Directed By: John Landis
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cab Calloway
Tag line: "They'll Never Get Caught. They're On a Mission From God"
Trivia: While shooting the opening scene, security guards at the prison fired shots at the helicopter filming the overhead scenes, thinking it was trying to spy on the structure
What started as a skit on TV’s Saturday Night Live in 1976, with comedians John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd playing a couple of musical siblings billed as the Blues Brothers, would balloon into something much bigger over the next few years. After several more appearances on SNL (including one in 1978, when they were billed as the “musical guests”), the Blues Brothers released an album titled Briefcase Full of Blues, which became a smash hit. I remember kids in school talking about that album, mostly because it featured John Belushi, who had recently become a big star thanks to his role in Animal House. Once Briefcase Full of Blues went double platinum and reached #1 on the Billboard Charts, it was only a matter of time before the characters would make their move to the big screen. And thus, The Blues Brothers was born.
Directed by John Landis, The Blues Brothers is the story of Jake (Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Aykroyd), two brothers who grew up in St. Helen’s of the Blessed Shroud, a Catholic orphanage in downtown Chicago, where they learned the finer points of Rhythm and Blues music from Curtis (Cab Calloway), an employee of the orphanage who was like a father to them. Following Jake’s release from prison, where he served three years for armed robbery, the brothers pay a visit to Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman), the Mother Superior of St. Helen’s, who tells them that, unless the orphanage can come up with $5,000 in a week and a half, it’s going to be shut down. Later that day, as he and Elwood are listening to Baptist preacher Cleophus James (James Brown) deliver a sermon, Jake has an epiphany: put their R&B band back together and go on tour to raise the $5,000. After convincing the former members of the band that they’re on a “mission from God”, the Blues Brothers hit the road and immediately piss off a number of people, including a Country/Western group known as the Good ‘Ole Boys, the Illinois chapter of the Nazi Party, and just about every cop in the city of Chicago. Add to this a mysterious woman (played by Carrie Fisher) who wants the brothers dead, and you have an action-packed musical comedy the likes of which you’ve ever seen before.
There’s a lot going on in The Blues Brothers, all of it good. First off, it’s an extremely funny film; the scene where Jake and Elwood visit Sr. Mary Stigmata and are beaten with a yardstick for swearing is comedy gold. Then there’s the music, featuring, along with the brothers themselves (who do a pretty good rendition of the Theme from Rawhide), artists such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and, in one of my favorite scenes, Ray Charles as the owner of Ray’s Music Emporium, where, to test out an electric piano, he belts out Shake a Tail Feather (before it’s over, the sequence evolves into an all-out musical number). And to top it off, there’s action galore in The Blues Brothers, with numerous car chases and a whole lot of destruction. Apparently, 103 vehicles were wrecked during the making of this movie, which, at the time, was a world record (the record was finally broken in 1998 by Blues Brothers 2000).
Still, no matter how crazy things get, the brothers themselves remain calm and collected through much of the movie, taking everything in stride. In fact, their laid-back attitude leads to some of the film’s funniest moments. At one point, while being pursued by the police, Elwood crashes their car through the front window of a toy store, leading to a high-speed pursuit inside a shopping mall. Yet instead of worrying about the cops hot on their trail or the mall patrons diving for cover, Jake and Elwood pass the time by doing a little window shopping (after slamming into a car dealership, Elwood turns to Jake and says “The new Oldsmobiles are in early this year”). Nothing seems to bother them. Even when Elwood’s apartment building is blown to smithereens by Carrie Fisher, the two simply climb out of the rubble, dust themselves off, and walk away, without a care in the world.
But then, why should they worry? After all, they’re on a mission from God!