Blazing Saddles: 40th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)

May 6, 2014 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“Excuse me while I whip this out.”

The films of Mel Brooks are some of the funniest ever made. That’s a bold statement – I know. Blazing Saddles was one of the first “R” rated movies that my parents allowed me to watch and it’s still as funny now as it was then. Though, I have to admit, I get a lot more of the jokes now which makes the movie even funnier. 1974 was a good year for Mr. Brooks, he had two of the more critically acclaimed movies of the year in Young Frankenstein (which some consider to be better than the movie it parodied, the original Frankenstein) and the title in question, Blazing Saddles. What makes the latter such a masterpiece is the fact that no one person, race, religion or sex is left out – they’re all equally made fun of. I heard, in an interview, Mel Brooks said that this movie couldn’t even be made today due to the lack of political-correctness. I concur.  Blazing Saddles spares no one and makes the sides split with laughter in the process. Combining the elements of classic Hollywood comedy, western and even…yes, a musical it’s hard to deny that this is one of the funniest movies ever to hit the screen.

Corrupt Governor (Mel Brooks) and his right hand man, Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman) are in the midst of a problem. The sheriff of Rock Ridge is killed and henceforth replaced by Sheriff Bart (Clevon Little). The trouble is that Bart is black and this doesn’t sit too well with the citizens of Rock Ridge. Bart meets Jim, the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), a washed up drunk who spends his time sleeping off hangovers in jail. Jim and Bart realize there is corruption in the government and set out to try and make things right. After an onslaught including seduction by the infamous Lili von Sthupp (Madeline Khan), deadly messengers (Alex Karras) and finally an out and out brouhaha; the message is finally given to the town and the government that the new sheriff is in town and he’s here to stay. That aside, the plot is really a backdrop to all of the slapstick antics that happen on camera. Scenes like the cowboys sitting around a campfire after eating beans (let your mind wonder), the constant racist remarks (that are, ironically, funny) and the off-color humor make this movie work like no other. Top that off with a lavish musical number and you’ve got yourself a classic.

While some may argue that Blazing Saddles was just using the humor to get attention, the movie’s critical and box office proved otherwise. One of the box office hits of 1974, this showed that Mel Brooks could make a movie that would make people laugh and generate money, too. While the plot is rather obscure, I think the best way to describe this movie is by a number of scenes. Lili Von Shtupp (Kahn) and her whole Marlene Dietrich act nearly steal the show as does Slim Pickens (Dr. Strangelove) and his loyal band of followers. Korman and Brooks show they have great chemistry together and they proved it once again here. And the comic genius of Gene Wilder provided some of the film’s best lines. It’s hard to believe that this movie is now forty years old. It was also ranked as #6 on the American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 comedies. Blazing Saddles will offend and its’s a true example of how they don’t make ‘em like they used to.  Highly recommended.

Video: How does it look?

There’s been a lot of discussion and concern regarding this new Blu-ray edition. The film has already been released on an HD format with an HD DVD version a few years ago along with a Blu-ray version to boot. You’d figure as popular as this movie is and with 2014 being the 40th anniversary of the film, Warner would pull out all the stops and christen a brand new 4K scan.  Unfortunately you’d be mistaken. I saw no mention of it in the press release, but still held out hope when I received the disc. While the picture looks good, sporting a 2.40:1 AVC HD image, it’s the same transfer as the previous Blu-ray. That’s disappointing. Though while it might be disappointing, the image isn’t bad by any means. But what’s frustrating is that when Warner gets behind a catalog title and really tries, they have produced some amazing-looking Blu-rays (The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca come to mind). Ending my rant, I’ll say that the overall image quality is very good. Detail looks good, showcasing the beads of sweat on the actor’s faces, the fine detail in wigs and hair and even the terrain of the “Old West.” Colors are a bit on the cooked side, but I attribute that more to the time period and lighting rather than a fault of the transfer. Color balance is steady, contrast and black levels are for the most part, good.  I’d say this is the best the movie has ever looked, but it looks the same as the previous Blu-ray. Of note, I did an A/B switch wit this version and the old Blu-ray version, so if there was any difference in image quality I certainly couldn’t tell.

Audio: How does it sound?

Originally a mono mix, the special edition DVD sported a new Dolby Digital track for the 30th anniversary release.  This edition has a DTS HD Master Audio track that’s a bit lacking, but then again – so what?  Vocals are strong and steady, Madeline Kahn’s character belts out tunes like you wouldn’t believe and they sound pretty darn good in DTS.  Surrounds, while present, aren’t too terribly active but we do get some of that ambiance in the opening sequence. The sound isn’t really a let down, but it’s not something that will blow you away either – then again, it’s not supposed to be.

Supplements: What are the extras?

With the lack of a new transfer, Warner had to do something to justify the double dip.  Most, but not all, of the original supplements from the special edition DVD are included. I also usually don’t comment on cover art, but Warner has completely redesigned the cover and many are outraged. I’m partial to the original myself, but I don’t really get that worked up over Blu-ray cover art. At any rate, let’s take a look at the supplements.

  • Audio Commentary – This is the same audio commentary that’s been on every DVD since the format existed. That said, it’s a decent track and Brooks delivers a very informative and insightful track. If you haven’t listened to this, it’s worth it.
  • Deleted/Additional Scenes – About ten minutes worth, though a lot are seen in the “Back in the Saddle” featurette.
  • Back in the Saddle – Again, this is the same featurette that’s appeared on several other DVD’s. Interviews with the cast and crew as they discuss the film, its long-lasting influence and the sheer outrageousness of it.
  • Black Bart: The TV Series Pilot episode – Just that. The pilot episode of the show that never really took off.
  • Collectable Art Cards – Ten in all, each showcases a different scene from the film with the line of dialogue printed on it. While amusing, I don’t really see the enduring appeal of these and it wouldn’t really entice me to buy the set. It’s great they’re included, but I’ll never look at them again.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Blaze of Glory: Mel Brooks’ Wild, Wild West – The only new feature (and the only one shown in HD) is actually very entertaining. We get a pretty candid interview with Brooks, who tells us of the history of the movie, some of the origins and his collaboration with Richard Pryor, who he wanted to cast as Bart though Warner nixed the idea. Also featured is some recent footage with Gene Wilder. It’s nice to have a new supplement like this.

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