By 1974, the year funnyman Mel Brooks directed Blazing Saddles, the Hollywood Western was all but extinct, a casualty of America's Vietnam War weariness, and our dawning awareness that maybe the cavalry weren't such good guys after all and the Indians not quite the vicious savages we'd imagined. It was just the time, then, for parody. Brooks's irreverent sendup of John Ford, John Wayne and the entire sagebrush mythology was inspired and half crazy, featuring Cleavon Little as a hip black sheriff, Gene Wilder as a bewildered gunslinger, and Western icon Slim Pickens in a genre-busting bit of lunacy. The famous beans-around-the-campfire sequence, which depended on the process of human digestion, remains one of the great outrages in American comedy, and the moment when the assembled cowpokes find Count Basie's band swinging hard amid the tumbleweeds is surreal genius. Brooks may never have been this funny again -- not even with his next parody, Young Frankenstein.
Blazing Saddles screens Saturday, July 3, in the Esquire Theater's Saturdays at Midnight series. Landmark's Esquire is at 590 Downing Street. For information, call 303-352-1992.