Sunday, November 25, 2018

Blazing Saddles (1974)

It’s not uncommon to hear older adults refer to a woman as a girl.  The usual refrain is that they grew up in a different time.  That doesn’t make it any less excusable.  Most women younger than I am might take exception to being called a girl, even if they don’t necessarily express it.  To see something like that in a movie doesn’t make it any less grating, even if it is a reflection of the times.

When I finally got around to seeing Blazing Saddles recently, I had similar thoughts.  The movie wasn’t afraid to use derogatory terms and play racism for laughs.  Had it been released in the past decade, the movie would have required major rewrites.  Had it been someone other than Mel Brooks, I don’t know that the movie would have been made at all.

The story starts with a railroad tracks being laid.  When quicksand is discovered in the path of the construction, it’s determined that the easiest thing to do is to route the tracks through the nearby town of Rock Ridge.  Hedley Lamarr, who’s overseeing the project, wants to run the people out of town.  He sends some lackeys in to no effect.  Fortunately, he’s also the attorney general.  When he hears that the town needs a new sheriff, he convinces the governor to appoint a black man to the position.

Bart is the man who gets the job.  He knows he won’t have an easy time of it, but he’s scheduled to be executed at Lamarr’s request.  Sure enough, the residents of Rock Ridge don’t warm up to him.  Bart and Lamarr end up squaring off.  Bart has the grudging help of the townspeople as well as a sharpshooter known as The Waco Kid.  He also manages to get the help of the railroad workers.  Lamarr has all sorts of undesirables, including both Nazis and Klansmen.

Blazing Saddles is one of those movies that is popular enough to be referenced in popular culture, which is what prompted me to watch it in the first place.  I do kind of wonder what kind of reception it would get if it were made today.  I was just a little uncomfortable throughout most of the movie.  I’ve liked some of the movies Mel Brooks has produced, but not all of them.  (The only other one I remember strongly disliking was History of the World: Part I.)

I can’t really think of a modern analogue to this film.  There really isn’t anything that would operate on this level.  Many of the jokes seem somewhat crude and gratuitous.  Take the character Lili Von Shtupp.  Would you write a script where a character’s last name was Screw?  The only other movies I can think of might be the James Bond films, but even that wouldn‘t be a fair comparison.

If I was looking for a list of must-see movies, I don’t know that I’d include this one.  I might mention it as something to consider on your own, but I would add that it’s definitely not something for younger children.  Any parent would want to have a talk with their children before letting them watch this movie.  It’s not a movie that’s going to be for everyone.

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