Synopsis: Comedy icons John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star in the outrageously funny musical comedy The Blues Brothers. After the release of Jake Blues (Belushi) from prison, he and brother Elwood (Aykroyd) take their blues band back on the road in an attempt to raise money for the orphanage where they were raised. Havoc ensues as the brothers seek redemption on their “mission from God”. Directed by John Landis (National Lampoon’s Animal House), the soul-stirring comedy classic features musical performances by blues legends Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway.
eyelights: the concept. the amusing cameos. the vibrant musical performances. the infectious music.
eyesores: the caliber of the actors.
“We’re on a mission from God”
I’m a HUGE fan of ‘The Blues Brothers’. I first saw it on a miniscule black and white TV in my grandmother’s living room one evening and it stuck with me. The scene I fell upon was the moment when The Blues Brothers try to escape Bob’s Country Bunker, pursed by Bob and The Good Ole Boys. It was silly, manic and raucous. At that age, it was perfect.
I didn’t see the whole film. In fact, I don’t recall how much of it I saw at the time. But I remembered that scene so vividly that, when in my late teens, I sought it out. And once I got my hands on it, it became a film I would go to time and time again for laughs, action and fantastic music galore. To me, ‘The Blues Brothers’ is the best musical ever made!
(Of course, I notoriously dislike musicals)
Primarily, the film is a comedy. It’s the story of two brothers, blues musicians, who decide to bring their now-defunct band back together for one last show so that they may raise enough funds to save the orphanage they were raised in. A couple of ethically-ambiguous rascals, they soon get into all sorts of trouble with the law, ex-girlfriends, other musicians and the American Nazi Party.
Aside from the ironic and absurd humour that John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd delivered (as our leads, Jake and Elwood Blues), the central elements of the picture are the blisteringly hot performances by James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and John Lee Hooker. I’m not even a fan of blues and soul, but these performances are absolutely smoking!
It’s no wonder that the film is credited for helping to revive their careers, after languishing for much of the ’70s: each one of those acts makes tap your foot, shake your booty and/or sing along despite yourself. They’re that powerful. The fact is that I probably wouldn’t have even considered exploring any of them if not for ‘The Blue Brothers’. God, I sure would have missed out.
What would life be without Brown’s sweaty, manic stagecraft, Calloway’s silky smoothness, Charles lively piano, Franklin’s passionate voice, and Hooker’s groove? Those sequences, which were contrived into the picture, are all highlights of the film for me. I look forward to each one (even though the Hooker one is all too brief). They’re pure gold, even if the productions are pretty loose.
But the film is so full of highlights, I don’t even know where to begin:
Corrections Officer: “One Timex digital watch, broken. One unused prophylactic. One soiled. One black suit jacket, one pair black suit pants. One hat. Black. One pair of sunglasses. $23.07. Sign here.”
- The epically long yet sparse introduction to The Blues Brothers. Such build up, and for a mere introduction to the characters. Absurd and perfect.
Jake: “Well thank you, pal. The day I get outta prison, my own brother picks me up in a police car!”
- The introduction of the Bluesmobile. The whole exchange between Jake and Elwood is absurdly funny, as is the final argument that Elwood makes to convince Jake that he made the right choice.
Curtis: “Boys, you got to learn not to talk to nuns that way.”
- The visit to see “The Penguin”. Crude and rude vs proper and religious… brilliant! It’s slapsticky and moronic and that’s what makes it so bloody great.
Jake: “How often does the train go by?”
Elwood: “So often that you won’t even notice it.”
- Elwood’s ratty old apartment, filled with the old and downtrodden, which is located right next to a train track. It’s puny, it shakes and is drowned out by noise 24-7. What a find!
Trooper La Fong: “They broke my watch!”
- The delirious demolition derby through the mall. It’s so outrageous that I can’t help but laugh at every crash, twist and comment throughout.
Jake: “If you say no, Elwood and I will come here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week.”
- The Blues Brothers’ vulgar visit to Chez Paul. I’ll forever have Belushi’s offensive “How much for your women?” stuck in my head. So wrong. So, so wrong.
Elwood: “What kind of music do you usually have here?”
Claire: “Oh, we got both kinds. We got country and western.”
- The band’s first gig, which had them caged in on stage, forced to play anything resembling country music in order to survive. Their selections and performances are priceless!
Police Dispatcher: “Use of unnecessary violence in the apprehension of the Blues Brothers HAS been approved.”
- The ridiculously excessive closing chase, which involved a combination of more car pile-ups and more military units than any other film in history. It’s of such scale that I can’t help but be impressed and amused by the gall of the filmmakers.
Jake: “It’s good to see you, sweetheart.”
- The recurring cameos by Carrie Fisher, whose character fails one outrageous murder attempt on the brothers Blues after the next. Each attempt outdoes the previous – too much!
And this is all within a movie that was built around musical numbers, in order to highlight its R&B stars – this is a movie with very little story, stretched out over the course of well over two hours (after being cut from its original length, no less!). So, as you can imagine, between the utterly engaging musical number and these highlights, there’s not much that leaves me cold in ‘The Blues Brothers’.
But that’s not all! Aside from Carrie Fisher, the film is chock full of cameos and minor appearances by a bevy of celebrities – some whose stars were already fading and some who were on the rise, but who are all remembered very fondly: John Candy, Kathleen Freeman, Henry Gibson, Steve Lawrence, Charles Napier, Frank Oz, Paul Reubens, Steven Spielberg, Twiggy and Steven Williams.
Really, I can’t praise ‘The Blues Brothers’ enough. Granted, it’s convoluted, it’s sloppy in many areas (the acting isn’t exactly stellar, for instance), and one could easily call it mindless. But it’s so much fun; it’s an exhilarating romp. And that’s what counts the most: it doesn’t lack humour, zest and spirit. It’s no wonder that it was a hit and has remained a cult classic some three decades later.
Date of viewing: January 13, 2014