Leading off with fiery credits in the color of cheddar cheese and a whip-cracking parody of Frankie Laine's Rawhide theme song, Mel Brooks bursts onto the Western plains; but the terrain gives way, unpredictably, and opens up to allow any whim: a street brawl that spills across the Warner Brothers studio lot, onto a Busby Berkeley-ish musical sound stage, and into the employees' cafeteria; a lispy, lumpy Dietrich impersonator (Madeline Kahn), droning "I'm Tired"; and a camera-conscious villain (Harvey Korman) who tells his gang on the eve of his Waterloo, "You are risking your lives, while I am risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Brooks, a modest fellow, never tries to push his nonsense into satire, although he freely kicks around a few steamy ideas about the bigotry in the American melting pot, the muscle-bound and cross-eyed blundering that goes by the name of Progress, and the clichés in Hollywood movies. He understands these ideas to be commonplace, basically, and settles for the comfortable satisfaction of doing the gags to a turn. And if in some stretches the comic invention seems to flag and to fall back rather desperately on bathroom humor and locker-room language, the excuse is the intention of always at least being uninhibited, which is somehow or other related to being funny. Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder. (1974) — Duncan Shepherd
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