Cinema: Hi-Ho, Mel

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Directed by MEL BROOKS


A certain number of sissies are bound to go around condescending to Blazing Saddles as a comedy of less than perfect form. They will note that it lacks the careful construction and polished wit that are often cited by essentially humorless people, usually to justify the minor cultural sin of having a good time at a movie that is less than 35 years old and does not star either the Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields.

It is easy to forget that a lot of the old comedians' gags did not quite come off either. Their movies, too, might have been even funnier had their scripts been edited more rigorously and directed more artfully instead of being produced on the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink principle of comedy. Like its many raucous predecessors, Blazing Saddles is a thing of bits and bits—some good, some awful—pinned to a story line that sags like a tenement clothesline. The movie tends to improve in the retelling, as memory edits out ineptitudes, the better to dwell on moments of glory.

Saddles is about a hip black sheriff who must overcome racial prejudice and the machinations of a corrupt frontier political machine. With very little help, he manages to save the citizens of Rock Ridge from being driven away so that a railroad may pass more cheaply through their land. But so what? The important thing is that the chief villain is named Hedley Lamarr, and the actors insist on mispronouncing his name; that at a town meeting an anguished citizen complains that "people are being stampeded and the cattle raped"; that a black labor gang, ordered to sing a Negro spiritual by their straw boss, respond with a nice arrangement of Cole Porter's I Get a Kick out of You; that ex-Football Tackier Alex Karras, on hand to play a homicidal moron, gets in a fight with a horse and fells it with a single roundhouse blow; that Cleavon Little, as the heroic sheriff, has saddlebags by Gucci.

And so on. And on. Very often the film is too fast and furious for its own good. Still, the scene in which everyone is grouped around the old chuck wagon enjoying a good old-fashioned bean supper is in itself a high point in the short history of screen scatology. Even more flamboyant is the ending in which the entire cast, engaged in a classic western brawl, breaks through the wall of an adjoining sound stage, where a campy musical—tails, top hats and lots of white platforms—is being shot. In the ensuing effeminate uproar, hearty Slim Pickens punches out the jodhpur-clad director of the film next door, while Cleavon Little ducks out to Grauman's Chinese Theater and watches... Blazing Saddles.

The whole raveled sequence is the work of men desperate for an ending. It is also in bad taste, though it cannot stand comparison to Brooks' most egregious caper, the Springtime for Hitler number in The Producers. But goldarned if it doesn't work. Goldarned if the whole fool enterprise is not worth the attention of any moviegoer with a penchant for what one actor, commenting on another's Gabby Hayes imitation, calls "authentic western gibberish."