Study Guide

Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles Introduction


Release Year: 1974

Genre: Comedy, Western

Director: Mel Brooks

Writers: Mel Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg, Richard Pryor, Alan Uger

Stars: Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, Slim Pickens


  

Once you become a big-time movie director, you kinda get to do whatever you want with the stuff you film. But few moviemakers go as crazy with this freedom as Mel Brooks, who can make uber-deep observations about racism in America even while we watch a cross-eyed governor playing with a paddleball.

More specifically, Brooks uses his movie Blazing Saddles to go right after nearly every racist stereotype and Western film cliché you can possibly think of. And when he's done with all that, you might still be wondering if he's going to smack you with a rubber chicken.

Seriously.

Set in the Wild West, Blazing Saddles tells the unlikely story of how a black railroad worker named Bart becomes the sheriff of a small desert town called Rock Ridge. Little does he know that he's only been put in this position because a government stooge named Hedley Lamarr wants to demolish the town to make way for a new railroad. Contrary to Hedley's expectations, though, Bart does a great job as sheriff and foils all of the man's diabolical schemes to destroy the town. 

And if that weren't good enough, Bart caps off his shining career as Sheriff of Rock Ridge by shooting Hedley Lamarr in the groin.

Just for good measure.

Although it's considered a classic comedy today, Blazing Saddles got some mixed reviews when it first came out in 1974. Some critics didn't like the fact that the movie suffered from a sort of ADHD, with director Mel Brooks including every gag he could possibly think of. Critic Roger Ebert called the movie "crazed grabbag of a movie that does everything to keep us laughing except hit us over the head with a rubber chicken."

His words. Not ours.

If you watch the movie all the way to its insane ending, you're likely to agree with Ebert on this one. Just saying.

But that's not totally a bad thing. In the end, Blazing Saddles would become one of the most important comedies of the twentieth century, getting itself three Oscar nominations and the #6 spot in The American Film Institute's 100 Years…100 Laughs list.

Take that, everyone who's lower than #6.

What is Blazing Saddles About and Why Should I Care?

We're going to go out on a limb and say that The United States has an uncomfortable history when it comes to race: 

  • Slavery, anyone?
  • Or, uh, killing of indigenous people by white colonizers?
  • And can't forget stuff like basic enslavement of Chinese people to build the American railroad system.

And being...himself...director Mel Brooks plays it all for laughs. 

Does he have your attention yet?

Mel Brooks' philosophy in Blazing Saddles is basically this: we'll fight racism way better if we just declare an open season on using racial slurs and stereotypes so much that there's just no ignoring the horrible parts of American history. And what better way to go after the stereotypes than to go after the greatest celebration of white American manhood ever—the Western film.

This movie might come across as one huge ROTFL romp, but when you study the film closely, you see that it's pretty much undermining everything a traditional American culture believes in, like white men and uh… more white men.

At the end of the day, Blazing Saddles is a comedy made by a Jewish director using a black main character to make fun of pretty much every white value America has ever had. But how does he get away with it, you ask? By trashing everything else along with it.

There is seriously nothing in this movie that is out-of-bounds for Brooks' satire and endless slapstick comedy. And whenever the movie might get a little too heady for some people, Brooks is also fine with throwing a lot of fart jokes in for good measure.

Put it all together and you've got yourself a great lesson for how to use comedy to make people think.

Trivia

Apart from Mel Brooks and screenwriter Andrew Berman, the writers of Blazing Saddles included a lawyer named Norman Steinberg and a dentist named Alan Ugo. Both men had always wanted to try their luck at screenwriting, but they both had to go back to their regular jobs toward the end of the process in order to pay their bills.
(Source)

Believe it or not, Blazing Saddles was the first movie ever to have clearly audible farting onscreen.
(Source)

When Mel Brooks first showed the movie to Warner Brothers' executives, not a single one of them laughed throughout the movie and everything looked like a bust. But when Mel Brooks showed the movie to the company's regular employees, they laughed insanely hard for the whole movie, and the execs decided that maybe regular people were better judges of what was funny. The rest is comedy history.
(Source)

Blazing Saddles Resources

Websites

Blazing Saddles at Imdb.com
This is the place to go for all the vitals on Blazing Saddles and its hilarious crew.

Blazing Saddles at RottenTomatoes.com
Check out this link to find out why scores of fans and critics consistently give this movie a 90% rating or higher.

Blazing Saddles at Filmsite.org
This site includes a full review of the movie and some solid in-depth analysis of why it's been such an enduring classic. And if you just plain don't like the movie, that's cool too.

Articles and Interviews

Blazing Saddles at 40: A Conversation with Mel Brooks
After forty years of incredible popularity, the folks at EW.com sit down with Mel Brooks to ask him lots of questions about how the movie got made and why Brooks thinks it has managed to stay so popular for so long.

Mel Brooks Discusses Blazing Saddles, Brooksfilms, and the Best Screening Ever
In a sit-down with hitfix.com, Mel Brooks talks about his famous comedy and why one of his favorite experiences ever in showbiz happened one night during a screening of Blazing Saddles with a half-white, half-black audience.

Blazing Saddles: Mel Brooks' Western Laugh Riot
This article gives some pretty great insight into the kind of American culture that first experienced Blazing Saddles and why the movie remains so edgy to this very day.

Video

Awesome Full-Length Interview with Mel Brooks
In this interview, director Mel Brooks sits down with talk show host Conan O'Brien to talk comedy and to examine the role that Brooks' childhood and young life had on his later career. It's filled with tons of great laughs and insight, so be sure to have a look.

The French Mistake
We're going to go ahead and put up this scene again because we can't get enough of it.

Mel Dishes Out the Secrets of Blazing Saddles
That's right. Mel Brooks hits up Conan to talk comedy and to give out some long-guarded secrets about what went on behind the scenes on the set of Blazing Saddles.

Audio

Blazing Saddles Theme Song
You've had a chance to feast on Mel Brook's directing genius, so now let's take a look at his musical gifts.

Soundtrack Suite to Blazing Saddles
It'd be unfair to say that Mel Brooks is responsible for all the music in Blazing Saddles, because the truth is that composer John Morris played a big role too. So let's throw down some respect.

Count Basie and his Orchestra
Because what's a good ol' Western film without a cameo from the jazz legend Count Basie?

Images

Bart Holds Himself Hostage
Yup, you've got to be pretty dumb to fall for this one. But luckily, the folks at Rock Ridge aren't the sharpest tacks in the box.

Have Another Drink, Jim
Bart has a whole lot of admirable qualities. But when it comes to drinking, we've got to say that he's a bit of an enabler.

Mongo Rides Into Town
And of course he's riding an ox, since a horse would be too small for him.