Viking Night: The Blues Brothers
By Bruce Hall
August 23, 2011
Everyone deserves a shot at redemption. Bad things happen to good people, and bad people...just do bad things. For most people, they haven’t fallen so far that one grand act of goodness can’t convince everyone they deserve a second chance. It’s never too late to mend, it says on the walls of a certain correctional facility in upstate Illinois. So who wouldn’t enjoy a story about two down on their luck slobs who turn their lives around and make good with the world? About half the people IN the world, actually. The Blues Brothers is a diabolically funny musical road comedy about redemption, starring two great comic minds of the age - and yet it gets so little love from critics. And from my experience, most of the people who say they love it haven’t actually seen it. Sadly, like many cult films, it’s a badge of honor to mention it, but it’s too much trouble to actually watch it.
But don’t you worry, that’s why I’m here. The Blues Brothers stars Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, John Candy, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and...Twiggy. It has massively destructive car chases, a police dragnet, killer rednecks, and Steven Spielberg eating a sandwich. It has Princess Leia in pigtails with a flame thrower. It has live performances by a veritable Lollapalooza of rhythm and blues artists. Yet tragically, there are still people unfamiliar with this cinematic masterpiece. Which reminds me; I’m not going to be impartial about any of this this. Not at all. I love every minute of this film and make no apologies for it. So if you’re ready, come and find out why you’re either with the Blues Brothers, or you’re with the terrorists.
After three years behind bars Jake Blues (Belushi) is released from prison with naught but the clothes on his back. But we know Jake is meant for great things; director John Landis spends the film’s first few minutes on lingering shots of the prison’s imposing facade and sprawling grounds. The implication being that it’s not nearly enough prison to hold “Joliet” Jake. Meanwhile, Jake’s brother Elwood (Aykroyd) is waiting outside, behind the wheel of an auctioned police cruiser. Unamused by the irony, Jake provokes his brother into a demonstration of the car’s abilities. They jump an open drawbridge, both siblings maintaining their trademark deadpan veneer as the car magically leaps 200 feet through the air. It’s a deliberately crude action shot just a notch or two above the weekly slow motion car wrecks they used to show on CHiPs every week. Yep, that’s the kind of movie this is going to be. And this is only the beginning.
Jake and Elwood grew up in an orphanage, we are told, under the care of a tough as nails nun called Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman). Jake promised to visit her upon his release and is now reluctantly following through on that vow. But Sister Mary is repulsed by what the boys have become. The sweet, impressionable lads she once raised to believe in the Ten Commandments have returned to her as thieves, with filthy mouths and bad attitudes. But she warns the boys that their souls aren’t the only things in peril. The orphanage is going to be shut down in two weeks unless someone can raise $5000 in property taxes. She casts the Blues Brothers out, and basically instructs them to come up with the money - without stealing it - if they want to redeem themselves.