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The Blues Brothers (Universal, 1980)

Internet Movie Database - A Top 250 Film - Ranked 87th (5/26/97) - You may link here for the IMDb entry

There were three contributing factors that kept the Chrysler Corporation from going bankrupt in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

First, the federal government gave a lot of loans to Chrysler.

Second, "The Dukes of Hazzard" bought a lot of Chrysler products - to crash.

But in terms of sudden impact, it's hard to top the fact that nearly 100,000 Chryslers were destroyed during the filming of The Blues Brothers. (Okay, maybe not 100,000 - it just seemed that way.)

There was certainly enough wanton destruction of automobiles in The Blues Brothers. But Chrysler did not mind. Why?

First, let's face it, the Bluesmobile held up very, very well. In its first incarnation, it was a police squad car. Then, it jumped a bridge, annihilated a shopping mall, beat the best police cars of that day in chase after chase, and generally put up with much abuse. It only died when the "Mission from God" was fulfilled.

Second, Chrysler needed the money - Lee Iacocca knew he wanted to build the K-cars, but needed money to do the development. (Given what the K-cars turned out to be, he would have been better off building a soapbox derby racer.)

And third, the Illinois Nazi Party was destroyed while driving Fords, including the infamous Ford Pinto. A great idea for a subliminal message, from Chrysler's point of view...(Actually, this is more ironic than one might think, considering that Henry Ford did have a picture of Adolf Hitler on his desk.)

Trivia question: What song did Murph put on the tape player when "Murph and the Magic Tones" took a break? (Answer later...)

But wait - there is more to The Blues Brothers than maniacal hyperexcessive destruction. The Blues Brothers was a fair musical in its own right. Sure, it was no Gigi or Singin' In The Rain, but The Blues Brothers doesn't have to be.

You don't compare musicals to dramas - they are two different genres. The Blues Brothers is simply a highly entertaining musical, with good cinematography, fairly good editing, and reasonably good performances by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi.

There is just enough plot to move the story along - not too much to get in the way of the music, or the stars. And what performers! Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Cab Calloway take their star turns, with great effect. Franklin does a great job recovering "Think" - it's better than her original. Ray Charles performs well (although shooting at the shoplifting boy is a stretch). And Calloway brings down the house with "Minnie the Moocher". His recurring role as mentor to Jake and Elwood is well done also. James Brown and Chaka Khan lead an uplifting (literally) choir session at the Triple Rock Church - wow!

As for the band - genius. That's all I can say - sheer unadulterated genius! "Sweet Lou" Marini is my personal favorite - I always like good sax. Not that the others do badly - I just like a good session of sax. Marini delivers, especially on "Think", walking up and down the counter. Aretha and "Sweet Lou" - what a combination!

The Blues Brothers references other musical highlights (and lowlights) rather liberally. Mancini's "Peter Gunn" is just one of the references which are used to great effect throughout the film. "I'm Walkin'", "Hold On (I'm Comin')", and "Choose Me Baby" are just three good examples. I detest elevator music and Muzak. Therefore, I got a particular thrill when Jake and Elwood sabotage the elevator, silencing the elevator music that was playing in it.

Trivia answer: "Just The Way You Are", by Billy Joel - in a Muzak-ed version.

Can you find the two famous directors playing bit roles in The Blues Brothers? I'll tell you who they were a bit later, but I'll give you a hint - both were government employees. It wasn't John Landis - he had a Hitchcock-like cameo, as a state trooper in the mall chase.

The Blues Brothers does not only take aim at Nazis, of course. It also lambastes, in turn, the Catholic Church, the Chicago Board of Education, the police, the Muppets (why else do you think that the Bluesmobile just happened to enter the Osco at the exact moment someone was asking for a Miss Piggy doll?), country music, and (since they're from Illinois) Wisconsin. Usually, this is done well.

The script, written by Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis, is quite minimalistic, with just enough plot to help the music. Casting was otherwise inventive - remember the Flower Child from "Laugh-In"? He (Henry Gibson) is now the head Nazi. John Candy played a DMV official, but well in the background. Carrie Fisher, in a nice twist, plays a woman scorned trying to get even - to great effect. (If she only had those weapons with her in Star Wars, the Empire would have been destroyed in the first 30 minutes.)

As for Belushi and Aykroyd, they play Joliet Jake and Elwood very well. Usually understated, with a bit of fire from Belushi as needed (a good script helps here).

If you want to see a socially uplifting film, with great dramatic value, listen to Siskel and Ebert - watch Dead Man Walking. If you want to just relax, listen to some good music, watch a lot of mild cartoon-like violence, and laugh a lot, all at the same time, watch The Blues Brothers. Siskel and Ebert probably will not admit this, but they probably enjoyed this film. If you haven't seen the uncut by commercials version in at least six months, watch it again.

(By the way, those two famous directors? Frank Oz (corrections officer at Joliet Prison; ironically, also the voice of Miss Piggy), and Steven Spielberg (clerk at Cook County Clerks office.)

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