Movie Project #32: The Blues Brothers [1980]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The Blues Brothers [1980]
Director: John Landis
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Music
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Carrie Fisher
Runtime: 133 minutes (extended: 147 minutes)

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

As a Chicago resident, it’s almost blasphemous that I just now saw The Blues Brothers for the first time. This much-loved 1980 musical/comedy/action/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it is pretty much the quintessential Chicago movie, and it has a bit of a legendary status around here. Hell, last month Wrigley Field held a screening of the film (though the $20 bleacher and $40 lawn seats were too pricey for me). To say it was due time for me to familiarize myself with this is an understatement.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The eponymous brothers are, of course, “Joliet” Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd). The film begins with Jake being released from Joliet Prison, making sure to grab his retained items on the way out (including “one unused prophylactic” and “one soiled”). Elwood picks him up in what they call the Bluesmobile — a beat-up 1974 Dodge Monaco patrol car. Before being incarcarated, Jake had promised the nun at their childhood orphanage that she would be the first person he would visit after being released. Upon arriving, the brothers are hit with the news that the orphanage will be forced to close unless $5,000 in property taxes are collected. Some financial brainstorming, aided by a trip to a wildly entertaining gospel church service, leads Jake and Elwood to discover a way to help come up with the money. Their plan? Re-form the Blues Brothers rhythm & blues band.

In order to do so, the siblings drive around the Chicagoland suburbs, making stops to attempt to lure their old bandmates back for their fundraiser gig. This hilariously leads to random musical encounters in which they run into legit musicians, all playing minor characters. The aforementioned church service is led by James Brown, who may be the coolest reverend I have ever seen. Other noteworthy appearances include Aretha Franklin running a soul food restaurant, Ray Charles owning a music shop, and John Lee Hooker jamming on a South Side street. Not knowing much about the film, these musical interludes were a pleasant surprise, and many of them were absolute highlights.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

There are two extended scenes in the film that I loved the hell out of. One is when the band, in their first gig in years, masquerades as “The Good Ol’ Boys”, a country group in a divey hick bar way outside of the city. The bartender reassures the guys that they have “both kinds of music here, Country AND Western“. With little choice, the band hops on stage. Their opening blues jam doesn’t go over well with the local folk, so they improvise by playing — what else? — the “Rawhide” theme song. Throw in a cover of “Stand By Your Man” and slowly they start to win over the increasingly drunker patrons. And with this scene, I fell in love with the movie.

Later, the big Chicago moments arrive. Watching the brothers drive their Bluesmobile through all sorts of familiar locations — lower Wacker Drive, Lake Street and the Daley Center, to name a few — was a lot of fun. Even more entertaining was watching them destroy damn near everything in their path, Daley Center included. As the cop cars continued to pile up, I just couldn’t believe how much damage was being done. This would have been crazy as hell to see being filmed, that’s for sure.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

While the stars of the film are undoubtedly Aykroyd and Belushi, it was Aykroyd who nailed it with his famous remark, “Chicago is one of the stars of the movie. We wrote it as a tribute.

I’m not sure what the differences are between the theatrical cut and extended version, but I watched the latter. I feel there were probably two or three unnecessary scenes included, as the nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime was a little exhausting. Regardless, I can’t say I have seen another film like The Blues Brothers, a rambunctious ode to my favorite city.


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