All the expected characters from a typical western are present in this parody, but everythingis turned on its head and made ridiculous. Cleavon Little, formerly a slave, then a railwayworker, becomes sherif (cue the racial humour) in a town besieged by the forces of the evilrailway baron Harvey Korman and henchman Slim Pickens. Also in on the fun are sharpshooterGene Wilder and saloon singer Madeline Kahn.
So the American Film Institute named this #6 on its Top 100 …omedies. Well, when I wasseven, all my friends went on about how hilarious the movie was. I suspect the worth voters ofthe AFI haven’t seen the film since they were seven, since most of the gags are aimed squarelyat that age level. Perhaps the campfire farting scene broke ground in 1974, but today it is merelyinfantile. This isn’t simply a case of the poop joke ante having been upped in recent years by theFarrelly brothers and the like. Brooks’ humour has all-too-often been of the sort that you couldsee coming miles away. Incidental pleasures like Kahn’s Dietrick impersonation simply aren’tenough.
The newly remastered 5.1 is pretty sharp stuff, all things considered. The music in particularsounds spectacular, with a wonderfully warm tone and tremendous bass. There isn’t much byway of environmental effects, but the surround moments are loud. Too much so, in some cases(gunshots come out of all speakers when they have no business doing so), but then subtlety ishardly the point of this flick. There is some distortion on the dialogue, but again, the overallresult is not bad at all for a thirty-year-old soundtrack.
The image is presented in the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect, and the newtransfer is a fine match for the sound. The grain visible in the opening credits vanishesimmediately thereafter, and is pretty insignificant thereafter. The colours are vibrant (especiallythe reds). There is no visible edge enhancement, and the image is sharp.
Mel Brooks’ audio commentary provides a very detailed history of the making of the film,but is hardly “scene-specific” (as advertised on the case). “Back in the Saddle” is a half-hourretrospective featuring interviews with most of the major participants. “Intimate Portrait:Madeline Kahn” is hardly that intimate in three-and-a-half minutes. The late, lamented performerdeserves better than that. The pilot of the TV spinoff, “Black Bart” is here too, with Lou Gossettin the lead role. There are deleted scenes, which are at least partly the edited versions of the filmthat showed up on TV. The campfire scene, rendered surreal by the absence of farting noises,is arguably funnier in this form. Finally, there’s the theatrical trailer. The menu’s main screenis animated and scored.
A nice edition, and I may perhaps be in a minority in finding much of Brooks’ work moretiresome than amusing. Those with fond memories of the movie will find it well served by theaudio and visual transfer.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- “Back in the Saddle” Documentary
- “Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn” Excerpt
- “Black Bart” Pilot Episode
- Additonal Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer