Warner Home Video presents
Blazing Saddles HD DVD (1974)
"You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know... morons."- The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder)
Stars: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman
Other Stars: Mel Brooks, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Liam Dunn, Burton Gilliam, Alex Karras, John Hillerman, Jack Starrett, Count Basie, Dom DeLuise, Robyn Hilton
Director: Mel Brooks
MPAA Rating: R for (language)
Run Time: 01h:32m:48s
Release Date: 2006-05-23
DVD ReviewThe DVD and Extras reviews are by Rich Rosell.
Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks' joke-heavy stab at the western genre, was released in 1974 and may have made audiences who weren't laughing out loud squirm in their seats a little with its frequent use of the word "nigger", which is tossed around with a casual disregard by just about every white character in this film. Using that volatile word as a frequent punchline in a comedy, especially by whites, was a fairly radical and daring move by Brooks, but then again he's the same guy who came up with a musical about Hitler.
Set in 1874, the tiny western town of Rock Ridge is in need of a new sheriff, and unscrupulous villain Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) wants to run a new railroad line right through the middle of it; the only problem is that he needs to find a way to make the townsfolk leave. He concocts an evil plan to run the prejudicial townsfolk out by giving the unenviable task of sheriff to Bart (Cleavon Little), a black railroad worker. The kindly Bart meets with all sorts of out-in-the-open racial prejudice from Rock Ridge, from the minister on down through little old ladies (one of whom gets off one of the film's most startlingly funny lines), but it is his developing friendship with alcoholic but level-headed former gunslinger The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) that eventually aligns the townspeople on his side, just in time for retaliation against Lamarr in a wonderfully bizarre final twenty minutes that breaks down that imaginary wall between fiction and reality.
The cast here is really fun to watch, and all of them exhibit nearly flawless sketch comedy timing, Korman especially. He plays the whole thing with an appropriately hammy Snidely Whiplash demeanor, basically turning each of his scenes into bits of schticky goodness. Veteran character actor Slim Pickens, playing Hedley's number one henchman, is probably my favorite character in the entire film, and he is at the center of some of what I consider to be a few of the absolute funniest moments and most quotable lines in Blazing Saddles. In a testament to the effortlessnes of the performances, Madeline Kahn, who played the Destry Rides Again-era Marlene Dietrich saloon singer Lili Von Schtupp ("It's twooo, it's twooo...") even walked away with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role here. Brooks himself, of course, has to show up, cranking up the over-the-top meter by playing two characters (a lecherous governor and a Jewish Indian chief).
Brooks has a habit of really top-loading his comedies with a ridiculous amount of dumb jokes, sight gags, and one liners, seeming to prefer to operate under the assumption that the more gags you fire off, the better chance you have of hitting the target once in a while. In his post-Blazing Saddles days, it has become something of his trademark, and while it ain't a half bad formula, Brooks is never one to shy away from a pun too awful or a sight gag too corny, whether it be the notorious scene of a group of cowboys farting around a campfire or Alex Karras, here playing the thick-headed Mongo, punching a horse in the mouth. One of the recurring in-jokes here is that while it is set in 1874, the characters all speak with hip 1974 speech patterns, and the presence of such out-of-place elements as Nazis and Count Basie are commonplace. While a handful of sequences go on a little too long—such as Lili Von Schtupp's one-joke song I'm Tired, which seems to never end—the bulk of the film is made of quick jokes that pop in and out quickly. The story itself is a little ramshackle, but it is perfectly adequate as a shell to prop up the gags.
The American Film Institute has deservedly ranked Blazing Saddles as #6 on their all-time list of best comedies. The earmarks of a classic comedy is that it still needs to be able to make you laugh no matter what year it is, and it is unlikely that something like the Scary Movie franchise will still be as funny in 30 years. As goofy and juvenile as this one is, Blazing Saddles still comes through with a ton of great moments.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||2.40:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The HD version is quite a revelation, once you get past the dupey main title sequence. Apart from a little compression ringing for dark objects against sky, it looks beautiful, with plenty of detail and incisive color definition. One would hardly imagine this was a film from 30 years ago, since it looks almost as if it were a new production. Particularly notable is the fine patterning on Slim Pickens' shirt, which hasn't really been visible in any previous home video edition, and here it's crisp and clear even in medium shots. Textures are excellent throughout and the grain is very well rendered and never distracting. If this is any example of what's to come for older films on HD DVD, then by all means bring them on.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 English track from the 30th Anniversary edition is presented here in DD+ 5.1, and it's still fairly lackluster and unimpressive. It's quite clean, however, and probably as good as this soundtrack is likely to get. The opening song by Frankie Laine seems awfully thin and lacking in presence. Dialogue is plain throughout.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Mel Brooks
Extras Review: Special features include a fairly interesting commentary track from Mel Brooks that unfortunately runs just 54m:59s. This track covers familiar commentary ground (story origins, casting, studio hassles), all delivered with Brooks typical zing, and though this one is rather brief, he does paint a nice history of the film.
Back in the Saddle (28m:20s) analyzes how Brooks "broke ground and broke wind" with Blazing Saddles, and includes comments from writer Andrew Bergman, and cast members Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman and Burton Gilliam. We learn a few salient tidbits—it was originally set to be directed by Alan Arkin, starring James Earl Jones—and that once Brooks took over he had wanted Richard Pryor to play the Cleavon Little role. The best part comes near the end ,when Brooks reveals a cut line from the very end of the "it's twoo, it's twoo" scene that was deemed a little too much by studio censors.
Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn (03m:42s) is an excerpt from a Lifetime television special about the late actress, and features glowing comments from Brooks, Dom DeLuise, and Lily Tomlin, intercut with scenes from the film.
Additional Scenes (09m:41s) is a set of seven deleted/alternate scenes that were edited into the TV version. Examples include the fart scene with the offending noises removed, and as well a couple of Looney Tune sight gags between Black Bart and Mongo that were added to take the place of scenes that had to be removed before broadcast. Most of these clips are also featured in the Back in the Saddle featurette.
The most curious oddity here is the Black Bart TV Pilot (24m:25s), a failed 1975 show that either proves that some things just don't translate well, or just reinforces that Mel Brooks is really funny. This undeniably unfunny program (though you wouldn't know it from the maniacal laugh track) starred Louis Gossett Jr.(!) in the Cleavon Little role, and also featured comic Steve Landesburg in a supporting role. I dare you to sit through all 24m:25s!
In addition to a lengthy theatrical trailer, the disc is cut into 26 chapters, and features subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsSome of the initial shock value edge has been softened a bit since its debut in 1974, but Blazing Saddles is still a very funny movie crammed full of hokey vaudeville gags, racial slurs, Alex Karras punching a horse, and, of course, that famous campfire scene. All the extras of the 30th anniversary edition are here, and the HD DVD looks far better than any home version of the film has ever appeared.
Mark Zimmer 2006-06-08