Warner Home Video presents
Blazing Saddles: 30th Anniversary Special Edition (1974)
"You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons."- The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder)
Stars: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman
Other Stars: Mel Brooks, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Liam Dunn, Burton Gilliam, Alex Karras, John Hillerman, Jack Starrett, Count Basie, Dom DeLuise, Robyn Hilton
Director: Mel Brooks
MPAA Rating: R for (language)
Run Time: 01h:32m:48s
Release Date: 2004-06-29
DVD ReviewBlazing Saddles, Mel Brooks joke-heavy stab at the western genre, was released in 1974 and may have made audiences who weren't laughing out loud squirm in their seats a little with its frequent use of the word "nigger", which is tossed around with a casual disregard by just about every white character in this film. Using that volatile word as a frequent punchline in a comedy, especially by whites, was a fairly radical and daring move by Brooks, but then again he's the same guy who came up with a musical about Hitler.
Set in 1874, the tiny western town of Rock Ridge is in need of a new sheriff, and unscrupulous villain Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) wants to run a new railroad line right through the middle of it; the only problem is that he needs to find a way to make the townsfolk leave. He concocts an evil plan to run the prejudicial townsfolk out by giving the unenviable task of sheriff to Bart (Cleavon Little), a black railroad worker. The kindly Bart meets with all sorts of out-in-the-open racial prejudice from Rock Ridge, from the minister on down through little old ladies (one of whom gets off one of the film's most startlingly funny lines), but it is his developing friendship with alcoholic but level-headed former gunslinger The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) that eventually aligns the townspeople on his side, just in time for retaliation against Lamarr in a wonderfully bizarre final twenty minutes that breaks down that imaginary wall between fiction and reality.
The cast here is really fun to watch, and all of them exhibit nearly flawless sketch comedy timing, Korman especially. He plays the whole thing with an appropriately hammy Snidely Whiplash demeanor, basically turning each of his scenes into bits of schticky goodness. Veteran character actor Slim Pickens, playing Hedley's number one henchman, is probably my favorite character in the entire film, and he is at the center of some of what I consider to be a few of the absolute funniest moments and most quotable lines in Blazing Saddles. In a testament to the effortlessnes of the performances, Madeline Kahn, who played the Destry Rides Again-era Marlene Dietrich saloon singer Lili Von Schtupp ("It's twooo, it's twooo...") even walked away with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role here. Brooks himself, of course, has to show up, cranking up the over-the-top meter by playing two characters (a lecherous governor and a Jewish Indian chief).
Brooks has a habit of really top-loading his comedies with a ridiculous amount of dumb jokes, sight gags, and one liners, seeming to prefer to operate under the assumption that the more gags you fire off, the better chance you have of hitting the target once in a while. In his post-Blazing Saddles days, it has become something of his trademark, and while it ain't a half bad formula, Brooks is never one to shy away from a pun too awful or a sight gag too corny, whether it be the notorious scene of a group of cowboys farting around a campfire or Alex Karras, here playing the thick-headed Mongo, punching a horse in the mouth. One of the recurring in-jokes here is that while it is set in 1874, the characters all speak with hip 1974 speech patterns, and the presence of such out-of-place elements as Nazis and Count Basie are commonplace. While a handful of sequences go on a little too long—such as Lili Von Schtupp's one-joke song I'm Tired, which seems to never end—the bulk of the film is made of quick jokes that pop in and out quickly. The story itself is a little ramshackle, but it is perfectly adequate as a shell to prop up the gags.
The American Film Institute has deservedly ranked Blazing Saddles as #6 on their all-time list of best comedies. The earmarks of a classic comedy is that it still needs to be able to make you laugh no matter what year it is, and it is unlikely that something like the Scary Movie franchise will still be as funny in 30 years. As goofy and juvenile as this one is, Blazing Saddles still comes through with a ton of great moments.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, this new issue of Blazing Saddles sports a brand new transfer in honor of its 30th anniversary, and the result is a literally a night-and-day improvement over the previous release and its horrible grain and just overall shoddiness. While the print has been cleaned up and enhanced significantly—allowing for a dramatic improvement in clarity of image and detail—the colors here are equally impressive and bright, looking as good or better than most films of the era.
A few minor instances of dirt and/or nicks in spots are evident, but for the most part this one looks quite good.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Sadly, the anticipation of the new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track comes off as something of a disappointment. The remixed transfer sounds more like a beefed-up stereo track, bypassing any use of the rear channels in favor of offering an occasional fuller sound to sporadic sequences, instead of the entire film. While dialogue is always clear, and does sound noticeably crisper than the previous release, there isn't much in the way of any kind of expansive feel to the mix; the most apparent benefit is given to the musical sequences—from Frankie Laine's title song and Lili Von Schtupp's big number, on through the cameo by Count Basie. Though this random attempt at fullness seems largely artificial, there are no major flaws like hiss or distortion.
Though the back cover only lists an optional Spanish language track, both French and Spanish mono tracks are also available.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Mel Brooks
Extras Review: Special features include a fairly interesting commentary track from Mel Brooks that unfortunately runs just 54m:59s. This track covers familiar commentary ground (story origins, casting, studio hassles), all delivered with Brooks typical zing, and though this one is rather brief, he does paint a nice history of the film.
Back in the Saddle (28m:20s) analyzes how Brooks "broke ground and broke wind" with Blazing Saddles, and includes comments from writer Andrew Bergman, and cast members Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman and Burton Gilliam. We learn a few salient tidbits—it was originally set to be directed by Alan Arkin, starring James Earl Jones—and that once Brooks took over he had wanted Richard Pryor to play the Cleavon Little role. The best part comes near the end ,when Brooks reveals a cut line from the very end of the "it's twoo, it's twoo" scene that was deemed a little too much by studio censors.
Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn (03m:42s) is an excerpt from a Lifetime television special about the late actress, and features glowing comments from Brooks, Dom DeLuise, and Lily Tomlin, intercut with scenes from the film.
Additional Scenes (09m:41s) is a set of seven deleted/alternate scenes that were edited into the TV version. Examples include the fart scene with the offending noises removed, and as well a couple of Looney Tune sight gags between Black Bart and Mongo that were added to take the place of scenes that had to be removed before broadcast. Most of these clips are also featured in the Back in the Saddle featurette.
The most curious oddity here is the Black Bart TV Pilot (24m:25s), a failed 1975 show that either proves that some things just don't translate well, or just reinforces that Mel Brooks is really funny. This undeniably unfunny program (though you wouldn't know it from the maniacal laugh track) starred Louis Gossett Jr.(!) in the Cleavon Little role, and also featured comic Steve Landesburg in a supporting role. I dare you to sit through all 24m:25s!
In addition to a lengthy theatrical trailer, the disc is cut into 26 chapters, and features subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsSome of the initial shock value edge has been softened a bit since its debut in 1974, but Blazing Saddles is still a very funny movie crammed full of hokey vaudeville gags, racial slurs, Alex Karras punching a horse, and, of course, that famous campfire scene.
This 30th Anniversary release is a big improvement over the earlier release—at least as far as the image is concerned—and it has been given a modest MSRP, so without a doubt this one deserves a spot on the shelf of every home library.
Rich Rosell 2004-06-27