Study Guide

Blazing Saddles Analysis

  • Replica Town

    If you want a symbol that shows you just how clever Bart is (and how insane the movie Blazing Saddles is), then look no further than the replica of Rock Ridge.

    Bart knows that he'll never defeat Hedley Lamarr's army of mercenaries with force alone. So he gets the people of Rock Ridge together and tells them,

    "Now, before the sun comes up, we're going to build on this site an exact replica of the town of Rock Ridge." 

    When the townsfolk say they don't have the manpower to make a replica, Bart adds that it's possible if the people of Rock Ridge agree to work with,

    "Rail road workers. They've agreed to help us make our dream come true. And all they ask in return is a little plot of land they can call their own to homestead." 

    So it looks like the white people and black people are going to have to learn to work together if they want the town built.

    It's not that the people of Rock Ridge have suddenly become less racist. They just know that they have a mutual interest in defeating Hedley's army. This is really the same case as what we get with the people of Rock Ridge accepting Bart as their sheriff. It's not really about a moral revelation. It's about knowing what's good for you.

    So in a sense, the fake town represents two things: 1) how stupid the bad people in this movie are, and 2) how quickly people will get over their prejudice if it means saving their own skin.

  • Froggie

    There are many times in this movie where Hedley Lamarr tries to play himself off as an evil genius. But as we find out at several points, he's actually a sniveling little twerp.

    When he's taking a bath, for example, he suddenly breaks into a huge panic when he can't find his toy frog. As he shouts to Taggart,

    "Where's my froggie?!"

    When Taggart can't find it right away, Hedley's panic builds and he cries,

    "Hurry. Find it. Get it. Get it."

    What all of this Froggie stuff tells us is that deep down, jerks like Hedley Lamarr are insanely insecure and childish. Why else would they spend their entire lives trying to reassure themselves of how smart and powerful they are?

    At the end of the day, Hedley Lamarr and people like him are a bunch of children who say things like,

    "That was a close one! Daddy loves Froggie. Froggie love Daddy?" 

    No one loves you, Hedley… because you're a jerk.

  • Hand Cart

    The hand cart isn't in this movie for very long, but Mel Brooks uses it to make a point about how little value the white bosses of the Old West put on the lives of black people. You got to hand it to Mel Brooks—this could be an excruciatingly dismal symbol, but this director makes it funny. (Even if it's more like a "heh" than a belly laugh.)

    Even when Bart and his buddy Charlie fall into some quicksand, their white boss Taggart is much more concerned with saving the hand-cart they were driving, as he says,

    "Dang, that was lucky. Dog-gone near lost a $400 hand cart." 

    After this kind of crummy treatment, it's little wonder why Bart picks up a shovel and smashes Taggart in the back of the head. (Which makes us laugh for real, as well as doing a little fist-pump.)

  • Randolph Scott Allegory

    Towards the end of the movie, Bart convinces the townsfolk to rise up and fight off the bandits by telling them, "you'd do it for Randolph Scott." Judging by their reaction, they think really highly of Randolph Scott, and agree to his plan. But you can be forgiven for scratching your head and asking, "who the heck is Randolph Scott?" (We admit, we did it the first time was saw the movie, too.)

    As it turns out, Scott was a successful actor and leading man whose career stretched from the silent era until the early 1960s. He grew up in North Carolina, served in the army during World War I, and then came out to Hollywood in the 1920s to try his hand as an actor.

    It worked out pretty well.

    He had over 106 credits to his name, and as you may have suspected, a lot of them were Western movies. Like, a whole lot. None of them are outstanding classics, but they were pretty good. And Scott had that square-jawed leading man thing going on that made everyone believe that he was the good sheriff out to put those rustlers behind bars.

    Brooks, as part of his ritualized de-pantsing of the entire Western genre, must have figured he was too big of a name to let slide. The joke hits right toward the end, not only invoking all of Scott's old oaters, but also quietly suggesting that they might not be as classic as the townspeople clearly seem to think.

  • Hero's Journey

    Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

    About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

    Ordinary World

    Bart is living the typical life of a black railroad worker in the Old West (psst, it's not very comfortable). He gets bossed around a lot and sent off to do dangerous jobs because no one thinks his life matters.

    This all changes one day, though, when he decides he's had enough and uses a shovel to knock out his boss, Taggart. Bart then gets imprisoned and sentenced to death by hanging. But we all know his story isn't going to end there.

    Call To Adventure

    Bart gets a second chance at life when Hedley Lamarr sets him free and makes him the new Sheriff of Rock Ridge. Bart doesn't know right away that Hedley is only doing this because he knows the townsfolk will kill Bart and then leave town. He only figures this out later on.

    Either way, Bart will take a dangerous job as sheriff over a sure hanging any day. There might be lots of nonsensical decisions in this movie, but this ain't one of them.

    Refusal Of The Call

    When Bart first arrives in Rock Ridge, he's ready to get down to work. But the people do more than just refuse his help. They all get out their guns and prepare to kill him. Bart only gets out of this situation by putting a gun to his head and effectively taking himself hostage. The townsfolk are all so confused that they let him go. But they still hate him for being black and won't accept him as their sheriff.

    Meeting The Mentor

    While hiding out in his sheriff's office, Bart meets a drunk named Jim who used to go by the name of the Waco Kid. Jim says his gun dueling days are over, but he also demonstrates to Bart that his hands are still lightning fast. Jim gives Bart some friendly advice when he tells Bart to stop thinking he'll ever manage to win over the people of Rock Ridge.

    Crossing The Threshold

    The people of Rock Ridge have no choice but to turn to Bart for help when they realize that a monster-man named Mongo has come to town and is trashing everything and everyone in sight. Bart wants to revel for a bit in this sudden turnaround. But he knows he's got a job to do and he heads out to do it… like a boss.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    After defeating Mongo with an exploding box of candy (yeah, that happens), Bart must weather another attack from Hedley Lamarr. But this time the attack comes in the form of a beautiful singer named Lili. Things are looking bad for Bart for a moment, but then he proves to be so charming that Lili falls in love with him and roots for him instead of her boss, Hedley.

    Approach To The Inmost Cave

    When all his previous plans fail, Hedley Lamarr decides to recruit the biggest army of mercenaries he can find and to wage an all-out blitz on Rock Ridge. Bart manages to find out about the attack ahead of time though, and he uses this knowledge to convince the townsfolk and some railroad workers to build a complete replica of the town of Rock Ridge.

    Ordeal

    Hedley Lamarr's men attack the fake town of Rock Ridge and take a little too long to realize that it's not real. Bart tries to detonate a bunch of TNT to cripple the army once and for all, but the fuse doesn't work. That's when his buddy/mentor Jim steps in and uses his sharpshooting skills to detonate the explosives.

    Once the mercenary army is in total confusion, Bart and his buddies ride in to finish them off. The resulting fight gets so out of control that it actually leaves the set of the Blazing Saddles movie and spills into the streets of Hollywood.

    Reward (Seizing The Sword)

    Bart eventually separates himself from the giant final fight and tracks down Hedley Lamarr at a Hollywood movie theatre. He catches Hedley and ends up shooting him in the groin. How's that for symbolically "seizing the sword"?

    The Road Back

    After taking out Hedley Lamarr, Bart meets up with his buddy Jim and they decide to head back into the movie theatre to see how Blazing Saddles ends.

    Resurrection

    Once inside the theatre, Jim and Bart watch as Bart gives an inspiring final speech to the people of Rock Ridge. He tells them that the trouble has past and that he now needs to move on to some new town to help more people. The townsfolk say he'll full of it, so he admits that he's leaving because he thinks the town is really boring.

    Return With The Elixir

    As he rides out of town, Bart passes by Jim and asks him to come along on a new adventure. Jim agrees and they ride away into the sunset. But just before the movie ends, we see both of them get off their horses and into a limousine, meaning that wherever they go next, they plan on going in style.

  • Setting

    Rock Ridge (A Town from the Old West)

    Rock Ridge is your typical town in the Wild West… or at least it's your typical peaceful town in the Wild West. But like any peaceful town from this time, the place is destined to deal with its fair share of problems. And why, do you ask?

    Well, for one, they didn't call it the "Wild" West for nothing. Peace wasn't exactly a given on the frontier.

    And, as Taggart says to his boss Hedley Lamarr, "the rail road has got to go through Rock Ridge." Hedley Lamarr has a lot riding on this railroad getting built, and he's not going to let some one-horse town stand in his way.

    And so we hit the streets of Rock Ridge to see what the place is like. And as a chorus of voices tells us, the place is nice and quiet… even at the saloon:

    "The town saloon was always lively/ But never nasty or obscene/ Behind the bar stood Anal Johnson/ He always kept things nice and clean!"

    (And we thought our nicknames were mortifying.)

    After Taggart and his thugs ride through, though, it looks like the people are going to pack up their things and leave. But these people have a stronger connection to their home than we might first think.

    It turns out to be the completely incoherent and drunk Gabby Johnson who makes a passionate speech about how the folks of Rock Ridge need to stick around and fight for their home. As he tells the people of the town,

    "There ain't no way that nobody is going to leave this town! Hell, I was born here and I was raised here, and goddamn it, I'm going to die here!" 

    And guess what? The people get behind his speech and decide to fight for what is theirs, even if it means building a complete replica of the town for Taggart's men to attack. Yup, it's all pretty wacky and maybe even a tad cornball. But so are most of the characters in this movie.

    Hey, if you want to watch a more realistic Western, just check out bleakity-bleak-bleak Unforgiven, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, or Wild Bunch. But Blazing Saddles will probably make you a lot less depressed.

  • Point of View

    Third-Person (Omniscient)

    We know pretty early in this movie that we're going to be dealing with a third-person narrator. Yes, there are some characters that turn to the camera and speak to us directly, which might make us feel like they're the first person narrator. But so many characters do this that it's clear that the only person really in control of this movie is Director Mel Brooks (who by the way likes to insert himself whenever he can into the action).

    By the end of the movie, we realize that we must be dealing with a third-person narrator because even the boundaries of the movie itself end up disintegrating. When the people of Rock Ridge ride into their fake replica town to finish off the bad guys, the fight eventually breaks out of the movie set for Blazing Saddles and ends up spilling onto other movie sets, causing mayhem throughout the Warner Brothers studio lot.

    The only type of narrator who could handle this sort of thing is a third-person omniscient, although we can honestly say that even an omniscient narrator might have trouble making sense of everything that happens in this movie… or stifling his giggles, for that matter.

  • Genre

    Comedy (Western)

    If this movie ain't a comedy, then we have no clue what a comedy is. From minute one, Blazing Saddles only tries to do one thing, which is make you laugh. And if it doesn't succeed—well, you can't say it didn't try its darnedest.

    In fact, one of the criticisms you might make of this movie is that it tries a little too hard to make you laugh too often. But honestly, who would get mad at a comedy for trying too hard to make them laugh? (Critics, that's who.)

    More than any comedy director in history, Mel Brooks is absolutely determined to use every single tool at his disposal to make you grab your belly and laugh. He throws down some amazing racial satire, and then follows it with clever reversals. And if all that doesn't work, he's got plenty of fart jokes for you.

    From the moment Sheriff Bart dresses up like a delivery man and walks away to the Looney Tunes theme song , you can pretty much tell that Mel Brooks is going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at you.

    And if that doesn't work, he'll probably throw that at you, too.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    When we watch the opening credits of this movie, we can hear the title song talk about a hero who:

    […] rode a blazing saddle/ He wore a shining star/ His job to offer battle/ Too bad men near and far.

    Now we might hear these lyrics and says to ourselves, "Great, here's another typical Western movie about a dude with a gun who kills the bad guys." But as the movie continues, we realize that "blazing saddle" might also refer to the fact that eating beans and riding a horse can sure make a person fart a lot. And these farts all culminate in one very gassy—and very famous—campfire scene.

    This double meaning of "Blazing Saddles" gives us a perfect example of Mel Brooks' humor, which takes a normal image of glory and heroism and makes it into something totally silly (and gross).

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    At the end of this movie, Sheriff Bart shoots the bad guy (Hedley) in the groin and waltzes into a movie theatre with his buddy Jim to watch the ending of (yup) Blazing Saddles. So he's basically watching himself act in the same movie that we're watching— how's that for mind-bending?

    In the typical Western style, our hero Bart tells the people of Rock Ridge that he needs to move on now that his job is done. He tells the people that wherever there is injustice in the world, that's where he needs to go. How heroic, eh?

    But the townspeople tell him he's full of it, and he admits that he wants to leave because without bad guys, the town has become super boring. This is your typical Mel Brooks moment: a refreshingly honest take on an old and tired cliché. Sheriffs aren't noble—they're addicted to adrenaline.

    After Bart rides off with his buddy Jim, the two get off their horses and into a waiting limousine. This gesture offers Mel Brooks one last chance to remind us that nothing we just watched has been real. This is an important detail, because it reminds us not to take seriously any of the racist jokes we've seen throughout this movie.

    Or in other words, Brooks wants to remind us that despite the racist jokes, Sheriff Bart has always known what he's been doing and has always been one step ahead of us.

  • Shock Rating

    R

    Apart from the extremely racist jokes that appear throughout the movie, there's also a fair bit of sexual humor—there are tons o' cleavage and penis gags.

    But ultimately, this movie's more silly than titillating (we bet Mel Brooks thinks the word titillating is hilarious). We wouldn't recommend watching this film with your grandma… but it's a toss-up whether it would be awkward because of the dirty jokes, the racial jokes, or the fart-y jokes.