It’s Good to Be the King: Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles (1974) Directed by Mel Brooks Shown: Cleavon Little (as Bart)

By: Addison Wylie

This November and December, TIFF pays tribute to one of comedy’s most influential talents.  Mel Brooks: It’s Good to Be the King gives movie goers the chance to relive Brooks’ hilarious masterpieces through pristine prints.

TIFF kicks off the retrospective on November 15 with screenings of The Producers (5:00 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox) and Young Frankenstein (7:30 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox).  However, I’m going to focus on the politically incorrect Western spoof Blazing Saddles, which screens the next day.

I first watched Blazing Saddles at an age where I understood the broad humour, but didn’t really click with Brooks’ farcical toying with Western tropes.  I ended up owning Blazing Saddles during my days working at a video store, but I never got around to giving it that second go.

In a perfect example as to why these showcases are important, It’s Good to Be King gave me that necessary repeat viewing I was needing.  I fully realized how sharp and fearless the comedy was with its off-beat approach to race and the Wild, Wild West.  And, I forgot just how ridiculously funny its ending was.  It’s easily as nutty and off-the-wall as the finale found in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Cleavon Little takes control of the screen as Bart, a groundbreaking black sheriff and the humbling force who takes over the small town of Rock Ridge.  Gene Wilder stays by his side as the Waco Kid, a once beloved gunslinger who’s now a washed up yet charming lush.  The two make a great team, and the audience can easily tell Little and Wilder were buddies off screen.  They have superb camaraderie.

The two heroes get swept up in Hedley Lamarr’s dastardly plot to snatch up land and run Rock Ridge’s happy people out of town.  Harvey Korman plays the villain with great hutzpah and usually gets the best laughs in the picture.

The humour is grand and hammy, but that’s mostly due to the filmmaker trying to keep up with the genre’s theatrics.  Blazing Saddles is even shot and acted in the same way some plays are performed, adding cinematic elegance to this work that has aged the film wonderfully.  It’s a film that is going to put TIFF’s big screen and booming speakers to great use.

I know some people were burned by this Summer’s A Million Ways to Die in the West.  I highly recommend those people catch Brooks’ classic if they haven’t already.  Even though I thought Seth MacFarlane’s send-up was a riot, it wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for Blazing Saddles and Brooks’ daringness.

Blazing Saddles screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sunday, November 16 at 7:00 p.m.

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