Mel Brooks Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr. - Essay

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mel Brooks has a truly baroque sense of humor, as his new film, Blazing Saddles, demonstrates. Such an eccentric wealth of material comes out of his imagination that this film is usually working full tilt on three different levels at once: social satire, straight, old-fashioned slapstick comedy, and parody of various other Hollywood genres, most notably, of course, the Western…. It is, as the saying goes, a sketch.

Unhappily, that's often all it is: a sketch. It's not enough to make up a whole movie. Despite generating some material that works on all three levels, Brooks doesn't always have what he needs to keep the film going…. Moreover, the multiple levels on which the film is attempting to work don't always enhance each other. At times, in fact, they cancel each other out, especially where Bart is concerned. This is because the social satire and the slapstick comedy make contrary demands on his role.

In Brooks' view the former requires that, as a black man, Bart see through the bigotries, hypocrisies and illusions of the whites. He must be capable of a knowing, almost indulgent reaction to them. For instance, when he first arrives in Rocky Ridge, the town where he's to be sheriff, the entire population draws on him. To escape Bart pulls out his own gun as if he too were getting the drop on himself. Having thus taken himself hostage, he edges himself through the crowd toward the refuge of the jail.

This is a funny bit too, until Bart makes it to safety and at once shrugs off these gullible yokels with an unconcerned air. Before the comedy has successfully run its course, such a gesture of bemusement, repeated at the conclusion of skit after skit, kills the laugh every time. Whatever the gesture might do for the social satire, it is a wet blanket on the slapstick. The mise en scène of slapstick is...

(The entire section is 772 words.)