Hysteria grips California in the wake of the bombing of Pearl harbour as an assorted group of defenders attempt to make the coast defensible against an imagined Japanese invasion in this big budget, big cast comedy. Members of a Japanese submarine crew scout out the madness.
Dan Aykroyd ... Sgt. Frank Tree
Ned Beatty ... Ward Douglas
John Belushi ... Capt. Wild Bill Kelso
Lorraine Gary ... Joan Douglas
Bobby Di Cicco ... Wally Stephens
Murray Hamilton ... Claude Crumn
Christopher Lee ... Capt. Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt
Tim Matheson ... Capt. Loomis Birkhead
Toshirô Mifune ... Cmdr. Akiro Mitamura
Warren Oates ... Col. \'Madman\' Maddox
Robert Stack ... Maj. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell
Treat Williams ... Cpl. Chuck \'Stretch\' Sitarski
Nancy Allen ... Donna Stratton
Lucille Benson ... Gas Mama (Eloise) (as Lucille Bensen)
Jordan Brian ... Macey Douglas
Even the director of such powerful films as \"Jaws\", \"Close Encounters of the Third Kind\", \"ET\" and \"Schindler\'s List\" has to take a break from all the serious issues in his films and play dumb at least once.
Just look at \"1941\".
With a plotline straight out of The Three Stooges and special effects befitting a WWII epic, \"1941\" abandons all pretense by parodying the opening of \"Jaws\" right off the bat and hitting every slapstick point from there on in. Spielberg knew that even if this turned out be a flop, it would be a good-natured one.
Just look at this cast! Not only are Aykroyd and Belushi at the helm, but there\'s talent like Matheson, Allen, Oates, Williams, Beatty, Gary (Roy Scheider\'s wife from the \"Jaws\" films), Candy, Flaherty, Stack (in his first comedic turn before \"Airplane!\"), Lee, Pickens, Deezen (a comic genius if ever there was one), Sperber and a whole herd of other I probably missed. All of them in the midst of the hugest battlefield of comic carnage ever seen.
And no wonder. \"1941\" was co-written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, Spielberg protogees who went on to further success with the \"Back to the Future\" films, \"Who Framed Roger Rabbit\", \"Used Cars\", (all with climaxes as wild as the entire running time of \"1941\") and the vastly under-appreciated \"Death Becomes Her\". Even John Milius (director/co-writer of \"Conan the Barbarian\") lends his pen hand.
In the end, you\'ll be dazzled, breathless, stunned and amazed, but by no means bored. And, with any luck, amused.
\"1941\" - it was a very good year.
Nine stars. And don\'t worry: it\'s all for the good of the war effort.
One of the most satisfying things about reviewing movies is that you get to defend the ones you love. Steven Spielberg\'s 1941 is a film that has been ridiculed, vilified and just plain hated since it was released in 1979. Yes, it\'s way overdone and quite cartoonish, but I think it\'s damn entertaining.
Hey, blame Universal. They\'re the ones who kept throwing money at this project when it was widely known throughout Hollywood that it was a mess. But guess what? It\'s funny. Sure, it\'s a misfire and it lost A LOT of money, but it makes me laugh every time I see it and I watch it about once a year. Young Steven obviously bit off a little more than he could chew on this one, and sometimes it threatens to explode like a tube of toothpaste in a microwave oven, but let\'s examine the good points: 1. The story--A small California town near Hollywood, in the grips of war hysteria, believe they are being attacked by a Japanese submarine and a fleet of airplanes. Turns out they\'re right, but it doesn\'t really matter here. What matters is slapstick humor and a bunch of destruction. I mean a LOT of destruction. (More on that later.) 2. The cast--John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Tim Matheson, John Candy, Ned Beatty, Robert Stack, Nancy Allen, Treat Williams, John Candy, Warren Oates, Christopher Lee, Toshiro Mifune, Slim Pickens, Eddie Deezen, Perry Lang, Bobby Di Cicco, even Michael McKean and David Lander (Lenny & Squiggy) show up together. 1941 offers some great comedic characters in just over-the-top ridiculous situations. (Would you fly a plane just to sleep with Nancy Allen?) 3. The spectacle--The USO dancing scenes are wonderful, Spielberg\'s Rube Goldberg-like contraptions are great, everyone screaming things like \"What the HELL is THAT?\", and everyone looks like they\'re having fun with this movie. (Indeed, it is well documented that 1941 was NOT a \"fun shoot\".) This movie offers some things that you\'ve never seen in a movie before, and won\'t ever again. Which leads us to....
4. The destruction--Everything in this movie gets destroyed: Beautiful mountaintop houses, giant Ferris wheels (in a classic scene), four or five airplanes, dance halls, movie theaters, Santa Claus, and especially people. There are pratfalls, huge brawls, nasty fistfights and air battles. (Hey, it was co-written by Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, and John Milius. These guys would go on to somewhat successful careers.) 5. The rest--There are car chases, motorcycle chases, and Japanese soldiers disguised as Christmas trees (in the director\'s cut.) There\'s Slim Pickens being forced to poop at gunpoint, chubby Wendy Jo Sperber desperately trying to make out with Treat Williams (who gives a wonderfully sleazy performance), and nerdy Eddie Deezen as the world\'s most annoying ventriloquist. There\'s Ned Beatty shooting an anti-aircraft gun through his house, Dan Aykroyd frothing at the mouth, smooth Tim Matheson trying to get some lovin\', and John Belushi sweating and flipping out every five minutes.
6. My reasoning--I\'ve stated before that movies you love as a kid you often feel very passionately about as you get older. (Although I have since reconsidered my long-ago love for Scavenger Hunt.) An 11-year old movie nut doesn\'t know anything about narrative or a director in over his head. I watched this with wide-eyed amazement when I was a kid, and I still do to this day. Although it\'s a satire, I wouldn\'t classify it in the same vein as Airplane! or the like. It\'s more like a Mad Magazine version of the war. I realize it\'s a mess, but it\'s a movie I will always love and defend.
Disclaimer: It\'s tough for a movie like 1941 to earn any new fans, because of its reputation as a monumental bust. This is no Howard the Duck or Ishtar, you know. (By the way, neither of those movies is as bad as the critical Armageddon they both received, either.) I think Spielberg was due for some backlash thanks to the brilliant work he did on Jaws and Close Encounters, and 1941 is certainly an easy target. I wish more people liked this movie. It would make my life so much less stressful.
Plus, you have to love a movie that has a tank drive through a paint store, come out the other side looking like a rainbow, then having it drive through a turpentine plant, only to end up spotless. It\'s just a brilliant and wonderful waste of Hollywood money.
Yes, I give it ten stars. I do this because I love it and NOT because I think it\'s a \'brilliant and wonderful\' movie. Guilty pleasures are one of the best things in life, and 1941 will always have a welcome spot in my movie collection. And Spielberg knew what he was doing: When you close your movie with a picture of each cast member screaming at the top of their lungs over the credits, well that\'s just fun. Oh, and John Williams contributes one of the great musical scores of the past twenty years in this movie, period.
Steven Speilberg once asked a friend of mine, \"Why didn\'t anyone like this movie?\" Well, I think that I can answer that - \"1941\" is a gigantic in-joke. The people who are in on the joke are people who, like myself, have an oversized love and knowledge of the city of Los Angeles and it\'s history. I think that in the vast, world-wide movie-going public, this group probably comprises 1%. For that group, \"1941\" has a wonderful nostalgia value. And for the people in that 1% that have a twisted sense of humor and enjoy seeing nostalgic L.A. blown to bits, this movie really delivers. By the way, the folks with that twisted sense of humor probably account for about 1% of the original 1%.
I don\'t know why, but having grown up in L.A. and being an aficionado of it\'s history, I find it funny to see planes in a dogfight over Hollywood Blvd, the ferris wheel rolling off the end of Santa Monica Pier, and aircraft crashing into the La Brea Tarpits. But for non-locals and people unfamiliar with the paranoia that gripped Southern California in the wake of Pearl Harbor, this movie will likely seem confusing and silly. To the history buff with a twisted sense of humor (like me, proud member of the 1% of the 1%), the movie is not only amusing, but sometimes surprisingly accurate, historically. Robert Stack plays General Joseph Stillwell - a very real historical figure in L.A. history. Stack even bears a striking resemblance to the real General Stillwell. The whole movie is based upon a few real-life incidents of panicky anti-aircraft fire that occurred over L.A. in 1941/1942, as well as a Japanese sub that actually shelled an oil refinery near Santa Barbara. Like \"Chinatown\" (a film mistakenly thought to be an accurate account of L.A. water politics in the 1930s), \"1941\" borrows from real-life history and distorts it into pure fabrication. The difference is that while \"Chinatown\" is a noir drama, \"1941\" is an over-the-top comedy. Both films appeal to the historian, but as it is often said, comedy is much harder to pull off than drama. You either love \"1941\", or sit though it, saying, \"huh?\".
* Cameo: [James Caan] seen in the USO fight scene.
* The gas station where Captain Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi) lands to refuel was the same one used in Steven Spielberg\'s movie Duel (1971) (TV). Lucille Benson, who plays the gas station owner, appeared in Duel (1971) (TV) as the Snakerama owner at the same station.
* The scene where Wild Bill Kelso slips and tumbles off of the wing of his airplane as he is about to take off was a real accident. John Belushi slipped as he was climbing into the plane. It was kept in the movie because it fit his character.
* Reese and Foley are the names used by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale for any police officers or government agents in films they have written.
* The dialog between Claude and Herbie was written along the same lines as Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. In fact, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney were offered the roles but Gleason refused, saying he would not and could not work with Carney any longer.
* Writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale met while attending the University of Southern California Film School. One of the USC inside jokes was naming the Nazi officer played by Christopher Lee von Kleinschmidt. One of USC\'s most famous school presidents was Rufus von Kleinschmidt and several buildings on campus bear his name. Ironically, one of von Kleinschmidt\'s many accomplishments was helping start the film school.
* It took so long to set up the final shot of the house falling down that cast and crew members actually started a betting pool on what day and time the shot would actually begin filming. Dan Aykroyd won the bet.
* John Belushi failed to show up on a couple of occasions because his nightlife made him too tired to work.
* Like real movies of the early 1940s, it was originally planned to have a card at the very end of the film asking the audience to \"Buy War Bonds at This Theater.\"
* Wild Bill Kelso was originally a very minor character. It was expanded once John Belushi was signed for the role.
* Once Slim Pickens was signed on, the character of Hollis \"Holly\" Wood was greatly expanded.
* All told, five directors were involved in some manner in making this movie: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote the film, John Milius helped with production of the film, and \'Steve Spielberg (I)\' , of course actually directed the film. The other director involved was Brian De Palma. According to Millius in the DVD \'making of\' documentary, DePalma contributed the gag of the Japanese asking Slim Pickens \"Where\'s Hollywood?\" to which Pickens, whose character name is Hollis \"Holly\" Wood would answer \"I\'m here.\" as a play on Abbott and Costello\'s \"Who\'s on first?\" routine.
* This was the first U.S. production to use the French-made Louma crane. It was going to be used for shooting the miniatures. The Louma proved to be so flexible that it was frequently used for the \"A\" camera.
* The first advance trailer for the film centered on John Belushi\'s character who was identified as \"Wild Wayne Kelso\". When the movie itself was shot, the character\'s name was changed to \"Wild Bill Kelso\".
* According to co-writer Bob Gale in the DVD documentary, many of the events in this movie are based on real incidents. The army really did put an anti-aircraft gun in the yard of a homeowner on the coast of Maine. There was an air raid false alarm over Los Angeles in which Civil Defense and Army weapons were fired into the air one night, thinking that they were being attacked by the Japanese. There was a Japanese sub that made it past our defenses and torpedoed a line of docks in Los Angeles. There was also infamous Zoot Suit Riots between the Hispanic zoot-suiters and servicemen in May/June of 1943.
* To create the flash of explosions in the distant background, A.D. Flowers estimated that he used between 50,000 and 75,000 flashbulbs during the production.
* Cinematographer William A. Fraker was reportedly fired late in shooting due to creative differences with Steven Spielberg and John Milius. The remainder of the film was shot by Frank Stanley.
* This was the last project for special effects legend A.D. Flowers.
* The dirt-covered soldier who has his motorcycle stolen in front of the movie theater was played by director John Landis.
* When Hollis Wood\'s pocket contents are inventoried by the Japanese we hear Hollis (Slim Pickens) saying, \"One genuine American rabbit\'s foot; one genuine American hara kiri knife.\" This is a parody of Pickens\' inventory dialog as Maj. Kong in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).
* Japanese Commander Mitamura\'s statement to German Captain Kleinschmidt about the latter\'s having \"no prerogative to question my orders\" is a parody of American General Ripper\'s statement to British Group Captain Mandrake in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).
* Often regarded as Spielberg’s first flop, the movie was in fact a moderate box office success. However, when compared to Spielberg’s early hits, Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), it performed under estimates.
* The Polar Bear Club woman who was used to spoof Jaws (1975) at the beginning of this film is the same actress (Susan Backlinie) spoofing her own role from the earlier film.
* Some of the scenes made so much noise during filming, the crew could not hear director Steven Spielberg yell, \"Cut.\" For those scenes, he had to fire a prop machine gun in the air to get the action to stop.
* Steven Spielberg shot one million feet of film over 247 shooting days.
* A deleted scene had Slim Pickens\' character threatened with what looks like a torture device but turns out to be a coat hanger. Steven Spielberg hated losing the joke and swore he\'d try to put it in every one of his future movies until it stayed there. Luckily, this happened in his very next film, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
* Steven Spielberg has revealed that he almost made this film a musical.
* This was regarded as such a failure in the US that when the advance teaser trailer for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was made, it listed all of Steven Spielberg\'s previous films except this one.
* In the Director\'s Cut scene where Wally (Bobby Di Cicco) and Dennis (Perry Lang) are dragged out of Malcomb\'s Diner and thrown out onto the street by Pops, a group of children dressed as The Little Rascals are standing in front of the restaurant.
* Major stars such has Charlton Heston and John Wayne turned down the role of Maj. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell. Wayne phoned director Steven Spielberg, who had given him the script, and not only turned it down due to ill health, but tried to get Spielberg to drop the project. Wayne felt it was unpatriotic and a slap in the face to WWII vets. Heston is thought to have turned it down for the same reasons. The role was taken by Robert Stack who, once in costume and make-up, actually bore a striking resemblance to the real General Stilwell.
* The extras cast as the Japanese crewmen on board the submarine were hired because they were Asian--none of them had any acting training at all, and most of them were typical laid-back Southern Californians. Toshirô Mifune was so outraged at their attitudes that he asked Steven Spielberg if he, rather than Spielberg, could deal with them. He then started yelling at them to get in line and even slapped one of them, saying, \"This is how Japanese men are trained!\" From that point on, the men were well disciplined by Mifune.
* Ned Beatty\'s character\'s name, Ward Douglas, is a combination of the names of two well-known sitcom fathers, Ward Cleaver of \"Leave It to Beaver\" (1957) and Steve Douglas from \"My Three Sons\" (1960).
* In 1941, Tim Matheson\'s character romances Nancy Allen\'s Donna Stratton. In Animal House (1978) the previous year, Matheson played the role of Eric (Otter) Stratton.
* Steven Spielberg has said that the march John Williams composed for 1941 (1979) is his favorite of all of the marches Williams has written.