No. 3: Blazing Saddles
Ranked No. 6 on the AFI "100 Years…100 Laughs" list, our next entry in my top 5 comedies takes what we’ve seen from the first two and takes the next evolutionary step.
So, with No. 5, The Three Amigos, we saw a movie that went out of its way not to take itself seriously by embracing the absurdly goofy humor of the the string of comedy bits that essentially make up its plot.
With No. 4, Sullivan’s Travels, we saw a movie that found comedy in taking itself too seriously by making its very serious characters look ridiculous for being foolish enough to think they could truly capture the horrors of the Great Depression.
And now, we move on to the next step. The movie that takes on a serious issue, racism, with a distinctly comic eye. It’s basically like a marriage of the techniques from the first two films on the list. Here’s what I mean…
Blazing Saddles (1974) is a satire of the Western films and TV shows that were so popular throughout the middle part of the 20th century. They even (somehow) got real life Western theme song singer Frankie Laine to record the movie’s theme song. He didn’t know it was a raucous comedy. But, beyond just spoofing Westerns, Blazing Saddles tackles the issue of racism in a pretty big way.
With a story by the great Andrew Bergman, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Bergman, and a couple of other guys wrote the script in one big collaborative effort.
Obviously, the two big, recognizable names here are Brooks and Pryor.
For the younger crowd that may not be as familiar with Brooks, he’s simply one of the greatest comedy writers and directors to ever live. That is not an exaggeration.
And, Pryor is on the Mount Rushmore of stand-up comedy.
This was an A-Team of comedy writing if there ever was one.
The plot is, simply, a black man is made sheriff of a small, white town in 1874. The reason for this is a dastardly plan set in place by state-level politicians who want to build a railroad through the town. They figure if they send a black sheriff in the townsfolk will abandon the place because pretty much everyone was super hella racist back then. Good thing that’s all changed….(remembers Donald Trump is leading the Republican primary and cries).
It’s a pretty straightforward “fish-out-of-water” story, except that it’s a fish-out-of-water story written by Brooks, Pryor, et al.
So, there are a lot of comedy bits. People who have seen the movie know there are far too many to list. And everyone tends to have different favorites.
“The sheriff is a n—"
“Mongo just pawn in game of life.”
“Give the Governor a harrumph!”
“What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin' on here?”
And, so on and so forth…
Like with The Three Amigos, this is a movie written by comedians and comedy writers for a cast full of great comic characters (Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, and David Huddleston who will make a prominent appearance in next week’s movie), so there are a lot of bits and throwaway one-liners that have little-to-nothing to do with the plot. And, that’s OK, because the subject they’re dealing with is absurd. Or at least, it should be.
Blazing Saddles confronts racism with a full head of steam. It doesn’t shy away from dropping just a ton of n-bombs, the white people openly treat all minorities like crap, and they often do it in this very unnerving matter-of-fact kinda way.
So, when Bart (Cleavon Little) comes to town to be the new sheriff of Rock Ridge, the large welcoming party that had been prepared for his arrival is literally rolled up as the town people turn their guns on him. Obviously, he gets out of it. And, hilariously so, as he uses an absurd action to show just how ignorant the townspeople are.
Luckily, he soon gains an ally in the form of the guy currently occupying the jail cell in his office, The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder). Together, they slowly work to turn the town in Bart’s favor, just in time to fend off the greedy politicians and their band of thugs.
And just for good measure, the whole thing culminated into a straight up meta, fourth-wall breaking scene that hammers home the point that the problems of the movie are not as in the past as we may sometimes like to tell ourselves.
So, it’s got silly comedy bits that are just there for the sake of comedy (making it one of the most quotable movies in history), but it also manages to tackle a pretty big issue (racism) from a comedic perspective. And, a fairly light-hearted one at that. As we’ll see with the No. 1 movie on this list, great comedy can also be achieved from pure drama that goes even further than No. 4, Sullivan’s Travels.
In fact, the more I write about this, the more I see a theme in what attracts me to a comedy.
If you haven’t seen Blazing Saddles, do so. I’ve only just scratched the surface. There is literally too many great parts to go over. I could write my dissertation on this movie. No kidding.
“It’s twue! It’s twue!”
Preview for next week: A movie that really ties the room together…
Kris Noteboom is a Level 3 student at DCH. He is working on his PhD, with a focus on comedy. He went on a mini tour this summer performing his comedic one-man show, And Then I Woke Up.