'Blazing Saddles': THR's 1974 Review
On Feb. 7, 1974, Warner Bros. unleashed a 125-minute, R-rated Western from Mel Brooks, Blazing Saddles. The film, nominated for three Oscars at the 47th Academy Awards, has become a pop culture touchstone. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below:
Mel Brooks has come up with his most outrageous comedy to date in the brilliantly funny Blazing Saddles, a Mel Brooks Film for Warner Bros. release, produced by Michael Hertzberg.
Immediately setting the incredibly irreverent tone with a hilarious parody in the title song (music by John Morris, lyrics by Brooks), sung by Frankie Laine, Brooks then swiftly proceeds to satirize every Western ever made, up to and including Zachariah. Unfortunately, he has overindulged himself in the broad comedy of the final scenes and lessens the effect of the film somewhat by allowing the climactic fight to spread throughout Burbank Studios, onto a soundstage where a musical production number is being rehearsed, into the commissary and ending in the forecourt of the Chinese Theatre. It's a funny slapstick bit but it also distracts from the main portion of the film.
The story briefly concerns a plot by a greedy landgrabber (Harvey Korman) to drive the citizens out of the town of Rock Ridge by sending them a black sheriff (Cleavon Little). With his urbane resourcefulness and the help of an alcoholic gunslinger (Gene Wilder), however, he is able to defeat the bad guys and win the admiration, if not necessarily the respect, of the local backward citizenry.
The screenplay by Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger (from a story by Bergman) is totally irreverent, never passing up a chance to point up a cliche and sparing nothing or no one along the way. The language is definitely R-rated but it never becomes offensive. In fact, the incongruous pairing of the language and the characters accounts for a great deal of the boisterous humor.
Brooks' fast-paced direction is a masterpiece of comedy detail, filled with delightful and perfectly timed sight gags. The predominant style is one of the extremely broad burlesque but the film is also packed with more subtle touches, especially in Morey Hoffman's clever set decoration and in Peter Wooley's production design.
The performances are all comedy gems, with Korman especially delightful as Hedley Lamarr, scheming and plotting with all the finesse of a precocious brat. Little plays the sheriff with just the right amount of bemused superiority, with a shy grin and a sly twinkle in his eyes, and Wilder presents a perfect parody of the gunslinger, with heavily lidded and steely blue eyes and a lethargic self-assurance.
Madeline Kahn continues to demonstrate her amazing comedic versatility here as a Marlene Dietrich-type dance hall entertainer with an accent that is a cross between German and Looney Tunes. Her "I'm Tired" number is alone worth the price of admission. Brooks also makes two droll appearances in the film, as the giddy Gov. Lepetomane and as an Indian Chief. The other supporting roles are equally well-filled with perfect physical types including Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Liam Dunn, Claude E. Starrett Jr., David Huddleston, John Hillerman, Carol Arthur, Robyn Hilton and Dom DeLuise.
The technical credits are all excellent, with Joseph Biroc's Panavision cameras giving attractive scope and dimension and capturing the visual humor in perfect setups. The editing by John C. Howard and Danford Greene keeps the action racing at an ideal pace. — Ron Pennington