1941 (1979) — Yes, Steven Spielberg made bombs

“Hold your fire — pass it on!”

Lissa’s rating: John Belushi could definitely play Justin.

Lissa’s review: “Over? Did you say… over? Nothing is over until we say it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

The year is 1979, and John Belushi has gradated from college and is now flying straight with the U.S. Army. And he’s learned a few things… or at least, if nothing else, that it was the Japanese that bombed Pearl Harbor, not the Germans. Amazingly, he’s only brought one of his Animal House frat brothers (Tim Matheson, aka Otter) along for the ride. (At least, I only caught one.) But half the cast of Saturday Night Live (from the days when it was funny) seems to have joined him in this adventure, including Dan Aykroyd (who eventually also played in Pearl Harbor and Crossroads, so this isn’t saying much) and John Candy.

I’d never even heard of 1941, but when hubby suggested we buy it, I was game. I mean, that’s a pretty funny cast, isn’t it? And Duckie usually has good taste in movies. But I’d forgotten one critical quote, back from when we watched Surviving The Game: “That wasn’t quite as good as I remembered.”

Oh yeah. We’re back THERE again.

1941 does have a very amusing (very non-PC) premise. Pleased with their success at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese decide to bomb another target that has as much honor… Hollywood. However, for some reason (maybe because they’re lost?), only one Japanese sub is on this mission, and this Japanese sub carries Christopher Lee as a Nazi. There’s also Wally, a swing-dancing kid who wandered into the wrong movie and wants to win the girl from an Army jerk. There’s a general’s assistant trying to seduce a secretary who is really turned on by airplanes. John Belushi literally flies through as a lone wolf Army pilot who is intent on destroying the enemy. All of these people come together to fight the Japanese. Yes, it really is that simplistic.

This could have been a much better movie if it was your standard ninety minutes. But it wasn’t. Oh no. It was a full two-and-a-half hours. And the first hour is slow. Very slow. Walking through molasses in December slow. Reading War and Peace, watching Ghost Dog, sitting in economics class, watching paint dry — no, wait. The thing about watching paint dry is that it’s pretty straightforward. This movie was bizarre. It doesn’t sound like it should be, until you remember who all’s in it, and then it makes sense. Well, it makes sense that I thought it was weird, anyway. The plotlines take a long time to come together, and by the time the movie switches back to a plotline you’ve almost forgotten about it.

I’m not going to go on about acting and subtle nuances and everything. Get real. It’s a movie from the late ’70s that has John Belushi. What am I supposed to say? Oscar winning performances all around? Sensitive and realistic portrayals? Nah. Funny? Yeah, okay, I’ll give it that. There were a few points I was howling with laughter. There were also a few times I was staring blankly at the screen.

There are definitely good things about this movie. John Belushi tops the list, and Dan Aykroyd has a great turn as the idealistic soldier (who “can’t stand to see Americans fighting Americans,” as he says 315 times in the movie). It’s not remotely PC — in fact, I couldn’t put the best quotes up because of the racial slang that was so prevalent throughout the movie. I suppose it makes me a horrible person for laughing, but darn it, some of those lines were really funny. I don’t know that I would have chosen a couple of days after the attack at Pearl Harbor as a time for a comedy, but hey. Why not?

It probably does age much better in the memory. Duckie was pretty sold on the darn thing, and in some ways I can understand why. If you can filter the 90-minute movie out of the two-and-a-half-hour mess you’re presented with, it could be good. I just don’t think it should be left up to the viewer to do that!

Didja notice?

  • The Saturday Night Live reunion
  • Everyone should have an entrance like Belushi.
  • Don’t drink and drive a tank.
  • The Jaws reference? Amusing, given the fact that Spielberg was involved.

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