Film Review: The Blues Brothers
In 1980, John Landis released The Blues Brothers based on characters developed from “The Blues Brothers” musical sketch on Saturday Night Live. Starring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Cropper, Donald Dunn, Murphy Dunne, Willie Hall, Tom Malone, Blue Lou Marini, Matt Murphy, Alan Rubin, Cab Calloway, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, John Candy, Kathleen Freeman, Twiggy, Frank Oz, Paul Reubens, Steven Spielberg, De’voreaux White, and Joe Walsh, the film grossed $115.2 million at the box office. One of the most expensive comedies ever produced, the film won the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing and Sound Effects as well as placed #14 on Total Film magazine’s “List of the 50 Greatest Comedy Films of All Time” and #69 on Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies.”
Following his release from prison, Jake Blues and his brother Elwood visit the orphanage where they grew up to visit the nun that runs it. During the meeting, they find out that the orphanage is slated to be closed down if its property tax bill can’t be paid off by the end of the month. It’s $5,000 and the end of the month is in 11 days so the brothers try to figure out a way to save the place and Jake has an epiphany at a church, causing the brothers to see getting the band back together as a mission from God.
The first film spin-off of Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers is an enjoyably humorous and very well-done film. The story is just as crazy and over-the-top as everything contained within as the two brothers go from a traffic stop in the beginning of the film to being chased by not only every available officer in the state of Illinois, but SWAT teams and the army as well. The brothers may not have been the first ones to have a “mission from God” in a movie, but their mission seems to have been the most memorable. Really, it seems that once Jake sees the light and has the epiphany to get the band back together, nothing is able to stop them from carrying it out. Everyone shooting at them misses, everyone chasing them gets wrecked and even their car, which was a lost cause to begin with, holds out until the very end. Notably about that car, it collapsed in a heap once the brothers arrived at their destination, only proving that they had some sort of divine assistance to get to said destination.
The whole film is great, but it’s really that climactic chase that helps to solidify it, starting with the iconic line that it’s 106 miles to Chicago, they’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and they’re wearing sunglasses. What results is a high speed pursuit that tops the one in the beginning of the film when they’re being chased by two squad cars through a mall because here, it begins with all the officers in the state on their tails along with the Good Old Boys, most of whom end up in heaping wrecks, before being joined by the Illinois Nazis out for revenge, and the previously mentioned SWAT and army officers. The anti-climactic ending is also hilarious with the two brothers being put in handcuffs and facing the barrel of all the weapons the officers have the second they pay off the bill.
Yet, the humor of the anti-climax isn’t the only thing that makes this film as funny as it is. There’s something funny happening practically in every scene, including in how the film treats all the cameos. It’s really interesting to have every single person shooting in this film horribly missing their target except for Ray Charles, who shot to miss and succeeded at doing so. Another great cameo is the mystery woman played by Fisher who shows up every now and then to try and kill the brothers, only to reveal herself as Jake’s ex-fiancée and her reason for attempting to blow them up with a rocket launcher, torch them with a flamethrower and shoot them with a submachine gun is because Jake left her at the altar. What’s really great about the humor in both of these is that they don’t outright rely on the star power of the cameo, they just happen to be popular actors or musicians. After all, the music store could have been run by any blind person, Jakes ex-fiancée could have been anyone and the charismatic preacher in the beginning didn’t have to be James Brown. The jokes could have worked on their own, the cameos just added to them.
There is a lot of humor that doesn’t revolve around cameo appearances as well. Take the fact that Elwood was also out to get Cheese Whiz from one of the transients. It’s hilarious because it’s vague as to whether or not the act was blatant product placement, that it was the culmination of a scene the audience didn’t see or whether or not it was just one of Elwood’s errands. Yet another great moment is the aforementioned chase through the mall with Jake and Elwood admiring the mall as if they’re on a leisurely Sunday drive.
All of it combines to be a really great film, the success of which is probably what led to other fun spin-offs from Saturday Night Live. If Landis hadn’t made the film, it’s possible that Wayne’s World, Coneheads and MacGruber might never have been made.
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