Universal were so confident in The Blues Brothers that they poured a record $27 million into the movie. One scene alone called for six camera crews, five fire engines, three army tanks, two helicopters and 300 extras . . .
Released in the same month as Fame, the film was released to lousy reviews. No matter – it grossed $13 million in its first week.
A spin-off from the US TV series Saturday Night Live, the film starred comedians John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as siblings ‘Joliet’ Jake Blues and Elwood Blues, a pair of musicians who – when Jake is released from prison – reunite their band to raise $5,000 to save the orphanage in which they were raised by nuns.
The head nun (‘The Penguin’) tells the boys that the home they grew up in is in debt for back taxes, and the five grand is needed within eleven days to keep it open. The boys set out on their ‘mission from God’, tracking down erstwhile band members, upsetting a lot of people, and crashing a lot of cars in the process.
The movie featured cameo appearances from James Brown, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Pee Wee Herman and Twiggy, while an assortment of brilliant (albeit very varied) musical performances made this one of the most entertaining movies of the decade – despite being initially trashed by critics and ignored by audiences.
The Blues Brothers also featured the strangest amalgam of enemies in cinema history: the Illinois State Police, the Chicago Police, the National Guard, a country and western band, a jilted hairdresser and the Illinois Nazi Party.
In lesser hands, this would have meant chaos, but director John Landis ensured each character was driven by such white-hot contempt for the brothers that they were woven to a single magnificent conclusion in a huge high-speed chase to downtown Chicago, with the sustained auto-crunching finale a superb hymn to artfully constructed car carnage and mayhem.
Highlights include a car flying into the side of a lorry and a multi-vehicular pile-up under an overhead railway that defies belief.
John Belushi’s run as a top comic talent was sadly short-lived. After The Blues Brothers, he made only two more (mostly forgotten) films including the dull romantic comedy Continental Divide and the strange black comedy Neighbors (also co-starring Aykroyd).
He died of a drug overdose at the age of 33.
“Joliet” Jake Blues
Sister Mary Stigmata
Reverend Cleophus James
Soul Food Cafe owner
Cook county clerk