Two Cents Wins the West (and Closes Out 2018) with BLAZING SADDLES

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

With his patented blend of razor sharp satire and barn-door-broad slapstick, Mel Brooks delivered a kill-shot to the traditional Western with 1974’s Blazing Saddles, one that was every bit as devastating to the venerable, out-dated genre as the machine gun bullets tearing apart the Wild Bunch.

With Blazing Saddles, Brooks not only rode roughshod over every cliche and over-used plot device that the Western had to offer, but his parody also bluntly addressed the racist underpinnings of many of the great myths of the Wild West, and even tacitly addressing how those same myths and that same racism was curdling society in 1974.

Blazing Saddles was hugely controversial upon release, due both to the usage of the n-word, the presence of Richard Pryor as one of the screenwriters (he was initially also going to play Bart, but the studio balked and Cleavon Little was cast instead), and the then-unprecedented level of filth in the film’s comedy. John Wayne famously turned down a role, telling Brooks that the film was just too dirty for his clean-cut family brand. But The Duke did promise Brooks that he would be the first person in line to see it.

Through the years, Blazing Saddles has continued to be beloved as both a comedy classic and one of the few mainstream American comedies willing and able to bluntly handle the deeply racist history of this country and its entertainment. The non-stop use of the n-word has ensured that Blazing Saddles will probably always remain contested and debated, while the seemingly endless reserves of iconic comedy moments (most notoriously the farting cowboys) ensures that Blazing Saddles will continue to be giggled over for as long as we can laugh about movies.

Blazing Saddles was released in the same year as Young Frankenstein, maybe the single greatest 1–2 punch from any comedic filmmaker ever (it’s one of the great runs of any filmmaker, period). These represented not only a creative peak for Brooks, but they were also the last of his collaborations with Gene Wilder, a creative partnership that brought the best out of both men. As we close out a year that at times has seemed as farcical as this parody (and at other times far uglier than the exaggerated world of this film), we thought Blazing Saddles would provide the perfect capstone.

Onwards, and here’s hoping for a near-future where Blazing Saddles stops seeming so goddamn relevant.

Next Week’s Pick:

See you folks in 2019!

Our Guests

Nick Spacek:

There are three films I’ve seen more than any others: Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Blazing Saddles. I blame my dad, as these were all movies which played in near-constant rotation on TBS and WGN when I was growing up. As they are my dad’s favorite movies (along with the Steve McQueen chase-filled extravaganza, Bullitt), if they were on when he was home and flipping channels, we watched them. Didn’t matter where the film was, we watched it all the way to the end. Strangely, this means that I didn’t actually hear the bean-eating scene until I was probably into my 20th viewing or so, somewhere around 13. Prior to that, it was my brother and I doing our own sound effects, and I still kind of prefer that. I still think the Mongo scenes are the height of comedy, and will gleefully take any opportunity to use “What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is goin’ on here?” in casual conversation. Thanks, dad. (@nuthousepunks)

The Team

Brendan Foley:

Blazing Saddles has been one of my favorite comedies for as long as I can remember, and it still makes me laugh like an absolute goon. While there are a number of gags that were clearly designed in reaction to very 1974-specific events in culture and that now fall sort of flat, Blazing Saddles succeeds so wildly at creating its own cartoon reality that you just roll with these moments as just one more piece of the absurd.

As with Young Frankenstein, Brooks has a keen eye for how to lacerate a genre because he clearly has enormous affection for it. You can tell that this is someone who came up with a steady diet of Westerns, and he knows exactly how the rhythms of these stories are meant to play. But there’s also real anger behind that script, and it’s not surprising that the Western was more or less abandoned in popular cinema after this, and that all Westerns made after must in some way account for the savaging Brooks gave the genre.

As either a merry goof or a furious screed, Blazing Saddles remains aces, and I have no doubt it will remain a beloved fixture of my viewing habits for as long as I watch movies. (@theTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw

Mel Brooks can boast a handful of legitimate film masterpieces in his directorial ouevre, which is a proud claim for anyone, much less a director whose output consists entirely of comedies. Blazing Saddles fits comfortably into this category, an anarchic comedy that parodies ones of the creakiest of genres, the Western, yet feels incredibly fresh — with more than a bit of vicious of social satire (thanks in part to script input by Richard Pryor).

Some of Brooks’ films have lost a bit of their edge or hilarity over time, but for the most part Blazing Saddles is still razor-sharp despite being one of his oldest offerings. Aside from a couple references that no longer carry (the running gag referencing Hedy Lamarr is all but lost on modern audiences; the actress was already long retired when the film was made), this is still volatile and often very funny stuff. Most obviously, the ebullient racial satire is still appallingly relevant, but there’s also a melodiousness to the dialogue that gives it a charming and quotable quality. (@VforVashaw)

Justin Harlan:

Watching a Mel Brooks film is always a treat! While Blazing Saddles doesn’t rank as highly for me as History of the World Part I, Young Frankenstein, or Robin Hood: Men in Tights, it’s still a damn blast. A good dose of social commentary is blended into a ton of slapstick humor and the result is a film that manages to say a little something while being big, dumb fun.

From start to finish, this one puts a big smile on my face. A pretty damn great way to wrap up this column for 2018. (@thepaintedman)

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