The American City Diner in D.C. closes another month of classic films with a screening of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974), the one and only send-up of western cinema. With Oscar nominations and real comic ingenuity, the film is the finest example of Mel Brooks’ work.
If you’re familiar with the name Mel Brooks, than you already know what you’re in for. Brooks has a patented style of comedy that is unmistakable. Many of his comedies contain a lot of humor that isn’t necessarily laugh-out-loud. So many of his films have parts that lull. But in Blazing Saddles, Brooks fires on all cylinders, nailing the pacing with each scene. Like the breadth of his other work, it’s a parody film that gets its target in its sights and fires away relentlessly. It spoofs High Noon (1952) several times, which is odd, as it has always stood out in the canon as not being typical of western clichés.
It’s surprising that there can be no other film in remembrance to lampoon westerns. With the torrent of spaghetti westerns that there are, it seems disproportionate against all the new parody films we receive. For the past decade, there have been two or three of these films a year which always manage to find there way into receiving a few well-deserved Razzie Award nominations.
Blazing Saddles wasn’t just sending up westerns, it was sending up the treatment of African-Americans, or should I say lack there of, in the western genre. The story is about a company who wants to build a railroad through a small town, and the company’s owner convinces the governor to take on a black man as the town’s sheriff, in hopes he will soon be run out of town. A plot isn’t necessary for a film like this, but at least Blazing Saddles sort of has one.
Setting the precedent for all parody films to follow, Blazing Saddles set the genus that would be followed forever after. Later in the decade, the Zucker brothers would have even better success with Airplane! (1980), making light of the influx of disaster films during the ‘70s. The Wayans brothers’ Scary Movie franchise would take the genre into the 90s. Even lesser offers like Joel Gallen’s Not Another Teen Movie (2001) and films by Friedberg and Seltzer (Disaster Movie (2008), Vampires Suck (2010)) have pushed the genre into the new millennium. These kinds of films seem to be dying out. At least the good ones anyways. Even the Zucker brothers’ acquisition of the Scary Movie franchise for parts three and four proved to be unfortunate. It seems like Leslie Nielsen’s passing might have also marked the death of the genre. But never say never. All it takes is a strong script with a strong cast to deliver it. It’ll be a sad day when comedy for comedy’s sake is no longer appreciated. Now if only one of these directors could remember how to be funny.
Blazing Saddles will be screened at 8:00 at the American City Diner. For directions, menu, or a list of the films they screen, visit their homepage here. A list of next month’s films will be added to the site at the start of the month, so check local listings in case they play your favorite classic film at the start of October.