The other night I actually found a TV station airing Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks’ hilarious 1974 spoof of Hollywood Westerns, in all its full whacky splendor. It had been years since I’d last seen the movie, so obviously I had to plop myself down in front of the TV and relive some teenage memories. I can’t believe the movie has been out for over 40 years! Ouch!
I realized that Blazing Saddles could never be made today in our hypersensitive, political-correctness-gone-amok world. The movie is completely and shamelessly politically incorrect. It is a daring, irreverent satire that doesn’t tiptoe around provocative issues. Rather it smacks you right in the face with issues of bigotry and racism that still haunt us today. It forces each of us to confront our own preconceptions and biases, only it does so in such an over-the-top hysterical way. Who can ever forget the arrival of newly appointed Sheriff Bart into Rock Ridge or Gene Wilder’s Waco Kid or Mongo’s iconic horse punch or Lili von Shtupp singing I’m Tired? Through it all, there was Mel Brooks using outrageous characters and scenes to make us laugh while exposing our own thinly veiled prejudices.
All this was lost to me as a sixteen year-old watching the movie at the old Casino Theater in Vandergrift PA. At the time I was more interested in emulating the infamous campfire & beans scene with my friends. Now, so many decades later, watching the movie with the eyes of a writer, I applaud Mr. Brooks for his daring. As fiction writers we want to entertain, but we also want to enlighten without being preachy. We want to confront issues that are important to us like hate or intolerance, pollution, corporate greed (what have you) without being too heavy-handed. We want to touch and we want to teach.
Blazing Saddles is a social commentary and pure madcap genius rolled into one. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards, and is ranked No. 6 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years . . . 100 Laughs list. In 2006, it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Not bad for a movie that today no one would dare make. Well done, Mr. Brooks.
Here is the 1974 trailer: