Musicals are among my least favorite films to watch and lately I’ve had to ask myself why. When I was younger, watching a musical was boring to me because I couldn’t suspend the idea that once one person starts singing then everyone else would. It didn’t make much sense to me. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate them more and more. In fact, I was really anticipating Respect and West Side Story that were due to release during the Christmas holiday and instead they were delayed until 2021. But in the spirit of musicals, let’s take a trip down memory lane and return to one of the most entertaining musicals that was released forty years ago this year- The Blues Brothers!
Starting life as a SNL sketch, the so-called Blues Brothers was created by comedic icons Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi. There’s an interesting backstory as to how this pair was formed and after their debut album was released in 1978, their origins were born. The film adaptation was released in 1980 and became a success and still ranks high among being one of the best SNL films ever made. So, why is this film so iconic? How has it aged over the years? And, if you aren’t a musical movie-goer, then why should you see this film?
The story of The Blues Brothers is fairly simple. Jake Blues (John Belushi), or better known as “Joliet Jake” has just been released from prison. His brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) picks him up in a “police car” (or the Bluesmobile) after trading in the Cadillac for a microphone. He got the new ride at a police auction. They travel back to the city of Chicago to visit the orphanage from which they were raised only to learn that the church is due to close for good unless they pay the sum of five-thousand dollars in property taxes. Afterwards Jake has an epiphany and realizes that if he and Elwood can get the band back together, they can raise the money in time to save the orphanage. Consider it a sign from God, or a mission if you will.
The plan sounds nice but the band broke up and have moved on to greener pastures. So, not only do Jake and Elwood have to raise the money in a matter of days but they need to find their band members, book a gig and perform all before the doors to the orphanage are closed. What transpires is a series of mishaps, shoot-outs and car chases galore! The Blues Brothers is a musical but in many ways is a comedy, an aspiring drama and a homage to some of the greatest Blues artists in history which include James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway and the legendary Ray Charles.
The movie makes a note to give us plenty of musical and dancing sequences but these are done so in a way that’s uplifting and enjoyable. I’m not saying that others movies in this genre don’t do the same but in regards to The Blues Brothers, I found myself smiling and enjoying myself when I first viewed the film when I was in my pre-teens. As we follow the brothers’ journey, we get to meet these iconic singers and each of their sequences adds more enjoyment and heart into the mix. While that is all fun, problems arise when the police get involved, not to mention some local Neo-Nazis, a country western band and a mysterious woman (played by Carrie Fisher)- all hell-bent on killing the brothers!
Director John Landis (who co-wrote the script with Dan Aykroyd) previously hit the screen with National Lampoons Animal House and brings this musical number full circle with a script that energetic, the cast is wonderful and energy level is extreme! What makes this movie standout is just how funny it is plus did I mention that’s it’s quite over-the-top? Well, that may be putting it nicely. With the singing and dancing sequences, this movie did break an astonishing record. During the production, a total of one-hundred and four cars were wrecked! The sequel surpassed that record eighteen years later by just one car!
While I’ll won’t mention many specific scenes in the movie, I do want to give a special mention to Carrie Fisher who plays a mysterious woman who appears from time to time and is trying her best to kill these brothers. We aren’t sure what her motives are, but when these moments do happen, the brothers shrug it off as if nothing happens. It may be odd for first time viewers of the film, but no matter what, it’s funny nonetheless. When one thinks of the term, over-the-top, you could picture the Fast and Furious movies or perhaps that goofy Sylvester Stallone movie about arm wrestling, but over-the-top represented in this film is the lengths at which people will go in order to capture and/or kill Jake and Elwood. It’s a lot of fun and in speaking of that, the rampage in the mall is one of the scenes most iconic, not to mention the chase that occurs in downtown Chicago! All of which I love!
You would think with a movie that has everything going for it; the singing, the dancing, the musical numbers and artists that it would’ve been a smash hit! It opened to fair tickets sales but was over-shadowed by The Empire Strikes Back. It would later rank as the tenth highest grossing film of 1980 and ironically, earned more money overseas than it did in the United States. The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World both hold the title as being among the best films adapted from a SNL Sketch. Both films are great and both are full of laughs and entertainment. A sequel was released eighteen years later but performed poorly at the box office and critically.
John Belushi, one of the great stars from SNL and headliner for The Blues Brothers died less than two years after this film was released but even so, no sequel without him would have the same impact. Apart from the musical numbers, The Blues Brothers is best remembered for its chase sequences. Something that makes Bullitt look tame by today’s standards. The Matrix Reloaded would go on to beat the record set by The Blues Brothers 2000 for wrecked vehicles and while that’s fine, The Blues Brothers still features one of the best and memorable wrecks ever shot on film!
This movie is filled with such excitement but if you peer into behind the scenes you’ll see that it wasn’t a walk in the part. The film suffered countless delays and was even refused a massive theatrical release from Mann Theatres, which dominated the film distribution in the western part of the United States. Despite numerous setbacks and a mediocre box office return in the United States, The Blues Brothers has gained a cult following. For a film that’s now forty years old, The Blues Brothers has certainly aged, but like a fine wine.
Whether you like musicals or not, The Blues Brothers can be enjoyed by everybody. From its wacky script, iconic singers and performers, to the over-the-top action sequences and the final moment when the military is brought in to restore order- The Blues Brothers is a musical that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. While a majority of the cast is long gone, we can remember them in this movie that really inspired the craziness we see in a lot of movies today and we have to give credit to who brought it to the table. John Landis may not have had the best luck with this film, but for the fans, it’s the perfect treat! And to think that all of this trouble and heartache could’ve been avoided if Elwood just would’ve stopped at that yellow traffic light!