The Blues Brothers (1980)

91

For those of you keeping score, this is my one-hundredth review. To celebrate this milestone, I have decided to review my favorite film of all time. Now like everyone, my favorite film changes from time to time, so choosing the ultimate favorite was indeed a challenge. Of all of the films I consider my favorite, one always surprises me every time I watch it with its brilliance and how I am able to discover something new every time I watch it – that is, of course, the absolutely insane and off-the-wall cult classic, The Blues Brothers.

In 1980, there was a close-knit group of comedy royalty, and the all circled Saturday Night Live, either as castmembers, occasional hosts or just generally friends of the show. The two biggest stars from that era were John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. On the show, they invented these fictional soul singers known as The Blues Brothers – clad in black suits and dark glasses, and singing and dancing to the songs of Ray Charles, Sam & Dave and James Brown, they were instant hits. Then they made a full-length film with the characters, and they became iconic.

It seems very strange that a film about two loose cannon musicians with the appearance of FBI agents but the soul of the deepest Motown musicians, would become not only a great film, but one of the most legendary ever. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi are (or in the case of Belushi, sadly, was) incredible comedic minds. The Blues Brothers fell right in the period where they were at their peak – they had just come off of four acclaimed seasons of Saturday Night Live, and Belushi had broken through as a film comedian in Animal House. They were on top of the world when it came to their success, and the time seemed perfect to make the long-awaited Blues Brothers movie.

It is difficult to say why The Blues Brothers has become the cult hit it has. The story is definitely not grand opera, and there is some seriously sloppy parts to the film. Yet, it is still loved and endeared by a large fanbase. Most of that comes from the fact that the film has heart and soul. Too many filmmakers would attempt to make a film with such a premise seem smarter and much more cerebral, and there are some incredibly clear plot errors (such as the little matter that church-run organizations are tax-exempt, thus making the storyline of the film a little redundant) – but that proves an interesting point – this film is the very definition of the word – its fantasy. It is unrealistic, hardcore entertaining fun. The laws of physics and ethics are broken several times throughout the film, but yet even the most hardened and cynical critic can be forgiven for not caring, as the film handles this otherworldly narrative with such controlled chaos, it is an exhilirating and entertaining experience.

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi are unconventional leading men heroes. One is a tall and lanky dork, and the other a short and pudgy curmudgeon. Dressed in dark clothing at all times, and speaking and acting like detectives from a bygone era, they are truly odd specimens. However, they are compelling and captivating protagonists, and probably some of the most heroic characters in cinema history – sure, they do stupid things, but after all, they’re “on a mission from God”. The characters have no redeeming qualities other than the fact that they are genuinely good people doing stupid things. Aykroyd and Belushi do a lot with the characters of Elwood and Jake, and they develop them in ways only those who created the characters could. Any other actor dropped into these roles would not have come close to achieving the brilliance and genuine likable nature that Aykroyd and Belushi brought to the table.

Like many good films, this one is filled with some great supporting performances, spanning from larger roles with storylines to small cameo performances. Unlike many films, The Blues Brothers finds most of its supporting players not in the movie business, but in the very world the story takes place – the world of soul and rock ‘n roll. James Brown as an enthusiastic preacher, Ray Charles as a savvy music store owner and Aretha Franklin as the disgruntled wife of one of the brothers’ bandmates all have incredible moments where they perform songs, once again with the entire realm of realism coming to a complete halt, and the energy, heart and soul of the music takes over.

Of course, the best performance in The Blues Brothers, other than that of the leads, was that of the legendary Cab Calloway as Curtis, the mentor and father-figure to Jake and Elwood. His spirit and personality being omnipresent throughout the film, he finally gets one of the greatest moments in musical cinemas near the end of the film, where the 73-year-old Calloway donned the zoot suit and performed one of the greatest bandstand songs of all time, his seminal classic “Minnie the Moocher”, which he first performed almost exactly fifty years earlier. The entire cast of The Blues Brothers, including the bandmembers, who in a normal film would simply just stand behind the leads and play the instruments, are giving quirky, zany personalities and we become endeared to every single one of them.

The Blues Brothers is an insane, incredible and very odd film. It is unconventional in all aspects – it pushes the boundaries of comedy, it sets a record that action films couldn’t even set – it held the record for most cars crashed in a single movie. It held that record until 1998, when it was surpassed…by its sequel (this will be the first and last time I will make reference to or even acknowledge the existence of the disastrous sequel). It is a fun, zany comedy with some truly entertaining musical performances. But most of all, The Blues Brothers is just filled with heart and soul, and it is so incredibly made, you can always find something new during every rewatch. It is such a wonderfully quirky movie, it truly deserves its cult status and its reputation as being one of the greatest comedies of all time. One of the best ever and my personal favorite film of all time, which is why it is such a deserving choice for my record one-hundredth review.

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