Saturday, 12 April 2014

"Blazing Saddles" on BLU RAY – A Review Of Mel Brooks’ 1974 Comedic Masterpiece…

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"…Damn Near Lost A $400 Hand Cart!" – Blazing Saddles on BLU RAY

I can vividly remember seeing "Blazing Saddles" at the cinema in Dublin in 1974. Even as the credits rolled - the entire audience was screaming – helpless with laughter as bullwhip-cracks accompany a truly cheesy yee-haw song crammed with cornball lyrics like "...Conquer bad guys near and far…Bart was his name!"

But then as scene after scene unfolded and we began to realize this latest Mel Brooks caper was a pisstake on racism using the Wild West idiom - we also sat there in utter astonishment - and even excitement. Here was a film breaking down barriers – tackling taboos and monsters - but using comedy to do it (like Chaplin did with "The Dictator").

It’s 1874 and the town of Rock Ridge is building a railroad through 200,000 acres of other people’s land and the local greedy District Attorney (a stunning turn by Harvey Corman as Hedley Lemarr) needs a way to frighten the locals so senseless – they’ll just up and leave. And one day while he’s watching hangings out his window by a one-eyed Cyclops – Hedley hits on the genius idea of making the new sheriff a black man.

Playing that part with just the right amount of inner-smirk is Cleavon Little as Bart – a smart Negro outfoxing all the rednecks as he rides into town sporting a Gold Sherriff Star, a Gucci side saddlebag and a shiny new outfit. He’s teamed up with Gene Wilder as The Wako Kid - once the fastest gunslinger in the West but now a drunk in jail. Cue an endless stream of ball-breakingly funny Wild West set pieces and fabulous one-liners about ‘nig*ers’ and hick white attitudes…

"You use your tongue prettier than a $20 whore!" Slim Pickens says after Hedley Lemarr recites a list of the worst scum ever he wants assembled for a posse. There’s a preacher at a town meeting that says of the impending doom – "We should act!" Then grabs his coat. "I'm leaving!" A bearded dusty prospector speaks 'Genuine Frontier Gibberish' you can’t understand. Slim Pickens helpfully suggests how to rid Rock Ridge of the simple folk getting in the way of the railroad - "We'll ride into town and kill every first born child!" and Hedley Lemarr replies "Too Jewish!"

Even something as simple as Cleavon standing on the town podium addressing an all-white crowd becomes loaded with black virility when he says "Excuse me while I whip this out!" and all the white women duck for cover. And then there’s Director and Co-Writer Mel Brooks as the Governor who can’t string two words together (has GOV on his jacket) and keeps lusting after his big-chested assistant (Robyn Hilton of Vixens fame). "Work! Work! Work!" he complains as he signs another dodgy Bill into law.

But best of all is the famous farting sequence where all the cowboys are sat around a campfire eating plates of beans - I remember some people in the audience very nearly suffered a coronary they laughed that hard. And equally as joyous is Alex Karras as the unstoppable MONGO –a huge monosyllabic klutz that punches horses who annoy him. And on it goes like "Airplane" – whomping you in the nuts with clever one-liners and unbelievably edgy gags - all of which lead up to a Randolph Scott joke and a very slapstick ending. Wow!

The print quality on the BLU RAY starts out very badly with a lot of heavy grain shimmering and even the occasional line down the negative. But after a short while it settles down. In truth (and rather disappointingly) - you’d have to say the picture is good rather than great. However even stretched to Full Aspect – "Blazing Saddles" still looks cool for a 1974 production. Audio is Dolby Digital: English 5.1, French 1-channel Mono and German 1-channel Mono. Subtitles are English, French and German.

Extras include: Additional Scenes, Scene-Specific Commentary by Mel Brooks, 2 Documentaries – Back In The Saddle and Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn (Excerpt), Black Bart: 1975 Pilot Episode Of The Proposed TV Series Spinoff and a Theatrical Trailer.

Re-watching "Blazing Saddles" on BLU RAY has been a joy. It’s easily in the top 5 funniest films ever made – still brilliantly anarchic – snotty – and fresh in a way that so many gross-out comedies of today can’t even get near.

Two black men are sent up the railway line they’ve been slaving on and sink in quicksand – Slim Pickens comes along and throws a rope. But it’s not over the two drowning Negroes - but onto the handcart (his line titles this review).

 Do yourself a rootin’ tootin’ favour – and get this fabulous piece of un-pc cinematic crudity in-between your bowlegs…tarnation and varmit!

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