When it comes to the art of parody, there are few directors who can rival the early comedies of Mel Brooks, whose gift for satire and eye for caricature were at their peak during the 1970's, and are perhaps best epitomized by his 1974 spoof of the Hollywood western, 'Blazing Saddles'. Set in the American Old West of 1874, the discovery of quicksand forces the construction of a new railroad out in the American frontier to change course and instead go through the small frontier town of Rock Ridge.
Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), the conniving State Attorney General, wants to buy out the town of Rock Ridge as cheaply as possible so that he can turn around and sell the land to the railroad company in exchange for a huge profit. To this end, he hires a gang of thugs, led by his dimwitted assistant Taggart (Slim Pickens) to run hog-wild through the town of Rock Ridge, hoping that their violent antics drive the townspeople away.
However, instead of fleeing their now crime-ridden town, the people of Rock Ridge contact the Governor and demand a new sheriff, prompting the quick-thinking Lamarr to convince the Governor to elect Bart (Cleavon Little), a black railroad worker, as Rock Ridge's newest sheriff under the belief that a black lawman will so offend the townspeople that they will either abandon Rock Ridge or lynch the new sheriff, with either result paving the way for him to take over the town.
Unfortunately for Lamarr, Bart proves to be a sophisticated urbanite, who easily wins over the initially racist townspeople of Rock Ridge with his charisma, wits and heroics, and with the help of his only initial alley, the drunken "Waco Kid" (Gene Wilder), who is quick to sympathize with Bart after meeting him. After several attempts to kill Bart or run him out of town fail, a desperate Lamarr plans to hire an entire army of "rustlers, cutthroats, muggers -- and Methodists" to raid and plunder Rock Ridge, prompting Bart, the Waco Kid, and the townspeople to resort to some ridiculous lengths in order to save their town.
Like all of his cinematic parodies, Mel Brooks' 'Blazing Saddles' is a film that deftly combines high-brow wit with low-brow slapstick. Satirizing not only the "western genre", but also taking a few jabs at racism as well, 'Blazing Saddles' is a hilarious skewering of pop-culture and politics that remains as relevant and ridiculous today as it did when it first debuted several decades ago. Its use of double-entendre ("Excuse me while I whip this out" exclaims Bart to the horrified townspeople as he innocently takes out a document), crude humor (in the form of one of the longest fart-sequences ever captured on film) and absurdism (a tollbooth in the middle of nowhere easily stops the film's villains, one of whom bemoans that they "better go back and get a sh*t-load of dimes" rather than just ride around the booth), all work together perfectly, and create a "comedic stew" that's full of gags and jokes sure to appeal to a wide audience of comedic sensibilities.
Cleavon Little is perfect as the film's hero, his portrayal of Bart being mostly regulated to that of a "straight man" who serves as the voice of sanity in an otherwise insane and absurd world. Although his character doesn't supply the most laughs in Brooks' film, his laconic delivery, sympathetic manner and sardonic tongue permit him to get more than a few chuckles as he attempts to stop the evil Lamarr using a number of ridiculous (but successful) tricks. Gene Wilder, a frequent collaborator of Mel Brooks', does a fantastic job playing the drunken gunslinger "The Waco Kid". Though he might be a bit young to play an "old, bitter gunslinger", the genuine chemistry between him and Little removes any doubt as to whether Wilder is right or not for the role, while his deadpan delivery of some of the most corny or silly lines in cinematic history easily makes him one of the film's most hilarious characters.
Also deserving a great deal of praise are the film's villains, played by Harvey Korman and Slim Pickens. Korman's bombastic reactions to his failed schemes and shrill insistence that his character's name is pronounced "Hedly" not "Hedy Lamarr" (a play on the actress of the same name), gels perfectly with Slim Pickens' performance as the laconic and dimwitted Taggart, who acts as perfect foil to his partner. The two actors play well off each other, their shared scenes reminiscent of classic comedic duos like Abbot & Costello, but much more violent, hysterical and absurd in nature, and fitting in perfectly with the surreal nature of Brooks' film.
Though some audiences and critics have taken up the opinion that Brooks' work has been on the decline ever since the 1970's, it's difficult to find too much fault with a man who could create a comedic masterpiece like this: smart, crude, absurd, strangely sincere, Mel Brooks' 'Blazing Saddles' is a comedy classic packed with manic energy, running jokes, and endless quotes that are sure to get laughs out of just about anyone that has a pulse or a sense of humor, and ultimately makes up for Brooks' later cinematic efforts, no matter how poor or pale some people may find them.
Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming that's still a thing) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.