Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles(1974) is a film about the American West.  The director, Mel Brooks, is a well known humorist whose movies are commonly parodies.  His films know no bounds, bit his effective use of comedy allows for entertainment, not indignation.  In Blazing Saddles, a railroad tycoon wants to build his railroad through a small town.  In order to break up the town, he sends in a black sheriff, sheriff Bart, hoping that the town will abandon their newly appointed leader.  The new sheriff teams up with Jim, once the fastest gun in the west, to battle the tycoon and save the town.

As pointed out by Matt Neufeld, the early 1970s was a time of change in the United States, which primed audiences for the reception of Blazing Saddles. American involvement in the Vietnam War was waning, and the civil rights era had just ended. Major changes were occurring in the political and social world.  Jason Bailey gives context for the film, and explains that while racial equality was winning major battles in society, the film industry was far behind, and had not yet had a black hero that was geared toward white audiences.   The road had been paved for a criticism of the old ways in order to push American culture into a new stage.  According to Neufeld, Blazing Saddles was so effective and so well received that it spawned a new type of comedy.

Blazing Saddles is a classic satirical film of American culture. While the film pokes fun at religion and politicians, the most prominent topic is racism.  Michael Green, a film studies teacher, claimed in an interview with NPR that “Blazing Saddles is a satire of racism…that’s what makes it groundbreaking. [Brooks] satirizes racism; he shows how stupid it is.”  The townspeople are the most racist people in the film, and they are portrayed as idiots.  In an effort to distract the townspeople from their racist predisposition, the sheriff points his gun to his head and pretends to take himself hostage.  The townspeople fall for the trick, and beg him to let their sheriff go.  This scene lends credit to Green’s statement: the dumb people are the racists.  The other hero, the gunslinger played by Gene Wilder, has no qualms with the balck sheriff.  In his introductory scene, he is hungover and hanging upside-down from a bunk in the prison, and as he starts to stir, Bart strolls over and asks, “Are we awake?”  To which Jim replies “We are not sure.  Are we black?” “Yes we are.” “Then we’re awake, but we’re very puzzled.”  After this scene, there is no further discussion of race between the two characters.  The heroes do not harbor racism, and they become fast friends who work together to save the day.  The satire provides a strong message for the audience, which is why Blazing Saddles remains an important film in a society that still struggles to talk about race.



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