On A Mission From God: Eight Things I Love About “The Blues Brothers”


The one, the only

Yes! Yes! Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ, I have seen the liiiight! ~Joliet Jake Blues (John Belushi)

OK, I’m gonna throw out a cinematic scenario for ya: a loyal band of faithful companions, sent on a mission by Almighty God Himself, encounter on their quest a motley plethora of miscreants, crazy women bent on their destruction, and other assorted menaces. There’s music, lots of music. The scenery changes as quickly as Lady Gaga changes costumes; the special effects are as cheesy and contrived as Charlie Sheen’s one-man tour. You’ve got more classic deadpan one-liners than you can shake a dead herring at, an all-star cast, and a plot nothing short of Epic with a capital “E.”

Is it Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Nope. Much better, it’s John Landis’ 1980 EpiComedy, The Blues Brothers, which remains arguably my favorite film and one which I can watch dozens of times and still laugh hard. It can also be said it’s the only SNL flick that was worth the celluloid it was filmed on. It’s no Citizen Kane or Casablanca or even 2001, but dammit, it’s a great movie. Here’s some of the many reasons why Joliet Jake and Elwood’s Most Excellent Adventure remains at the top of my film faves:

Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-hoooo....

The soundtrack is the best ever compiled…period.

I’m not a musical fan, but The Blues Brothers is one hell of a musical. As a loving homage to blues, R&B, soul, rock ‘n roll, country, and gospel, it reads like a Mt. Olympus of genre gods and goddesses. Cab Calloway. James Brown. Aretha Franklin. Ray Charles. Chaka Khan. John Lee Hooker. All legends in their own right, and we get live performances from all of them. And did I mention The Blues Brothers Band? Manna from the Muses themselves. (Remember, if you’re ever in a country-western dive and don’t know what to play, “Rawhide” in “A” is a great choice.)

Princess Leia is PMSing

The non-musical supporting cast is unbelievable.

Another assemblage of brilliant character actors: Henry Gibson, John Candy, Frank Oz, Twiggy, Paul Reubens, Steve Lawrence, Kathleen Freeman, Charles Napier, Steven Spielberg in an inspired cameo and director Landis in another. Oh, and there’s Carrie Fisher with one Big Honkin’ Flamethrower as the unnamed, spurned fiancee of Joliet Jake. The best part is that the entire cast plays it completely straight. There’s nary a half-smile or a wayward chuckle to be found, which is one reason the movie’s a scream.

Bet Ferris Bueller wishes he coulda done this

The movie’s a love song to a great American city: Chicago.

Though only the beginning and the opening scenes of the movie are set in Chicago proper, the Windy City is as much a character as anyone. You get a classic rendition of the old “Sweet Home Chicago” tune, a couple of hilarious Mayor Daley jokes (he no longer dines here, sir, he’s dead, sir) and an ending chase scene along Lower Wacker Drive that has to be seen to be believed. I’m not a city person, but if I had to choose a metropolis to call home, it would be Chicago.

Wonder if they have an Orange Julius?

For an action junkie, the movie’s an absolute hoot.

Take away for a moment the music, the guest stars, the semi-heartfelt moments. There’s still half a dozen car chase set pieces to satisfy the most jaded adrenaline junkie. Consider that, for the Act I car chase through the mall, the director purchased the abandoned building for the express purpose of destroying it like so many Tasmanian devils on meth. The brothers’ chase vehicle of choice is the venerable Bluesmobile, a former police cruiser which proves its worth time and time again (with some help from “Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration.”) The final chase, in which Jake and Elwood outrun scores of state troopers, the army, a Winnebago, mounted patrols, and a half-dozen pissed-off Illinois Nazis is the greatest car chase in the history of car chases.

Heil Hitler, and all that jazz

It’s a never-ending parade of un-PC brilliance.

Remember back when movies could make fun of any group, and get away with it? The Blues Brothers leaves no group unskewered: blacks, gays, Jews, white guys who want to be blues singers, blind people, the police, hillbilly country-western fans, Catholics, Italians, nuns, little kids, sexy women, ugly women, fat people, skinny people, prison wardens. There’s also the infamous Illinois Nazis, who get their comeuppance to the strains of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. The movie flaunts its un-PC humor with great panache, and almost every joke hits its mark. The only group I can think of which doesn’t receive ridicule is Asians.

"Light? What light?"

It’s actually a spiritual movie. Seriously.

The tagline from The Blues Brothers is “We’ll never get caught…we’re on a mission from God.” The Almighty must have a hand out for the boys, saving them from angry mobs, hordes of policemen, Nazis, and country singers. What I find interesting is that all the lawbreaking, mischief and crazy stunts Jake and Elwood pull? They’re not just for (pardon the pun) the hell of it, but rather to raise the $5,000 needed to save their childhood orphanage home from going under. If there is a benevolent God, as I believe there surely is, He understands a little rule-breaking from time to time. Jake and Elwood just take it to the extreme.

He ain't heavy, he's my brother

The entire movie is played straight by two brilliant actors.

I’m still saddened by the fact that John Belushi died far too young. This is among his great performances; he practically glows with energy (though I’m guessing he was as high as a kite during much of the shoot.) He and Dan Ackroyd are a modern-day, smartass Laurel and Hardy with amazing comic timing and chemistry. Without their hilarious, off-the-wall relationship at the heart of the movie, The Blues Brothers could easily be as forgettable as One Night at the Roxbury or It’s Pat. Their deadpan delivery is as funny as if they’d been throwing pies and playing a laugh track in the background…actually, funnier.

It's like the Penguin says...

It’s a comedy that transcends time and place…and comes up with its own laws of physics.

I’ve often thought some of my favorite movies and TV shows take place in some alternate Bizarro World in which no one ever gets shot, killed, or arrested no matter what mayhem they encounter. The Blues Brothers is one of those flicks: cars sail over ramps like graceful birds of prey, nuns recede into the background as if on roller skates, Joliet Jake (or his stuntie) backflips down a church aisle like an acrobat gone mad. Nothing about the movie is believable (as in my other favorite, The A-Team). Which is why, given the choice between a character drama and The Blues Brothers, for sheer entertainment value, I’ll take TBB every single time.

Take that, Monty Python…although I will say Jake and Elwood might have found the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch a useful device indeed.

Enjoyed this post? Be sure to click “Like” and, more importantly, be sure to vote for “The Blues Brothers” to advance to the next round in the Movie Challenge over at EduClaytion!

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on March 14, 2011.

9 Responses to “On A Mission From God: Eight Things I Love About “The Blues Brothers””

  1. […] Click here for 8 things to love about The Blues Brothers. […]

  2. Nice one, Heather! I went into consideration of this match up a solid fan Grail fan, but your excellent write up has very nearly converted me. Guess I’ll wait until lunch to vote while this percolates. πŸ™‚

  3. Visiting you from eduClaytion.com. I’ve never seen The Blues Brothers, but after reading this, I have no idea why not. Great post!

  4. Rawhide in “A.” And that place had both types of music: country and western. Terrific pitch that you put together here. I was leaning toward Jake and Elwood anyway, but now I’m sold.

  5. What a great write up, you’ve made an already difficult choice even worse!

    Kudos to you, I’m going to have to have a very real think about my vote for this pairing.

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