Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 1979, Steven Spielberg released 1941, loosely based on the Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1943 and the bombardment of Ellwood. Starring Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Belushi, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Toshiro Mifune, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Treat Williams, Nancy Allen, Eddie Deezen, Bobby Di Cicco, Diane Kay, Slim Pickens, Wendie Jo Sperber, John Candy, Perry Lang, Patti LuPone, Frank McRae, Michael McKean, David Lander, Joe Flaherty, Ignatius Wolfington, Lucille Benson, and Elisha Cook Jr., the film grossed $94.9 million at the box office.
In the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States is on edge and Californians believe another attack is imminent. In the meantime, a submarine full of Japanese soldiers surfaces off the coast, looking to attack Hollywood.
Though it’s become a cult classic in recent years, 1941 is not a good film. Despite some funny parts, the overall product is subpar. It’s plot consists of throwing random events together and doing so poorly. Following Pearl Harbor, Japanese soldiers surface of the coast of California looking for the location of Hollywood. This leads them to kidnap a man in the hopes he tells them where it is. At the same time, a flying school dropout is determined to bed a woman whose inhibitions are nonexistent in the air, and a party is destroyed due to rivalry between the military branches along with the panic of what people believe to be a second attack. It’s all too hard to follow and though there are connectors that tie the events together, they feel pretty absent. What appears to be the most absurd aspect to this plot is the Japanese are victorious in spite of their bumbling. The Americans level Los Angeles and shoot down two of their own planes, giving the Japanese a victory when all they did was destroy a fair in the middle of nowhere.
Similarly, there are too many characters to keep track of and while some may stand out a bit more than others, none of them really have any chance to shine. One of those notable characters is Wild Bill Kelso, seen in his first scene touching down to refuel his fighter jet at a gas station. Belushi is able to bring his usual swagger to the film, presenting once again a character who does not know the meaning of the words “overkill” or “limits.” Moreover, Hollis P. Wood has some moments. He’s captured by the Japanese and refuses to reveal Hollywood’s location, going so far as to eating a toy compass upon seeing the interest of the Japanese. Further, his nickname is “Holly,” allowing him to give a response of Hollywood being right in front of the commander who asks.
Still, there is some great music to be found within the soundtrack. The film begins exactly like a previous film directed by Spielberg, utilizing the same music before the audience realizes what’s rearing up is a submarine instead of a shark. Plenty of other scenes have music where John Williams’ signature style is evident and the viewer can hear compositions he would later retool and use in future films. All of this is combined with the main theme, a score evoking the feeling of actual war drama. A score this good is wasted in a film this mediocre.
The film does have some good comedic moments able to stand on their own as well, such as the depiction of how the Hollywoodland sign lost the “land.” Additionally, the aforementioned opening scene is the exact same as the film it’s parodying, going so far as to using the same actress. The scene ends in a funny manner too. The submarine is diving, yet the lookout is enamored with the woman and refuses to come into the craft. Ward Douglas’ attempts to shoot the submarine by manning the cannon the military brought to his house is also funny. As the film closes, the only part of the house still standing is the door.
Bold indicates reception of award/recognition
- Best Cinematography
- Best Sound
- Best Effects, Visual Effects
Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA – Saturn Awards
- Best DVD/Blu-Ray Collection (As part of the “Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection.”)
The Stinkers Bad Movie Awards
- Worst Fake Accent: Female (Penny Marshall)
- Worst Supporting Actor (John Belushi)