Well, when I was out Christmas shopping, I took a moment to dip into the discount bins, and I started feeling all nostalgic for the 1990s when I saw The Blues Brothers. Now, you're probably wondering why one of the biggest hits of 1980 would make me nostalgic for the 1990s. Well, there was this period in the mid-to-late 1990s when The Blues Brothers was on basic cable CONSTANTLY. I spent many a Sunday afternoon in high school and college watching it on TV rather than doing my homework. It's not on basic cable so much anymore, so when I saw The Blues Brothers in that discount bin, I thought, "Why not?"
I think The Blues Brothers holds the distinction of being the first film based on a Saturday Night Live bit. In SNL's halcyon days of the late 1970s, Dan Aykroyd introduced John Belushi to the wonder and magic that is R&B music. Enraptured by it, Aykroyd and Belushi decided to form their R&B band, The Blues Brothers, and they got to perform on Saturday Night Live as the musical guest a few times. Frequent SNL guest host Steve Martin invited the Blues Brothers to be the opening act on his stand-up comedy tour, which resulted in a platinum-selling live album. This led to offers from Hollywood to make a Blues Brothers movie, and the rest is history.
If it's been a while since you saw the film on a rainy Sunday afternoon, Belushi and Aykroyd are Jake and Elwood Blues, two blues musicians who frequently find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Upon Jake's release from prison, they go back to the orphanage where they grew up to check in on their stern old Mother Superior, and Curtis, the friendly caretaker who served as their surrogate father. They have bad news for the boys. The orphanage owes $5000 in bad taxes, and if they can't raise that money, the orphanage will be shut down. Jake and Elwood promise to get the money, but the Mother Superior warns them that, if they do, they have to raise the money honestly. After a spiritual awakening at the local church, Jake and Elwood hatch their plan to raise the money: reunite their old band and play a few gigs. And the quest is on to do just that, but along the way, they manage to piss off, and thus get chased by, the police, the Illinois branch of the Nazi party, a country band, and a mysterious woman played by Carrie Fisher in her Princess Leia prime.
Watching this movie tonight, I simply forgot how funny it is. Jake and Elwood always have the perfect deadpan reactions to the mayhem that they're usually the cause of. And the mayhem reaches a Looney Tunes level of cartoonish violence for most of it, but it's just so darn funny.
And let's not forget the music. So much good music in this movie. Not just the Blues Brothers themselves, but Aykroyd and Belushi got many great R&B artists to put in cameos and also perform some musical numbers. James Brown is the preacher at the church where they have their awakening. Ray Charles is the pawn shop owner where they get their instruments. Aretha Franklin is the wife of one of the band members who objects to her husband going back with the band. That's probably why I kept tuning in all those Sunday afternoons...just to enjoy the music. I found the soundtrack album for $5 at the Bargain Store, and let me tell you, it got a lot of airplay on the ol' college radio show.
And the car chases. The car chase through the mall has become the stuff of legend. And it all builds up to what I think is one of the most perfect movie endings of all times, starting with another fantastic car chase through the streets of Chicago, leading to a great foot chase through the county office, and ending with yet another great musical number.
It's fun, it's funny, and The Blues Brothers is never a waste of a Sunday afternoon.