Mongo work.

6) You'll notice how this film frequently dances on the precipice of gross-out humor. The fact that it tempers the grossness with word play, ethnic humor and sight gags avoids the ickiness of more recent films of this ilk ....

7) You'll also notice the way Brooks consciously avoids anything but the most general modern references. This allows us to watch it thirty-five plus years later and still enjoy it, whereas more recent spoof films will literally disappear from the public consciousness five years later.

8) I have to admit--I've never quite figured out how I feel about Madeline Kahn. I do recognize that she was a beautiful woman, and I can appreciate that she had an excellent sense of comic timing and body language...but there's something about her that has always left me cold. Maybe it's the way that she, like Adam Sandler, had a tendency to let funny voices do her acting for her. So yeah, I appreciate her but...not a fan.

9) I know the film was originally written for Richard Pryor--who even retains a writing credit--but I can't think of anyone who would have worked better than Cleavon Little. While I can certainly believe that Pryor would have that unbeatable chemistry with Wilder (you just have to look at their work together to know that), I have to wonder if he could have sold a 1974 white audience on the fact that he'd be acceptable to the Johnson-infested Rock Ridge over time

This is how you should have kept it, Mel...doing the small
roles in the funny make-up and letting the real actors have
all the fun.
10) I've mentioned this to my friend and partner Derrick before--but this sort of filmmaking, where the same actors, writers and directors move from picture to picture, taking different roles (even multiple roles) and fulfilling different purposes in the plot, isn't done anymore. Only the Broken Lizard troupe comes close to emulating Brooks' early filmmaking process. And Brooks never was as great a comedic presence as when he was leading Wilder and Kahn and the like through the desert of Hollywood cliche; it's not for nothing that Brooks' star began to fade once he started taking the lead roles for himself and slowly broke up his repertory company.

Overall...a true classic spoof, part of a string of just hit-them-out-of-the-park work for Mel Brooks...and a film that still resonates thanks to a smart script and some excellent performances.

Incidentally, I watched this on the '30th Anniversary' DVD edition that contains what may very be the absolute worst DVD commentary I've ever heard. Brooks has a reputation for being one of the most awful commentators on his own work...and this commentary (which just stops about fifteen minutes before the film does) is proof.

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