There will never be another filmmaker like Mel Brooks. He filled his movies with puns, double entendres, vulgarity, and parody, and still managed to tackle big ideas with the finished product. He made comedies out of subjects that were not to be made fun of, and got away with it because he was so good at turning the tables on the way those subjects were normally approached. The musical number “Springtime for Hitler” from the movie The Producers got away with portraying nazis as joyous and even sexy, but that was because it was satire that was purposefully offensive within the fictional story, then mistaken for genius satire in that fictional framework. Taken out of context, it’s just baffling.
Brooks would push this kind of taboo-breaking even further in Blazing Saddles (1974), a comedy that still feels daring for its bomb-throwing at some of America’s touchiest subjects.
Saddles is Brooks’ first movie spoof, but rather than sending up a specific film, as he would do later, he takes aim at the underlying themes of the Western genre. Watch a classic oater and you’ll likely encounter a lot of cringe-worthy racism and scenes of white men mowing down non-white characters on their path to manifest destiny. In a fairly radical move for a Western, let alone a comic one, Saddles makes the cowboys and government the enemy because of their racism. And Brooks makes it clear that his critique doesn’t just apply to the Old West, but to modern society as well. (Richard Pryor was a co-writer.)
Brooks' genius can be hard to parse for those who weren’t there in the context of the times, but the A.V. Club deconstructs his filmography with some recommendations for a newbie to enjoy. And for older fans, it’s an excuse to watch Young Frankenstein again.