You have to give credit to Mel Brooks for being so ballsy. In today’s day and age, a movie like “Blazing Saddles” would never get off the ground and become a mainstream comedy. Even with its material, Brooks runs the risk of becoming low brow, but thankfully manages to create the best comedy of all time. It’s my favorite from Brooks, edging out “Young Frankenstein” if only for the lead performance by Cleavon Little. “Blazing Saddles” satirizes the Western sub-genre, while also mocking its inherent racism, setting it in the middle of the slave era. Though the film is biting in its social commentary, it still manages to be incredibly funny, sidestepping the mockery of the slavery, and instead poking fun at the Caucasian characters.
Though they dominate the land, they’re morons, degenerates, and criminals, all kept together by the hard work of the lower class slaves they force in to working on the railroads. During the building of the new railroad, the evil developed Hedley Lamarr discovers that the construction runs through quicksand making it impossible to complete. He changes his plans however, and decides to re-route the building of the railroad in to the small town of RockRidge. Buying the sleazy Governor, the pair decide to appoint a pushover sheriff to Rock Ridge when the people protest its building. Expecting them to revolt, they hire Sheriff Bart, a seemingly humble and quiet African American man whom they expect to be met with scorn and violence.
Suffice it to say, Sheriff Bart soon finds his footing in the town evading the monstrous assassin Mongo, and decides to fight against Lamarr and his band of crooks, as they plan to raid the town and murder everyone. Bart shows them that he has more than enough wits to battle them. He finds himself more than capable of battle, especially when he befriends an ex gunfighter and alcoholic “The Waco Kid.” Gene Wilder gives a fantastic supporting performance as the tormented gun fighter who takes a shine to Bart, especially when he finds himself outnumbered by Lamarr’s cronies. Cleavon Little’s performance is also brilliant as he manages to channel Bugs Bunny through much of his character Bart, who not only outguns his foes, but outwits them in the process.
Sheriff Bart isn’t just a hero, but a protagonist you can root for. I can’t imagine a better actor suited for Sheriff Bart. “Blazing Saddles” much like “Young Frankenstein” constantly jumps back and forth from wacky to brutally witty, with rapid fire jokes, and hilarious one-liners that keep the film moving at a brisk and raucous pace. Brooks also enlists a high pedigree of comedic performers including Madeline Khan, Harvey Korman, and Dom DeLuise, respectively, while also poking fun at the tropes of the Western sub-genre that are implemented with the precision only Brooks and co-writer Richard Pryor are capable of. “Blazing Saddles” is a brilliant near perfect comedy that satirizes the Western while also twisting the conventions of the classic hero tale, in the process. It’s the best Brooks has ever offered his audience.