Maybe it’s the comedy. Maybe it’s the lack of seriousness. Maybe it’s that fans don’t need to take notice. Whatever the case may be, to most people Mel Brooks' classic western spoof is completely devoid of message. Yes, there’s a lot to Blazing Saddles besides its racial slurs, fart jokes, Warner Bros parking lot brawl, and stampeding cattle. There’s a deeply rooted message about the ignorance and stupidity of racism that’s the centerpiece of the film, yet no one seems to notice.
Blazing Saddles could never be made today. In an overly politically correct society where everyone is offended by the slightest slip-up, no one would even take the time to notice. The first time Burton Gilliam utters the dreaded N-word in the opening scene, the audience would leave in droves.
There’s a purpose to that dialogue, and it’s worth far more than simple shock value. The quick-witted Bart, played by Cleavon Little, is quick to retort and make Gilliam’s Lyle look like an idiot before he even stops to think about how ridiculous he looks prancing about to “Camptown Lady.” If the movie is racist, it’s only against those who look at color in the first place.
Yes, there’s no question it's played purely for laughs. This is, after all (arguably), Mel Brooks' finest hour, and one of the great American comedies. What the script does is work its message in via subtle sight gags and its characters' interactions. The bad guys never quite get it, and the townsfolk of Rock Ridge who realize the error of their ways finish them off in grand scale… even if they have to do it down a modern day Main Street somewhere in Hollywood.
It’s hard to believe any film can still push boundaries 34 years after its release. While some of its jokes may be lost on younger viewers, Blazing Saddles can still offend with the best of them to this day. It’s also still relevant and important to some of society's larger ills, which is also in a way a depressing statement on how little progress has been made.
As absurd as it may sound, Blazing Saddles is an important movie. Its embedded message may be surrounded by hanging horses, schnitzengruben, $400 hand carts, toll booths, Dom DeLuise, Hitler, a jazz band in the middle of a desert, authentic frontier gibberish, and more Johnsons than you could possibly imagine, but none of that takes away from its underlying theme. This is one of the funniest, best, and all around classic comedies ever filmed, and it’s nice to know that it’s in for more than just laughs.
Blazing Saddles underwent a masterful restoration for its 30th anniversary, and this Blu-ray shows the film off better than it’s ever been seen previously. Colors are remarkably bold and never falter. Contrast creates incredible depth in the image, and the sharpness is as solid as a modern film. Close-ups reveal astonishing levels of detail, and long shots hold up with just as much precision. Aside from a faint layer of grain and a few shots on the source image where it becomes a noticeable distraction, this is a nearly flawless presentation.
While some attempt has been made to update the audio, this 5.1 mix is flat but clear. The soundtrack occasionally bleeds into the rears, and minor surround use is evident although inconsistent. The dynamite in the church has a nice echo, but the infamous campfire sequence remains completely in the front channels.
Features carry over from the DVD and HD DVD versions of the film. Mel Brooks gives us a commentary track which turns into more of an interview. He'll spout off some facts that even die-hard followers may not know, but it only lasts for about an hour. Next are some deleted and alternate scenes. These showcase some of the edited-in-for-TV sequences, which are used to pad the running time due to the amount of censored cuts when networks air the film. In total, the scenes run for about ten minutes.
Next up is a decent documentary entitled Back in the Saddle, which interviews some of the surviving cast members. It runs close to 30 minutes. The focus is mostly on Brooks and the writers, but Gene Wilder and Harvey Korman get some time as well. The documentary is padded with nearly all of the deleted scenes mentioned above and some of the comments are redundant after you listen to the commentary, but it's great to see some of the stars of this classic today. Madeline Kahn gets a short segment from the show Intimate Portrait that runs four minutes as it talks a bit about her classic performance.
Warner wasn't done yet and dug deep for the TV pilot of Black Bart, a proposed spin-off from the film after its success. Starring a young Louis Gossett Jr. as Bart, it featured various little known actors trying to replicate the characters from the film. Without the ability to let it all out due to the standards of TV, this is 25 minutes best spent elsewhere. Still, credit must be given for not only including this oddity but finding it in remarkable condition.
It’s well known film trivia that the role of Bart was originally going to Richard Pryor. However, Gene Wilder wasn’t part of the original cast, either. Gig Young had the role, and on the first day of shooting where his character was supposedly drunk, he actually was. Wilder took over the role the next day.