Film Review: Blazing Saddles (1974)

Also known as: Black Bart (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Al Uger
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Dom DeLuise, Count Basie

Crossbow Productions, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” – Hedley Lamarr, “God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.” – Taggart

I’m a fan of Mel Brooks’ work but not as much as the hardcore fans out there. Most of the ones I’ve talked to over the years seem to like this film the best out of Brooks’ oeuvre. Young Frankenstein is my personal favorite but I’ve also got a deep affinity for the Universal Monsters, which it paradoies.

I also really love westerns too, though. So, naturally, I like this picture quite a bit too. However, I don’t hold it in the same esteem as others.

Everyone in this is pretty damn great, however. Cleavon Little stands out the most, as the actual star of the picture and because he’s just so damn charismatic and likeable. Additionally, his camaraderie and comedic timing with Gene Wilder is incredibly good.

Beyond the two leads, everyone else in the picture is well cast and this is written in a way that allows them all to play to their strengths while also maximizing their value to this large tapestry of talent.

I guess it probably goes without saying but this is a film that you couldn’t make today. It features so much language that would overwhelm the easily offended, which seems to be everyone these days. Modern filmgoers would be so fixated on the language that they’d miss the point of it all.

This was a film that came out in the ’70s and American entertainment was greatly effected by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the racial tensions the United States had to work through. This movie reflects that, as did most comedy of the time, and it features a lot of racially charged language and situations. But it’s how it handles all of that and presents it that is important. Nowadays, nuance and context are completely lost because fingerblasting your own pearls while on public display is the only way these kids know how to communicate, anymore.

Blazing Saddles is a film that doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s feelings. It cannonballs into the deep end of the pool, splashing everyone and everything, and it just puts it all out there, letting people express their points and their social grievances through comedy. And this is why comedy was great. It could challenge us, turn the world on its head and directly engage with tough topics and things that many would otherwise try to ignore or suppress.

In reality, comedy brought people together and it built bridges between cultures and different points-of-view born from very different experiences. Also, it didn’t allow everyone to have such thin skins. It forced most people to toughen up and deal with shit, so we could all move forward.

And while I didn’t want a movie review to devolve into a political or social discussion, I know that it’s only a matter of time before the censors retroactively try to cancel this picture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mel Brooks parody films.

Film Review: The Woman In Red (1984)

Also known as: Boys Will Be Boys (working title)
Release Date: August 15th, 1984
Directed by: Gene Wilder
Written by: Gene Wilder, Yves Robert, Jean-Loup Dabadie
Based on: Pardon Mon Affaire (or An Elephant Can Be Extremely Deceptive) by Yves Robert
Music by: John Morris, Stevie Wonder
Cast: Gene Wilder, Charles Grodin, Joseph Bologna, Judith Ivey, Michael Huddleston, Kelly LeBrock, Gilda Radner, Michael Zorek, Thom Mathews (uncredited)

Orion Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Now listen here, Teddy Bear. Four weeks ago, I met a cute, available, old-fashioned guy who liked horse riding. In one month you got married, you had two daughters and you can’t ride a horse to save your life!” – Charlotte

This is a remake of a French film from the ’70s that I have never seen. Although, I’ve seen this a few times but it’s been years.

I liked it as a kid because it featured Kelly LeBrock, who I was crushing on hard because of Weird Science. As an adult, I love Gene Wilder in everything and revisiting this came with extra things to enjoy that were no longer overshadowed by LeBrock’s incredible beauty.

The Woman In Red was also written and directed by Wilder and also featured his real life wife, the legendary Gilda Radner. Additionally, we get Charles Grodin, whose blind guy prank in the restaurant is still one of the funniest comedy scenes in history.

While this film deals with some clunky storytelling and some clunky editing, it’s still a fun, lighthearted movie that suspiciously paints Gene Wilder, as some sort of heartthrob. But then, many of his films did and I think that’s part of their charm. Plus, if humor is indeed the way to a woman’s heart, I guess there aren’t many better at that than Wilder.

It’s still funny seeing him successfully woo a woman of Kelly LeBrock’s stature but that’s also part of the humor. The scene between the two on horses, as well as their bedroom scene, is hilarious to watch not just from the humorous banter but also because of the physical differences between LeBrock’s supermodel hotness and Wilder’s small size, as well as his awkward, bumbling antics.

Gilda Radner really stands out in this too, in a supporting role. Initially, she thinks that Wilder is trying to woo her and with that, we get a whole subplot about her getting revenge on him each time they cross paths.

All in all, The Woman In Red is just goofy and charming in that patented Gene Wilder way. It’s not a comedy classic or anything but it’s goofy and entertaining and really, that’s all it needs to be.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comedies with Gene Wilder.

Film Review: See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

Release Date: May 12th, 1989
Directed by: Arthur Hiller
Written by: Earl Barret, Arne Sultan, Eliot Wald, Andrew Kurtzman, Gene Wilder, Marvin Worth
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Joan Severance, Kevin Spacey, Alan North, Anthony Zerbe, Zach Grenier

TriStar Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Today I threatened to shoot a naked woman with my erection.” – Dave

I love Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. I especially love when they team up.

Starting with one of the latter team up films may seem weird but this was actually the first one I saw. I also got to experience it in the theater and its the first time my mum took me to a movie with boobies in it, so I had to try and dodge her hand as she attempted to shield my eyes from the mesmerizing and perfect Joan Severance.

While this is far from a great film and not close to the best of either man’s career, their chemistry is infectious and they’re so great at the buddy formula that there’s just something endearing about this and it’s a movie with genuine heart and soul in it.

Pryor plays a blind man and Wilder plays a deaf man. That is the setup for nearly all the jokes in the movie but even if that sounds like it’d get old really fast, they come up with several clever gags that work throughout the film and the formula doesn’t get as tired as one would expect. Also, it kind of draws awareness to the limitations of those handicaps even though it’s using them for humor. A film like this would probably be shunned in our current PC climate but in 1989, we still knew how to laugh and also understood that sometimes that’s an effective way of dealing with difficult and uncomfortable things.

Not having seen this in years, I forgot that it had Kevin Spacey in it, as well as character actors Anthony Zerbe and Zach Grenier. Joan Severance steals all the scenes she’s in, though, and I was always kind of surprised that her career didn’t take off after this, Bird On A Wire and No Holds Barred. Well, okay… I can see why no one views No Holds Barred as anything other than a cheesy, vanity film for a professional wrestler that essentially just played himself.

In this film, a man is murdered and a careless mistake makes the two stars the prime suspects. Heck, the only suspects. They have to work together to escape the police, clear their names and take down the bad guys. Most importantly, they find true friendship and as corny as this film can get in certain moments, this is where the heart really comes in.

You could tell that these guys loved each other in real life and many of their conversations felt organic and natural even if they usually centered around their characters’ disabilities.

I definitely like this movie more than most people but it’s great escapism, carries a good, positive message and it’s hard not to feel better about life once the credits roll. 

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other comedies with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.

Film Review: The Producers (1967)

Also known as: Mel Brooks’ The Producers (complete title), Springtime for Hitler (alternate title)
Release Date: November 22nd, 1967 (Pittsburgh premiere)
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn, Lee Meredith, William Hickey, Christopher Hewett, Mel Brooks (voice)

Embassy Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?” – Max Bialystock

I have seen just about every Mel Brooks film, as well as the remake of The Producers, the stage show and the season of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry was starring in the play. But I have never seen the original.

Being a fan of early Mel Brooks movies and Gene Wilder, I’m surprised it took me this long to get to the film but I spend a lot of time watching complete dreck because I review a lot of obscure movies, some of which I discover should remain obscure and mostly unknown.

Anyway, I was glad to see this pop up on FilmStruck because I’ve always wanted to watch it and because I needed something funny and entertaining to get me out of the funk I was in after a half dozen horrible pictures.

Quite frankly, this is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It is in the upper echelon of all comedy for me and right up at the top of the list of Mel Brooks’ best. This and Young Frankenstein take the cake for me but it’s hard to decide between the two.

What makes this film unique in comparison to Brooks’ most famous work, is that it isn’t parody. This is an original story and it showed that Brooks can make comedy gold outside of just making fun of genre tropes.

Plus, the superb talent of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel is on full display here, as both men play off of each other so well, they almost have a presence similar to other great duos like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and well… Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

The cast is also rounded out by other hilarious performances. Kenneth Mars is hysterical, as is Dick Shawn. In fact, Shawn really steals the show in the few scenes he has.

This is a rather short film, at just shy of 90 minutes, but it packs a lot of laughs and energy into that time.

The Producers is absolutely one of the greatest things that Mel Brooks has ever done. It has held up exceptionally well and deserves its status as a true comedy classic.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Other early Mel Brooks films: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

Film Review: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Release Date: August 13th, 1967
Directed by: Arthur Penn
Written by: David Newman, Robert Benton
Music by: Charles Strouse
Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder

Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 111 Minutes

Review:

“This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.” – Clyde Barrow

For the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde, Fathom Events put it back on the big screen. I was glad that I got to see it in its original format, fifty years to the exact day it came out.

For those who haven’t seen the film or who don’t know about it, it follows the true story of Bonnie Parker (Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Beatty), two young lovers that became famous bank robbers in the Mid-South. It also showcases their gang: their driver C.W. Moss (Pollard), Clyde’s brother (Hackman) and his wife (Parsons), who is actually strung along and wants nothing to do with the crime and violence.

Bonnie and Clyde was an important motion picture in the history of filmmaking. It was actually a trendsetter that changed everything going forward, which makes its 50th anniversary quite significant for all of film history. It was the first picture to truly show violence and to push the bar higher in regards to its sexual content. It also experimented with its style visually and musically.

It is the oldest film I can think of that edits action packed music-filled scenes with cuts back to people talking. In some spots, it plays more like an early MTV music video. This, of course, existed a decade and a half before MTV and the musical choices reflect the 1930s, when this takes place, as opposed to the poppy 1980s new wave sounds. But it is easy to see how Bonnie and Clyde not only influenced movie filmmakers but also music video filmmakers and many other people in pop culture.

While the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards. It won for cinematography, which was quite deserved. Also, Estelle Parsons won for Best Supporting Actress, as Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche. It was cool seeing Parsons in this, as I really only knew her as Roseanne’s mother on Roseanne, when I was a kid. I always loved her on that show, she was actually one of my favorite characters and seeing her here, much younger but in some respects, the same, was a really cool experience.

This wasn’t the first time I saw Bonnie and Clyde, I first watched it in my early twenties but I hadn’t seen it since then. I was glad I got to revisit it, as it is still a solid film, through and through. It has had a tremendous impact on film, television and music. It would inspire countless films and was a template for the Quentin Tarantino written Natural Born Killers and the Ice Cube and Yo-Yo song “The Bonnie and Clyde Theme”.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were magnificent in this. And really, what’s hotter than Faye Dunaway firing a tommy gun?

Also, Michael J. Pollard was dynamite as the bumbling but kindhearted C.W. while Gene Hackman was boisterous and entertaining as Clyde’s crazy ex-con brother. The film is also the debut of Gene Wilder, who comes off like a solid veteran.

Bonnie and Clyde is a classic American film that deserves its recognition. It is also great that such a trendsetting and groundbreaking picture was actually quite good.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Young Frankenstein (1974)

Release Date: December 15th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Kahn, Gene Hackman

20th Century Fox, 105 Minutes 

Review:

I was fortunate enough to see Young Frankenstein on the big screen this past weekend thanks to one of my local theaters being awesome and featuring films offered by Flashback Cinema. Being that I am a pretty big Mel Brooks fan, it was certainly a treat. Also, the only Brooks film I had ever seen in the theater before this was Dracula: Dead and Loving It. That was a tragedy that needed to be rectified.

I am also a bigger fan of the Universal Monsters franchise. While this isn’t a film put out by Universal, parodying itself, it still is a wonderful comedic homage to those films and it’s pretty cool that 20th Century Fox put up the cash to make it.

Written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, from a humor standpoint, it seems to have a bit more Wilder in the script. The great thing about the man, is he knew how to write comedy for himself. Brooks, on the other hand, was very good at making things work well for an ensemble of hilarious characters. He also makes completely absurd situations work. Together, these two men had a perfect marriage with the script for Young Frankenstein.

The film is as close to perfect as a parody movie can get. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of parody films, except for those put out by Mel Brooks because he just has the ability to capture the spirit and magic of the films he pokes fun at. Brooks’ parodies are more like an old school classic Dean Martin Roast of movies he loves, where the modern parodies done be filmmakers (with less than a tenth of Brooks’ talent) are just an atrocious string of racist, dick, fart and fat jokes that could be better executed by first graders on a playground. Needless to say, Brooks has mastered an art and no one else has even come close to his level. Young Frankenstein is one of the Brooks films where this is completely apparent.

Young Frankenstein is magic. It recaptures the look and feel of the James Whale Frankenstein pictures of the 1930s almost flawlessly. It is impressive how authentic the sets and props feel. The cinematography is a near match of those films, especially the lighting and the tone. The use of contrast creates a great sense of depth that makes it feel like those old classic horror pictures. It is also worth mentioning that the great score really adds a lot of character to the film’s presentation and helps to enhance the visual side of things.

This is one of the absolute best roles that Gene Wilder has ever played. The same can be said for Teri Garr and Marty Feldman. Peter Boyle has had a weird mix of fantastic and different roles over the years but he’s perfect in this as the Creature. Madeline Kahn is also stupendous and utterly hilarious. The one character I have always loved though, is the Inspector played by Kenneth Mars.

Young Frankenstein is a great movie and certainly a classic that deserves its fanfare. I think its biggest strength is its story. While it parodies the many Frankenstein pictures put out by Universal in their horror heyday, it is its own unique tale backed by complete hilarity and a talented cast and director.

Rating: 9/10