It may not be overstating it to proclaim Mel Brooks’ 1974 “Blazing Saddles” the funniest movie ever — many have been saying this for years.
Praise to AMC theaters and Warner Bros for re-releasing “Blazing Saddles” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” in theaters over the Labor Day holiday weekend in tribute to the late Gene Wilder, and for keeping them in release for another week.
These movies are readily available on Blu-ray (see review of “Blazing Saddles” 40th anniversary edition below), DVD, online and on-demand, as well as TV reruns But for people of a certain age, “Blazing Saddles” will always conjure a wonderful nostalgic memory of sitting in a movie theater (multiple times) with full audiences doubled over in side-splitting shared laughter.
But no matter how many times you’ve seen it, sitting in a theater with others and watching this movie on the big screen again will instantly transport you back to that time. You’ll smile knowingly at the overdone grand opening theme song peppered ridiculously with sounds of a whip snapping. You’ll then all begin laughing uncontrollably within seconds when railroad worker Bart (soon to become the unlikely Sheriff of Rock Ridge) leads a chorus of sweating black and Chinese laborers in Cole Porter’s “I Get No Kick from Champagne.” That is followed by redneck cowboy Lyle interrupting with, “Hold it, hold it, what the hell is that shit? I meant a song, a real song…” before leading his white gang in singing and dancing badly to “De Camptown Ladies.”
It never lets up for the next 90-minutes filled with the most inspired physical and visual humor, song lyrics, brilliantly choreographed and staged insanity, and surely more great laugh lines per-minute than any film in history (albeit many more cringe-worthy today than they felt in the politically-incorrect world of 1974-75, such as numerous uses of the word nigger, too many references to rape for laughs, and a horse slipping and falling hard on a wet wooden walkway, to name a few). What’s truly amazing, is how many of these hilarious lines have become part of our cultural lexicon, repeated often by many of us even today:
- “What in the Wide Wide World of Sports is a-goin on here?”
- “These things are defective.” “This friggin thing is warped; why do I always get a warped one?”
- “I didn’t get a harrumph out of that guy.”
- “Excuse me while I whip this out.”
- “Aw, blow it out your ass, Howard.”
- “Are we awake?”
— “We are not sure; are we black?”
- “Need any help?”
— “Oh, all I can get.”
- “My name is Jim, but most people call me Jim.”
- “You was just pulling my lariat.”
- “Well raise my rent, you are the Kid.”
- “Always like to keep my audience riveted.”
- “How about some more beans Mr. Taggart?”
— “I’d say you’ve had enough.”
- “Nevermind that shit; here comes Mongo.”
- “Candy-gram for Mongo.”
- “Is that a ten-gallon hat or are you just enjoying the show?”
- “Let’s face it; everything below the waist is kaput.”
- “Just let me have a little feel.”
- “Oh it’s true, it’s true.”
- “Hey boys, look what I got here.”
— “Hey, where are the white women at?”
- “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” (borrowed from the book and movie “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The Monkees” TV series).
- “And now, for my next impression, Jesse Owens.”
- “Oh Lord, do we have the strength to carry on this mighty task in one night, or are we just jerking off?”
- “Now go do that voodoo that you do so well” (borrowed from Cole Porter song, You do something to me).
- “Somebody’s gotta go back and get a shitload of dimes.”
Although it sometimes looks slightly washed out and grainy, the visual quality of the film presentation at AMC is still pretty impressive. You may even notice for the first time that those are three horses being blasted sky-high when the town is blown up.
Although the revival is a tribute to Wilder, who died Aug. 29, one can’t help but note that nearly everyone else prominently involved in this movie has also died except for Brooks, now 90 years old. David Huddleston (Olson Johnson) died only a month ago on August 2. Cleavon Little (Bart) died at age 53 in 1992, Madeline Kahn (Lili Von Shtupp) died at age 55 in 1999, Liam Dunn (the reverend Johnson) died at age 59 just two years after the movie was released, and Richard Pryor (writer, and almost Bart) died at 65 in 2005. Others departed include Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Dom DeLuise, Alex Karras (Mongo), George Furth (Van Johnson), Jack Starrett (Gabby Johnson), and Count Basie.
<Review continues below the following original trailer from 1974…>
For anyone unfamiliar with “Blazing Saddles,” this is an outrageous convention-breaking tale of a black cowboy with gucci saddle bags who is serenaded in the middle of the Southwest desert by Count Basie and his orchestra as he rides into an Old West town of 1874 where a Howard Johnson’s Ice Cream Parlor features 1 flavor.
The Governor’s scheming Attorney General who wants to use the town’s land for a railroad, sends a gang of ruffians to scare away the residents. They’re so mean that they punch an old lady in the stomach (“Have you ever seen such cruelty?”). When that doesn’t work, he sends in a black sheriff, followed by a man monster called Mongo, who is so mean he punches horses in the jaw.
When Sheriff Bart befriends Mongo and a gunslinger called The Waco Kid, a sexy saloon performer is hired to seduce Bart but she winds up falling for him.
In the end, Bart and his converted fans ambush the bad guys in a shootout so massive that it carries over to the next sound stage on the movie studio lot where an elaborate song-and-dance number is being filmed, then into the Chinese theater in Hollywood where the very movie “Blazing Saddles” is being shown.
Blu-ray 40th Anniversary Edition (Warner, 2014, $29.97)
If revisiting this comedy classic has the same effect on you as 40 years ago, leaving you wanting more, this time you can go home and enjoy immersing yourself in the 40th anniversary Blu-ray edition, a single-disc featuring a the 95-minute film in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio that preserves the original Panavision and Technicolor production and with HiDef 1080p that looks a little more crisp and vivid than the theatrical re-release.
But the primary appeal here after you’ve seen it in the movie theater, are the goodly number of enjoyable extras:
- Half-hour new making-of program featuring recent interviews with Brooks and Wilder and archival interview with Kahn, “Blaze of Glory: Mel Brooks’ Wild, Wild West.”
- Half-hour making-of program released years ago on DVD, “Back in the Saddle,” offering interviews with Brooks, Wilder, Korman, actor Burton Gilliam (Lyle), writer Andrew Bergman, and producer Michael Hertzberg.
- Deleted scenes (7 scenes adding up to 9-minutes; a couple just TV-censored versions)
- Audio commentary (53-minutes of Mel Brooks talking about the movie but not at all connected to what’s on-screen at the moment, and not at all scene-specific as described)
- TV series pilot “Black Bart,” starring Louis Gosset – this is awful
- Set of 10 collectible art cards inside an envelope, each featuring a quote from the movie (not the most memorable quotes; but fun nonetheless).
There is some overlap of some of the anecdotal stories provided in the interviews and comments of the two half-hour making-of programs and audio commentary noted above, but it’s all fascinating and here are a few of the more interesting notes you’ll learn:
- Movie title: Originally “Tex X,” then “Black Bart” (Brooks’ idea and as seen on the side of cameras in behind-the-scenes photo), then Brooks’ proposed “Purple Sage” before he came up with “Blazing Saddles.”
- Writer: Original concept and script by Andrew Bergman, who later became one of several writers who collaborated, including Brooks (mostly Sheriff Bart dialogue as well as music and lyrics for the brilliant “I’m Tired,” “The French Mistake,” “The Ballad of Rock Ridge,” and lyrics for the theme song), and Richard Pryor (mostly for Mongo).
- Director: Alan Arkin for Bergman script, then Brooks when he came on and the script was rewritten.
- Bart actor: Initially James Earl Jones, then Richard Pryor (too unreliable), potentially Flip Wilson, and eventually Cleavon Little.
- The Waco Kid: Dan Dailey considered, John Wayne turned down offer from Brooks, then Gig Young was cast. Young lasted only a few hours after showing up drunk and getting violenty sick while shooting the very first shot hanging upside down from his bed in a jail cell. Gene Wilder called in the next day to play the character he had lobbied Brooks to play as they were working on “Young Frankenstein” at same time.
And just for fun, here are some more of the quotes from the movie that fans will instantly recognize and visualize:
- “…not to jump around like a bunch of Kansas City faggots.”
- “Send a wire to the main office and tell them I said… Ow.”
- “We’ll kill the firstborn in every household. Too Jewish.”
- “Land snatching, let’s see, land, land… see snatch.”
- “Snatch: Haley vs United States; Haley 7, United States nothing.”
- Singing church hymn: “Our town is turning into shit.”
- “…people stampeded and cattle raped.”
- mumbled by Gabby Johnson with first in air: “Reverend!”
- “Now who can argue with that?… Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish…”
- “Our fathers came across the prairie, fought Indians, fought drought, fought locusts, fought ‘dicks’; remember when Richard Dix came in here and tried to take over this town?”
- “I shall now read from the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and… duck!”
- “Work, work work; Hello boys, have a good night’s rest? I missed you.”
- “It’s not Hedy, it’s Hedley; Hedley Lamarr.”
- “Gentlemen please, rest your sphincters.”
- “Where would I find such a man? Why am I asking you?” (to the audience)
- “Welcome to hanging house. Not to worry; everyone is equal in my eye.”
- “Have you gone beserk? Can’t you see that that man is a ni–; wrong person, forgive me. Have you gone beserk? Can’t you see that that man is a ni– “
- “Meeting is adjourned. Oh, I am sorry sir; I didn’t mean to overstep my bounds; you say that.”
— “Meeting is adjourned.”
— “It is?”
— “No, you say that Governor.”
— “Meeting is adjourned.”
— “It is?”
- “Why don’t you give these out to some of the boys in lieu of pay.”
- “It is my privilege to extend to you a laurel, and hardy handshake.”
- “No, dad-blame, dang-blame-it; I said the sheriff is a ni–“
- “Son, you’re on your own.”
- “…just goes to prove that you are the leading asshole in the state.”
- “I missed have killed more men than Cecille B. DeMille.”
- “You use your tongue prettier than a $20 whore.”
- Saloon poster for Lili Von Shtupp: Presenting the Teutonic Titwillow.
- “Let’s face it; I’m tired.
- “Are you in show business? Well then why don’t you get your friggin feet off the stage.”
- “Why don’t you loosen your bullets.”
- “Baby please, I am not from Havana… It all depends on how much vitamin E I can get my hands on.”
- “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”
- “They said you was hung.”
— “And they was right.”
- “Shut up, you teutonic twat.”
- “Head them off at the pass? I hate that cliche.”
- “Alright, we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks, but we don’t want the Irish. Aw, prairie shit, everybody.”
- “You sissy Marys. … Sounds like steam escaping.”
- “How did he do such fantastic stunts with such little feet?”
- “Nowhere special; I always wanted to go there.”
— By Scott Hettrick