Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Blues Brothers is the first true Saturday Night Live movie.  Created by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi for the shoe, they were a pretty damn great blues show band backed by some fantastic musicians and very quickly, they became one of the most popular recurring pieces on SNL.

After the success of Animal House, Belushi's star was on the rise so it only made sense for the characters to take their act to the big screen.  Directed by John Landis, the movie is a huge, sprawling musical comedy that is, as most Landis movies tend to be, loaded with cameos, amazingly excessive and over the top.  It also happens to be a very entertaining comedy, let's take a closer look.
  • First off, Belushi and Aykroyd are pitch perfect in their roles.  Mellow and cool, nothing fazes them (though Belushi is given a few moments to do his over the top shouting routine) and while having two unflappable heroes might hurt a movie in some cases, it works here simply because they're both so damn funny.
  • Landis gives a ton of great musicians small to supporting roles here.  Cab Calloway; James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles have good roles and there are a bunch of others.
  • Other solid cameos/small roles are Carrie Fisher as a mysterious woman who keeps trying to kill the boys; John Candy is funny as a detective after them (they tend to pick up enemies like a dog picks up fleas including every cop in Illinois, a country group and a club owner they piss off and a bunch of neo-Nazis led by Henry Gibson), Frank Oz is funny as a prison guard in the scene and Steven Spielberg appears at the end.
  • The Bluesmobile is another fantastic highlight, an old cop car that ends up doing some very impressive stunts.  In Aykroyd's original script there was a lot of complex exposition about it, it was his first script and he hadn't quite gotten the hang of the format yet.
  • Like most 80's comedies, the plot is rather paper thin (the guys get their band back together in order to raise money to save the orphanage they grew up in) and for the most part it works just fine since the musical numbers are so great.
  • Twenty five minutes in and we get a fantastic car chase that ends up going through a shopping mall.  It's a hell of a showstopper (one of the best car chases of all time, actually) and is one of the reasons the film ended up being one of the most expensive comedies ever made.
  • Carrie Fisher is quite amusing as the mystery woman who turns out to be an old lover of Jake's (Belushi, Aykroyd is Elwood).  She goes after them with rocket launchers, explosives, a flame thrower and a machine gun, it's quite over the top.
  • The "getting the band back together" sequence is an enjoyable one that includes a great soul number from Aretha Franklin (complete with her own backup chorus), an even better sequence with Ray Charles (who apparently can make spontaneous dance sequences in a two block radius occur) and your standard "screwing up a nice restaurant" sequence that no good raunchy 80's comedy should go without.
  • On a side note, the 132 minutes run time (the extended 148 minute version is also available on the same DVD) makes this film great for putting off studying or any other work related activities.  And yes, I did fall in love with this movie all over again in college.
  • The "Rawhide" number is a favorite of mine, from Aykroyd singing to Belushi stoically providing backup and swinging a bullwhip around.  It's pretty damn entertaining.
  • The big concert number is awesome with Cab Calloway doing a great rendition of Minnie the Moocher as everyone the guys have annoyed enters the hotel.
  • I'm not ashamed to admit the bit where the brothers are introed gives me chills every time I watch it.  It's just wonderfully done and I can only imagine how the scene must have played in 1980 when the film was in theaters.
  • I also would like to know how many takes were ruined by the crowd cheering instead of the dead silence they have to start off with.
  • Belushi's ranting explanation to Carrie Fisher to get her to not kill him and Elwood is a classic for the man.  He was always great at overly excited ranting and here he's quite hilarious.  He's really missed.
  • The scene is also the only time we see either Belushi or Aykroyd without the sunglasses.  Hell, Aykroyd keeps his on for the entire time.
  • The last car chase is even better than the mall chase (it's also one of the best car chases of all time) and it continues the tradition of John Landis movies having huge, chaotic finales.  The stuns are fantastic, there a re a few laughs and the overall effect is quite good.
  • Another touch of Landis films I love is his little gag with the closing Universal Studios title card.  "Ask for Babs" is a classic.
 The film is a loud, chaotic, enjoyable ride that is just plain fun.  Definitely worth a look if you haven't seen it.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.