Blazing Saddles: Anniversary Edition

The new transfer of Mel Brooks’ Western spoof, Blazing Saddles, reproduces the sumptuous Technicolor that’s been absent from the previous video versions. However, considering that this edition celebrates the 30th anniversary of a popular film, most of the special features are disappointing.

They include commentary by Mel Brooks, a short segment called “Back in the Saddle,” a TV pilot “Black Bart,” some additional scenes, and best of all, an intimate portrait of the late and great comedienne, Madeline Kahn, who died in 1999.

Brooks’ narration is intermittently entertaining and particularly informative when he discusses the film’s then new racial angle, having a black sheriff as a hero, and the studio’s initial objections to it. However, the deleted scenes don’t add much to the film.

Back in 1974, the premise of the comedy was new. In the plot of the “revisionist” Western, the small town needs a sheriff but nobody is foolish enough to take the job. The townsfolk appoint a black convict as sheriff (Cleavon Little), who, with the help of an alcoholic gunfighter (Gene Wilder), succeeds in thwarting the villains.

For a while, the lampooning of Western movie clichs is entertaining, though Brooks doesn’t show much feel for the genre, unlike his achievement in “Young Frankenstein” (also in 1974), which did reflect a genuine love of the horror genre.

“Blazing Saddles” was not the first Western parody. The trend began in 1965, with “Cat Ballou”, starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin in an Oscar-winning performance. Like most of Brooks’ films, “Blazing Saddles” is no more than a collection of a few inspired gags linked by stretches of dull exposition.

After two commercial failures, including the better and funnier “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles,” Brooks’ third film was a huge hit with college students. Brooks co-wrote the script with Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Alan Unger.

An offbeat comedienne who brightened many zany farces (remember “What’s Up Doc”), Madeline Kahn was equally at home playing uptight neurotics as well as feverishly lusty women. Her second nomination in a row (the first was for Peter Bogdanovich’s “Paper Moon”) for “Blazing Saddles” marked the peak of her Hollywood career. In 1974, Kahn gave another memorable performance in a Brooks film, “Young Frankenstein”.

Brooks’ genre spoofs combine vaudeville with inspired lunacy. His work thrives on the comedy of chaos, though there are not many witty or spontaneous lines. The gags are often less funny than desperate in their aggressive vulgarity to squeeze laughs from the audience. “Blazing Saddles”, like most of Brooks’ pictures, betrays his origins as a TV writer; he began his career writing gags for Sid Caesar and others.

Oscar Context

“Blazing Saddles” was nominated for three Oscars, including Supporting Actress for Madeline Kahn, who’s doing a good parody of all the cabaret singers that Marlene Dietrich had played.

The other nominations were for song, “Blazing Saddles” (music by John Morris, lyrics by Mel Brooks) and editing (John C. Howard and Danford Greene).

In 1974, the Supporting Oscar went to Ingrid Bergman for playing a missionary in “Murder on the Orient Express,” an extremely brief role that raised eyebrows when she won. The Song Oscar went to Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn for “We May Never Love Like This Again,” from the disaster film “The Towering Inferno,” which also won the editing Oscar for Harold F. Kress and Carl Kress.