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MEL BROOKS GREATEST IN BLAZING SADDLES

Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder on a Blazing Lobby Card YEAR: 1974
The first forty minutes of BLAZING SADDLES is the quickest in cinema history, and by far, the funniest in the Old West, or any Mel Brooks vehicle, including YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, where that movie's co-writer and title character, Gene Wilder, here playing Jim "The Waco "Kid" who, despite being lost in the bottle, is still the fastest gun around...

Soon becoming the sole friend to the new (and first) black Sheriff, Bart, played by the thereafter underused Cleavon Little, and who Richard Pryor, one of several co-writers, was originally cast as, which would've made SADDLES the first of many Pryor/Wilder collaborations, probably winding up more like an edgy Blaxploitation comedy than a zany Brooks vehicle....

Famous Poster for Saddles
But at that time, with the raciest standup act around, Richard was much too controversial and unpredictable, so Cleavon Little's beyond-perfect "Uncle Tom knocking Uncle Tom types" was miraculously cast as railroad worker Bart, strategically used as a "Sheriff for the day," who'd be surely killed off quickly enough for a Railroad patsy-town of Rock Ridge, full of... during a barrage of hilarious scenes from character-actor town residents including John Hillerman, George Furth and especially David Huddleston... typical Old Fashion racists.

Burton Gilliam
Thus, from the very onset, as Rock Ridge is introduced during and after an attack, a hilarious yarn-spinning tune explains their desperate situation: Until the new expendable Sheriff is sent, and as already mentioned, Wilder and Little bond, telling each other's backstories, which deliberately sidetrack the non-stop laughter to develop the good guys against the bad guys; the latter who we got to know really well throughout the side-splitting first act...

For a performer mostly known for television, this is Harvey Korman's best role, and he steals the movie, outright. As villainous State Attourney Hedley "Not Hedey" Lamarr, his neurotic moments dealing with and suffering through particular dolts far beneath his pretentious "brilliance" are as funny as things get... especially Slim Pickens, who, before Korman is even introduced, is part of a train-track quicksand scene also including a familiar face in FLETCH mechanic Burton Gilliam as the dumbest of all cowboys; plus, later on, a crosseyed, floozy-loving Governor William J. Lepetomane, played by director/actor Mel Brooks himself.

David Huddleston
SADDLES is not just a parodic festival of non-stop laughter satirizing Westerns, although you might fall under that spell despite a few slow moments... like Madeline Kahn's boring dance & seduction scene... leading to a genuinely creative 11th hour explosive trick against the baddies, and concluding into one of the most surreal endings in the history of cinema...

Pickens & Korman
For, during an all-out cowboy fist fight, the camera pans up and literally moves a few hundred yards to the closed set of a musical where Dom DeLuise adds to the Politically-Incorrect punch (literally, in his case, as the actual Warner Brothers studio becomes full-out pandemonium) in this brilliant motion picture that would never be made today: proof that Hollywood itself is more "currently" (during the last thirty years) narrow-minded and uptight than the people who write angry letters, lacking the guts and courage to make fun of something by showing it right up close and personal...

Robyn Hilton
Intentionally villainizing really bad people not only by laughing at and/or "loving to hate" them, but actually kinda liking them too: after delivering so much genuine comedy, you can't help but to enjoy everyone on board, forgetting why they're evil in the first place. And, from TV shows like ALL IN THE FAMILY to cinema classics like ANIMAL HOUSE and plenty of other controversial vehicles from the 1970's, Hollywood not only "Doesn't make 'em like they used to," but they don't have the guts to even try: unless it involves stupid white people, and there are plenty here to last a lifetime.

RATING: ****1/2
TRIVIA: Burton Gilliam, the white-trash underling of Slim Pickens, particularly in the Railroad Scene, was discovered by director Peter Bogdanovich, first used in PAPER MOON, filmed using mostly local Texas actors... Gilliam also owned an Extermination Company, and when seen in MOON and wanted for SADDLES, he asked Peter what direction he should go, Texas or Hollywood. Thankfully for us, Peter said what anyone would, "Hollywood!" • Sally Kirkland, a personal friend, said she remembers "not much" about the filming of BLAZING, wherein she played the cashier in the studio cafeteria fight scene, but she did have the same faint recollection of another Cult Film Freak friend/interviewee Dey Young (the ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOL co-star who played one of the waitresses in the SPACEBALLS Alien diner scene): that Mel Brooks directed mostly as an unseen voice, being more of a God in the Sky than the man on the ground.
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