Film Face-off: 'Blazing Saddles' vs. 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'

Film Face-off: 'Blazing Saddles' vs. 'A Million Ways to Die in the West'

Jun 02, 2014

There can be only one. Since 1974, the answer to the question, "What is the best Western comedy?" has been Blazing Saddles. Whether he likes it or not, Seth MacFarlane's new film A Million Ways to Die in the West will be compared to Mel Brooks' classic movie, and not just by me in this Film Face-off. For those who are already upset that I'm not talking about Shanghai Noon, City Slickers, Wagons East and The Shakiest Gun in the West, I don't know what to tell you. Oh wait, I do... stop it. Now, on to the battle in the wild, wild west.

 

Plot/Lead

Blazing Saddles

In order to get rid of a town on a future railroad path, a corrupt politician (Harvey Korman) hires a black sheriff (Cleavon Little), who is more cunning than originally thought.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

A fast-talking, cowardly sheep farmer (Seth MacFarlane) gets dumped, but then a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) rides into town to help him win his lady back.

Winner: Blazing Saddles. Did you groan just a little when you read the plot to A Million Ways? It's pretty basic. Also, Albert (MacFarlane) is very much trying to survive in the frontier, but it seems he's occasionally arrogant, which doesn't quite fit. Speaking of arrogant, I don't know if anyone is cockier than Bart in Blazing Saddles. If this category were simply "Lead" this might be a tie. I can't think of another lead character who has zero self-doubt and doesn't evolve. I understand it's a farce, but that normally still means the lead does something besides stick out his chest. He literally has the bravado of Bugs Bunny, and even imitates him in one scene in case you didn't notice. The plot of Blazing has many opportunities for cutting-edge comedy. The plot of Million does not, because we've seen this basic story in many different genres.

 

Villains

Blazing Saddles

Hedley Lamarr (Korman) wants to control everything, especially an expanding railroad. At first he has Mongo (Alex Karras) to help him, but then recruits thugs, outlaws, Klansmen and Nazis.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Clinch (Liam Neeson) and his gang like to steal. They're fine with killing anyone who gets in their way. Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) is a business man who gets Albert's girl.

Winner: Blazing Saddles. I had this odd idea that Neeson would be a funny villain since this is a comedy. Nope, that's not what MacFarlane had in mind. Clinch is a completely ordinary evil guy. There is a joke or two at the butt of his expense (literally), but Neeson doesn't get to play with anything fun here. The same can be said with his nameless gang. Foy at least has a mustache, and one memorable scene we'll talk about in the fifth category. Hedley is hilarious. It doesn't all make sense, but it will make you laugh.

I don't care what this sounds like, but I could watch Korman hump that statue for hours. OK, I care a little bit, let's say I enjoy watching him do it in the film and that's the appropriate amount of time. Having the great Slim Pickens as his sidekick Taggart is just the cherry on top of the already amazing sundae. Throw in some Nazis and you have an easy win here. Brooks realized there's a reason to have a funny villain in a comedy, but MacFarlane was trying to get some other emotion out of the audience with Neeson and it just doesn't work.

 

The Others

Blazing Saddles

Jim (Gene Wilder) is also known as the Waco Kid. Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn) is a seductress for hire. Governor William J. Lepetomane (Mel Brooks) is an idiot. Everyone in the town of Rock Ridge has the last name of Johnson.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) plays Albert's best friend, who dates a whore (Sarah Silverman). Louise (Amanda Seyfried) is Albert's ex-girlfriend. Anna (Charlize Theron) is the wife of Clinch, and shows up to help Albert shoot, love and laugh.

Winner: Blazing Saddles. Two "others" are the best part of Blazing Saddles. Without a doubt, Wilder shows off his comic genius, so much so that t's my favorite supporting comedic performance. John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles is my second. He does deadpan so well, which is showcased perfectly with him being the fastest gun in the West. Kahn is Kahn, which is better than almost any other comedic woman. I hate Brooks' performance here. Nothing he does is funny, which is so odd considering he probably wrote every line for himself.

With A Million Ways, Silverman seems like the perfect fit as the nonchalant, sweet prostitute, but it gets a little redundant. Seyfried has big eyes, and that's the only good joke for her in the film. I like the character of Anna, but even Albert calls her out for being a little too perfect... at the perfect time.

 

Music

Blazing Saddles

"I'm Tired," "The French Mistake" and "I Get a Kick Out of You" are the main songs that are remembered in the film. The score is good.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

They are confident enough with the opening number to simply play it with the opening credits, with nothing funny added. "If You’ve Only Got a Moustache" is the signature song.

Winner: Blazing Saddles. "I'm Tired" would win this category all by itself. It's phenomenal because of the satire, and Kahn's performance. "I Get a Kick Out of You" from Little is a nice twist, but then "Camptown Ladies" is a little done to death. "Mustache Song" is an amusing song that doesn't quite have the impact MacFarlane thinks it does. This is really shocking given the talent MacFarlane normally has for a song-and-dance number. It definitely wasn't strong enough for a second time around with singing sheep. The theme song "A Million Ways to Die" is performed by Alan Jackson, and occurs during the end credits, so it doesn't really count.

 

Fart/Poop

Blazing Saddles

A group of villainous cowboys sit around and eat beans.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Foy has an upset stomach and finds cowboy hats for relief.

Winner: Blazing Saddles. Fart and poop jokes are juvenile, but when done well they make even the most serious people cackle with delight. For me, Blazing Saddles is delightfully silly. I'm laughing by the fifth fart no matter what. Having Taggart react to the farts makes it even better. With Foy, there's such a thing as overkill. His stomach is upset, he doesn't have time to run to an outhouse, so he grabs a cowboy hat. It's cringe worthy, and on-and-off funny. The best part is when Foy slowly reaches for another man's hat, and it gets slapped away a few times. Did we need to see the poop at the end of the scene? My vote is no. Beans once again prove to be a magical fruit in this category win.

 

OVERALL WINNER: Blazing Saddles beats A Million Ways to Die in the West, 5-0.

Blazing Saddles wins in a clean sweep. I'll be honest, this is slightly rigged. Here are some bonus categories for everyone who thinks it's unfair that Million didn't win anything. For awhile I had the category "Cameos" included. Blazing has Count Basie, Don Deluise and many opportunities for more. Clearly Brooks didn't want that.

Spoiler alert! A Million Ways to Die in the West has Ewan McGregor, John Michael Higgins, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Maher, Gilbert Gottfried, Dennis Haskins and Christopher Lloyd. If I used the category "Drugs" it might have been a tie. Wilder smoking pot with the high-pitched voice is amazing, but only a few seconds long. McFarlane having Albert be a nervous drug user leads to some pretty good things.

A Million Ways to Die in the West could become a classic, but only because there aren't many above-average Western comedies. It has moments, like the joke about nobody smiling in frontier photos. More often than not, though, it runs those jokes into the ground. The one thing it could have learned from Blazing Saddles, more than anything else, is the proper running time. Blazing Saddles is 93 minutes, and A Million Ways to Die in the West is a bloated 117 minutes.

 

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