Mel Brooks’ Western spoof Blazing Saddles turns 40 Friday, and along with its over-the-top jabs at racism and Hollywood, it set the gold standard for what is now an overused cinema trope: the interracial buddy comedy.
You’ll have to track down a DVD — Blazing Saddles is glaringly absent from Netflix’s streaming service. But here’s the gist of the film: The no-good State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (not to be confused with the actress of a similar name, Hedy Lamarr) wants to build a railroad through the quaint fictional town of Rock Ridge. Hoping to scare off the townsfolk and prepare the way for a land grab, Lamarr sends in the first black sheriff, a former railroad worker named Black Bart, played by Cleavon Little. The plan backfires, though, when Bart teams up with local gunslinger Jim (Gene Wilder). Together, they win over the unrepentantly racist town and save Rock Ridge from near destruction. Along the way there are a few gunfights, Mel Brooks as a Yiddish-speaking Native American chief, Madeline Kahn in a corset, and the invention of the candygram. The end.
In his tepid New York Times review, Vincent Canby called the film “every Western you’ve ever seen turned upside down and inside out.” But the real heart of the movie — the “center of gravity” that Canby lamented was missing from the story — is the relationship between Bart and Jim.