Movie Review: The Blues Brothers (1980)
“The show that really hits the road.”
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Director: John Landis
Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cab Calloway
Synopsis: Jake Blues, just out from prison, puts together his old band to save the Catholic home where he and brother Elwood were raised.
The Blues Brothers is a kind of fortunate combination of unexpected partnerships and musical influences that, on paper at least, really shouldn’t have worked, but which somehow earned itself a place in pop culture that still exists today. The fact that an ill-conceived sequel was green-lighted fifteen years after the original was released, and that it bombed at the box office, is testimony to both the enduring popularity of Jake and Elwood, and the film’s uniqueness.
Dan Ackroyd (1941, Get On Up) has never since looked as thin as he did as Elwood Blues, brother of Jake (John Belushi – Animal House, Old Boyfriends), whom he meets outside the gates of Joliet prison in a second-hand squad car at the beginning of the movie. The brothers go directly to the mission/orphanage where they were raised, a forbidding place filled with prominently positioned images of a bleeding Jesus on the crucifix, and run by a nun (Kathleen Freeman – Marriage on the Rocks, Myra Breckinridge) – or the penguin, as Elwood repeatedly refers to her – who is far more frightening than any prison warden. Discovering that the mission will be closed down unless they can raise $5,000 (without resorting to crime), the brothers embark ‘on a mission from God’ which involves ‘putting the band back together.’ And while they are doing so, they are stalked by a mystery lady (Carrie Fisher – Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back) whose highly explosive attempts to murder the brothers are never referred to by the men as they brush themselves off and continue with their mission…
Apparently based on a sketch from the American comedy show Saturday Night Live, the Blues Brothers sometimes has the appearance of a film conceived over a few beers (and other recreational substances), and it is this that gives the film its unique nuttiness. Unbelievable things happen in a believable world: jilted lovers stalk their former boyfriends with bazookas, buildings collapse on people but nobody is seriously injured, one lone (and clapped out) motor evades a legion of squad cars. The film refuses to take itself seriously and won’t allow a serious moment to intrude on its madcap mission, so there’s no love interest and there’s no message – which is a relief these days when every Hollywood film, no matter how low it aims, must, with a total lack of subtlety, ram some moralistic message down its audience’s throat. It’s liberally peppered with some terrific blues numbers, and the action jumps between old-style song and dance sequences and hair-raising car chases that cause the destruction of one shopping mall and at least two dozen police cars. There are also a couple of huge explosions thrown in for good measure.
The Blues Brothers is a film of inspired lunacy, a happy accident that won’t be repeated. Everybody has heard of this film – that’s how big its reputation is – and films don’t earn that kind of reputation without having something going for them…
(Reviewed 10th September 2005)
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