|The Blues Brothers|
Promotional movie poster for the film
|Directed by||John Landis|
|Produced by||Bernie Brillstein
George Folsey Jr.
Robert K. Weiss
|Written by||Dan Aykroyd
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Cinematography||Stephen M. Katz|
|Editing by||George Folsey Jr.|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||United States:
June 20, 1980
October 10, 1980
December 26, 1980
|Running time||133 minutes
148 minutes (extended version)
|Followed by||Blues Brothers 2000|
The Blues Brothers is a 1980 musical comedy directed by John Landis and starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as "Joliet" Jake and Elwood Blues, characters developed from a musical sketch on the NBC variety series Saturday Night Live. It features musical numbers by R&B and soul singers James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker. The film is set in and around Chicago, Illinois, and also features non-musical supporting performances by John Candy, Carrie Fisher, Charles Napier and Henry Gibson.
The story is a tale of redemption for paroled convict Jake (Belushi) and his brother Elwood (Aykroyd), who take on "a mission from God" to save from foreclosure the Catholic orphanage in which they grew up. To do so they must re-form their rhythm and blues band, The Blues Brothers, and organize a performance to earn $5,000 to pay the tax assessor. Along the way they are targeted by a destructive "mystery woman", Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band—all while being relentlessly pursued by the police.
Released in the United States on June 20, 1980, it received generally good reviews with 84% of reviews positive according to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. It earned just under $5 million in its opening weekend and went on to gross more than $115 million in theaters worldwide before its release on home video.
"Joliet" Jake Blues (John Belushi) is released from prison after serving three years for armed robbery. Jake is at first irritated at being picked up by his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) in a battered former police car, instead of the Cadillac the brothers used to own, but Elwood explains the car's advantages. The brothers visit their childhood home, a Catholic orphanage. They learn the institution will be closed unless $5,000 in property tax is collected. Jake indicates they can quickly obtain the funds, but the orphanage director Sister Stigmata refuses to accept any stolen money. The brothers visit an evangelical church service, led by a minister played by James Brown, where Jake has an epiphany: they can legitimately raise the funds by re-forming their rhythm and blues band.
Elwood's running a yellow traffic light is noticed by two Illinois State Police troopers, and after pulling him over and using their electronic database, the troopers learn of his suspended license. When they attempt to arrest Elwood, he speeds off, leading a high-speed chase through the Dixie Square Mall. Arriving at Elwood's home in a rundown flophouse, the brothers are subjected to a bazooka attack launched by a mystery woman, but they are somehow unharmed. The next morning, she detonates a bomb that demolishes the building, which inadvertently saves the brothers from another arrest. The two emerge from the rubble unscathed and simply leave as if nothing had happened.
Jake and Elwood begin tracking down members of the band. Trombonist Tom "Bones" Malone and the rhythm section of the group (Willie "Too Big" Hall, Steve "The Colonel" Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Murphy "Murph" Dunne) are playing in an empty Holiday Inn lounge, and are convinced to rejoin. Trumpeter "Mr. Fabulous", now maître d' at a French restaurant, is harder to sway, but Jake and Elwood force him by behaving like boorish slobs, insulting the patrons in his restaurant and promising to continue doing so every day.
En route to meet saxophonist Louis "Blue Lou" Marini and guitarist Matt "Guitar" Murphy, the brothers drive through a neo-Nazi rally of "the Illinois Nazis", forcing the marchers off a bridge into Jackson Park lagoon and adding another enemy to the brothers' rapidly-growing list. Marini and Murphy are at the soul food restaurant which Murphy owns with his wife (played by Aretha Franklin). Against her protests, the two musicians leave and rejoin the band. The reunited group uses an IOU to obtain instruments and equipment from a pawn shop whose owner is played by Ray Charles.
Jake is unable to book a gig in advance, so instead he cons his way into a gig at Bob's Country Bunker (a country and western bar) by pretending to be The Good Ol' Boys, the band scheduled to play that night. After a rocky start, the band wins over the rowdy, bottle-hurling crowd by playing the theme to the TV series Rawhide and "Stand By Your Man". At the end of the evening, however, not only is their bar tab greater than the pay for the gig, but the brothers infuriate the band that was actually meant to play, the Good Ol' Boys, who arrive at the bar late but just in time to notice the Blues Brothers. The band manages to skip out on their bar tab and escape via more trickery on the part of Jake, pursued by Bob and the Good Ol' Boys.
The brothers blackmail a booking agent into securing a gig for them — a performance at the Palace Hotel Ballroom, located over 100 miles north of Chicago. After being driven all over the area promoting the concert, their car runs out of gas, making Jake and Elwood late for the concert. The ballroom is packed, and the concert-goers are joined by the Good Ol' Boys and scores of police officers. After their mentor, Curtis, placates the audience by performing "Minnie The Moocher," Jake and Elwood sneak into the venue and perform two songs. A record company executive offers them a cash advance on a recording contract, more than enough to cover the orphanage's property taxes and the cost of the band's instruments, and tells the brothers how to slip out unnoticed.
As the brothers escape via a service tunnel, they are confronted by the mystery woman, whereupon it is revealed she is Jake's ex-fiancée. Since Jake had abandoned her before the altar, she threatens to kill them both, but Jake manipulates her with his charm, kisses her and then drops her into the tunnel's muck, allowing the two brothers to escape to their now-refueled car. They race back to Chicago at high speed with scores of state and local police, the Illinois Neo-Nazis, and the Good Ol' Boys in pursuit. Jake and Elwood eventually elude them all, leaving chaos and wrecked police cars en masse in their wake.
After a harrowing chase through Chicago, pursued by what appears to be every patrol car in the city, Jake and Elwood arrive at the Richard J. Daley Center, where their car literally falls to pieces. They rush inside, soon followed by hundreds of Chicago police, state troopers, SWAT teams, firefighters, Illinois National Guardsmen, and the Military Police. Finding the office of the Cook County Assessor, the brothers pay the tax bill. Just as their receipt is stamped, they are handcuffed and arrested by a massive crowd of armed law officers. Jake, now joined by Elwood and the rest of the band, are sent to prison, where they play "Jailhouse Rock" for fellow inmates.
The characters, Jake and Elwood Blues, were created by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in performances on Saturday Night Live. The name "The Blues Brothers" was the idea of Howard Shore, who later composed the music for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The fictional back story and character sketches of blood brothers Jake and Elwood were developed by Aykroyd in collaboration with Ron Gwynne, who is credited as a story consultant for the film. As related in the liner notes of the band's debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, the brothers grew up in an orphanage, learned the blues from a janitor named Curtis and sealed their brotherhood by cutting their middle fingers with a steel string said to have come from the guitar of Elmore James.
When it was decided the act could be made into a film by Universal Pictures, Aykroyd set about writing the script. He had never written a screenplay before, he said in the 1998 documentary, Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, and he put together a very descriptive volume that explained the characters' origins and how the band members were recruited. It was 324 pages, which was three times longer than a standard screenplay. To soften the impact, Aykroyd made a joke of the thick script and had it bound with the cover of the Los Angeles Yellow Pages directory for when he turned it in to producer Robert K. Weiss. John Landis was given the task of editing the script into a usable screenplay.
The premise of the underlying plot, that a church-owned orphanage would have to pay a property tax bill, has been questioned—in Illinois, and generally elsewhere in the world, church-owned property is exempt from taxes. However, at the time of writing of the film, a legislative proposal to tax such property was under consideration. The proposal was never enacted into law. This could also be seen as an absurdist joke in itself.
Much of the film was shot on location in and around Chicago, Illinois between July and October 1979. Made with the cooperation of Mayor Jane M. Byrne, it is credited for putting Chicago on the radar as a venue for filmmaking. Nearly 200 movies have been filmed in Chicago. "Chicago is one of the stars of the movie. We wrote it as a tribute," Dan Aykroyd told the Chicago Sun-Times in an article written to mark the film's 25th anniversary DVD release.
The first traffic stop was in Park Ridge, Illinois. The mall car chase was filmed in the real, albeit abandoned, Dixie Square Mall in Harvey. The bridge jump was filmed on an actual drawbridge, the 95th Street bridge over the Calumet River, on the southeast side of Chicago. The main entrance to Wrigley Field (and its sign reading "Save lives. Drive safely, prevent fires.") makes a brief appearance when the "Illinois Nazis" visit it after Elwood falsely registers the ball field's location, 1060 West Addison, as his home address on his driver's license. (Elwood's Illinois driver's license number is an almost-valid encoded number, with Dan Aykroyd's own birth date embedded). The other chase scenes included Lower Wacker Drive and Richard J. Daley Center.
In the final car chase scene, the production actually dropped a Ford Pinto, representing the one driven by the "Illinois Nazis," from a helicopter at an altitude of more than a mile—and had to gain a special "air-unworthiness" certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration to do it. The FAA was concerned that the car could prove too aerodynamic in a high-altitude drop, and pose a threat to nearby buildings. The shot leading up to the car drop, where the "Illinois Nazis" drive off a freeway ramp, was shot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the Hoan Bridge on Interstate 794. The Lake Freeway (North) was a planned but not completed 6-lane freeway and I-794 contained an unfinished ramp that the Nazis drove off. Several Milwaukee skyscrapers are visible in the background as the Bluesmobile flips over, notably the US Bank Center.
The "Palace Hotel Ballroom," where the band performs its climactic concert, was at the time of filming a country club, but later became the South Shore Cultural Center, named after the Chicago neighborhood in which it is located. The interior concert scenes were filmed in the Hollywood Palladium.
The filming in downtown Chicago was conducted on Sundays during the summer of 1979, and much of the downtown was cordoned off from the public. Costs for filming the largest scene in the city's history, totaled $3.5 million. Permission was given after Belushi and Aykroyd offered to donate $50,000 to charity after filming. Although the Bluesmobile was allowed to be driven through the Daley Center lobby, special breakaway panes were temporarily substituted for the normal glass in the building. The speeding car caused $7,650 in damages to 35 granite pavers and a bronze air grille in the building. Interior shots of the elevator, staircase, and assessor's office were all re-created in a filmset for filming.
The film used 13 different cars bought at auction from the California Highway Patrol to depict the Bluesmobile, ostensibly a retired 1974 Mount Prospect, Illinois Dodge Monaco patrol car, donated by Ralph Doney. The vehicles were outfitted by the studio to do particular driving chores; some formatted for speed and others for jumps, depending on the scene. For the large car chases, filmmakers purchased 60 police cars at $400 each, and most were destroyed at the completion of the filming. More than 40 stunt drivers were hired and the crew kept a 24-hour body shop to repair cars.
For the scene when the Blues Brothers finally arrive at the Richard J. Daley Center, a mechanic took several months to rig the car to fall apart. The statues, seeming to be looking on with concern when the car disassembles, actually exist at the Cook County Building. At the time of the film's release, it held the world record for the most cars destroyed in one film until it was surpassed by its own sequel.
In addition to recognized soul and rhythm and blues stars James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin, the members of the Blues Brothers band are notable for their musical accomplishments as well. Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn are architects of the Stax Records sound and were half of Booker T. & the M.G.'s - it is Cropper's guitar heard at the start of the Sam and Dave song "Soul Man". Horn players Lou Marini, Tom Malone, and Alan Rubin had all played in Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Saturday Night Live band. Drummer Willie Hall had played in the Bar-Kays and backed Isaac Hayes. Matt Murphy is a veteran blues guitarist. Blues performers were featured in the cast as well, with John Lee Hooker backed by harmonica player Big Walter Horton and pianist Pinetop Perkins, playing "Boom Boom" on Maxwell Street.
As the band developed at Saturday Night Live, pianist Paul Shaffer was part of the act and was cast in the film. However, due to contractual obligations with SNL, he was unable to participate. So actor-musician Murphy Dunne (whose father, George Dunne, was the Cook County Board President) was hired to take his role. Shaffer later did appear in Blues Brothers 2000.
Carrie Fisher, Kathleen Freeman, Henry Gibson, and John Candy were cast in non-musical supporting roles. The movie is also notable for the number of cameo appearances by established celebrities and entertainment industry figures, including Steve Lawrence as a booking agent, Frank Oz as a corrections officer, Twiggy as a "chic lady" in a Jaguar convertible whom Elwood propositions at a gas station, and Steven Spielberg as the Cook County Assessor's clerk. John Landis plays a state trooper in the mall chase. Paul Reubens (pre-Pee-wee Herman) has a small role as a waiter in the Chéz Paul. Joe Walsh has a cameo as the first prisoner to jump up on a table in the final scene, and Chaka Khan is the soloist in James Brown's choir. The character portrayed by Cab Calloway is named Curtis as an homage to Curtis Salgado, a Portland, Oregon, blues musician who inspired Belushi while he was in Oregon filming Animal House.
Over 500 extras were used for the final scene at Daley Center, including 200 National Guardsmen, 100 state and city police officers, and 15 horses were used in filming of the blockade on the building. Additionally, three Sherman tanks, three helicopters, and three fire engines were used.
The Blues Brothers opened on June 20, 1980 with a release in 594 theaters. It took in $4,858,152, ranking second for that week (after The Empire Strikes Back) and 10th for the entire year. Over the years, it has retained a following through television and home video. The film in total grossed $57,229,890 domestically and $58,000,000 in foreign box offices for a total of $115,229,890. By genre, it is the ninth-highest grossing musical and the tenth-highest earner among comedy road movies. It ranks second, between Wayne's World and Wayne's World 2 (which, coincidentally, also take place in the greater Chicago metropolitan area, in nearby Aurora, Illinois), among films adapted from Saturday Night Live sketches. Director Landis claimed that The Blues Brothers was also the first American film to gross more money overseas than it did in the United States.
The film has an 84% positive rating based on 45 reviews from critics at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. It won the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing and Sound Effects, is number 14th on Total Film magazine's "List of the 50 Greatest Comedy Films of All Time" and is number 69th on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".
The Blues Brothers has been criticized for its simplistic plot and being overly reliant on car chases. Among the reviewers at the time of the film's release who held that opinion was Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times. However, Ebert praised it for its energetic musical numbers and said that the car chases were "incredible". In his review for the Washington Post, Gary Arnold criticized Landis engorging "the frail plot of The Blues Brothers with car chases and crack-ups, filmed with such avid, humorless starkness on the streets of Chicago that comic sensations are virtually obliterated". Time magazine's Richard Corliss wrote, "The Blues Brothers is a demolition symphony that works with the cold efficiency of a Moog synthesizer gone sadistic".
Janet Maslin of The New York Times criticized the film for shortchanging viewers on more details about Jake and Elwood's affinity for African-American culture. She also took director Landis to task for "distracting editing", mentioning the Soul Food diner scene in which saxophonist Lou Marini's head is cut off as he dances on the counter. In the documentary, Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, Landis acknowledges the criticism, and Marini recalls the dismay he felt at seeing the completed film.
The Blues Brothers has become a staple of late-night cinema, even slowly morphing into an audience participation show in its regular screenings at the Valhalla Cinema, in Melbourne, Australia. John Landis acknowledged the support of the cinema and the fans by a phone call he made to the cinema at the 10th anniversary screening, and later invited regular attendees to make cameo appearances in Blues Brothers 2000. The fans act as the members of the crowd during the performance of "Ghost Riders in the Sky".
In August 2005, there was a 25th anniversary celebration for The Blues Brothers at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. Attendees included Landis, former Universal Studios executive Thom Mount, movie editor George Folsey Jr., and cast members James Brown, Henry Gibson, Charles Napier, Steve Cropper, and Stephen Bishop. It featured a press conference, a panel discussion where Dan Aykroyd joined via satellite, and a screening of the original theatrical version of the film. The panel discussion was broadcast directly to many other cinemas around the country.
When the film was first screened for a preview audience, a producer demanded that director John Landis cut 25 minutes from the film. After trimming fifteen minutes, it was released in theaters at 133 minutes. The film's original length was restored to 148 minutes for the "Collector's Edition" DVD and a Special Edition VHS release in 1998. The 25th anniversary DVD release in 2005 includes both the theatrical cut and the extended version.
|The Blues Brothers: Music from the Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack by The Blues Brothers|
|Released||June 20, 1980|
|Genre||Blues, blues-rock, blue-eyed soul|
|The Blues Brothers chronology|
The Blues Brothers: Music from the Soundtrack was released on June 20, 1980 as the second album by the Blues Brothers Band, which also toured that year to promote the film. "Gimme Some Lovin'" was a Top 20 Billboard hit, peaking at the eighteenth position. The album was a followup to their debut, the live album, Briefcase Full of Blues. Later that year they released a second live album, Made in America, which featured the Top 40 track, "Who's Making Love".
The songs on the soundtrack album are a noticeably different audio mix than in the film, with a prominent baritone saxophone in the horn line (also heard in the film during "Shake a Tailfeather," though no bari sax is present), and female backing vocals on "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love", though the band had no backup singers in the film. A number of regular Blues Brothers' members, including saxophonist Tom Scott and drummer Steve Jordan, perform on the soundtrack album but are not in the film.
According to director Landis in the 1998 documentary The Stories Behind the Making of 'The Blues Brothers', filmed musical performances by Franklin and Brown took more effort, as neither artist was accustomed to lip-synching their performances on film. Franklin required several takes, and Brown simply rerecorded his performance live. Cab Calloway initially wanted to do a disco variation on his signature tune, Minnie The Moocher, having done the song in several styles in the past, but Landis insisted that the song be done faithful to the original big band version.
The film's score includes "God Music" (instrumental with choir vocalese) composed by Elmer Bernstein, who previously had worked with John Landis on National Lampoon's Animal House. Other songs in the film include:
The 1998 sequel, Blues Brothers 2000, had similar traits to the original, including large car chase scenes and musical numbers. John Landis returned to direct the film and Dan Aykroyd reprised his role, joining John Goodman, Joe Morton, and 10-year-old J. Evan Bonifant as the new Blues Brothers. Aretha Franklin and James Brown were among the celebrities returning from the first film. There were also musical performances by Sam Moore, Wilson Pickett, Paul Shaffer, B. B. King, and Eric Clapton, among others. Dozens of artists were packed into an all-star band called The Louisiana Gator Boys. The film was considered a box office failure, only generating a little over $14 million in box office sales on an approximate $28 million budget.