Written by / 12/01/2021 / No comments / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

CAPTURING THE PANDEMONIUM OF STEVEN SPIELBERG'S '1941'

Japanese Poster of Steven Spielberg's laurels for Steven Spielberg's 1941 from 1979 Rating: ***1/2

While considered by many to be Steven Spielberg's worst film... especially compared to DUEL, JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND... the 1979 blockbuster 1941 is actually his most important motion picture... 

For a director whose camera-flowing style REMAINS the prototype for other big budget (mostly comic book adapted) extravaganzas, 1941... from the warplane dogfight to the climactic rolling Ferris Wheel... moved him from action-BACKED thrillers to action-PACKED thrills...

Great aerial visuals in the Grand Canyon from 1941

Allowing the more tempered and well-timed Hitchcock/Kubrick-inspiration to cut loose, unbridled and uncompromising; and without 1941 there might not have been RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK... at least not the way we know it, visually and stylistically: But one major problem with this infamous slapstick misfire are the characters, because there are simply too many of them... 

Inspired by the actual "Battle of Los Angeles" following Pearl Harbor where, in real life, a Japanese sub ACTUALLY blew up an oil refinery off the California coast, 1941 provides all the witless paranoia as if that genuine attack had never occurred  (or if THIS had replaced it): making a frantic city of soldiers and civilians that much more reckless, pathetic, and for the most part, not very funny...

Dianne Kay in 1941 with Perry Lang and Bobby Di Cici

Pockets of bedlam are spliced into the action, and the latter needed more time to flow so it's not just visual eye-candy for the characters (and audience) to randomly look up and marvel at then hectically react to...

And for what doesn't work/should've been cut out entirely: the sequence where Christmas Tree seller Slim Pickens is held hostage on the spying enemy-submarine — manned by "honorable" Japanese Toshiro Mifune critiqued by despicable German Christopher Lee — along with Warren Oates as a MAD MAD MAD "Madman" colonel basically mimicking John Belushi's psycho pilot Wild Bill Kelso, who needs no help in the gonzo department...

Dan Aykroyd smoking in Steven Spielberg's 1941

Yet even some of Wild Bill's scenes can get tiresome, and feel a bit forced, as if Spielberg's direction was More Bluto from ANIMAL HOUSE... but in a cockpit; and while it's Belushi and Dan Aykroyd's first cinematic team-up, the duo share only one quick moment, saluting each other (though never actually together on screen)...

Meanwhile Akyroyd... as the stalwart tank-riding Sgt. Frank Tree ("Was that Mickey Mouse blitzkrieging across France? Pluto in Poland? Or Donald Duck at Pearl Harbor?")... developed what would become his intense-technical-diatribe-guy leading into THE BLUES BROTHERS and GHOSTBUSTERS...

Dianne Kay and Bobby Di Cicco in 1941

Yet with all the running around, the most significant weakness is our buried lead... and in every feature featuring a string of surrounding big named stars, the young-man-in-love baseline is essential... 

Herein Bobby Di Cicci is HORRIBLY MISCAST as the jovially-dancing apple of gorgeous blonde Dianne Kay's eye (it's even a bigger stretch they'd already dated, and she already loved him, providing nothing for his character to really NEED), bullied by Aykroyd's macho second Treat Williams... yet this particular villain's not only tougher and cooler, there's far more genuine chemistry with the equally great-looking Kay...

John Landis with his Animal House star Tim Matheson in 1941

Another flawed subplot has ANIMAL HOUSE star Tim Matheson trying to get Robert Stack's General Stillwell's gorgeous secretary Nancy Allen in bed... or rather, up in a plane: the only place she's able to get all hot-and-bothered...

This initially involving, sex-comedy premise drags too long... then during the pivotal dogfight across nighttime Hollywood Boulevard (that visually looks a precursor for BLADE RUNNER), Belushi shooting the couple down equals Treat William's cold-cocking the smug punchable face of Di Cicco's Wally Stephens...

The Ferris Wheel from Steven Spielberg's 1941

An underdog who does predictably wind up the 11th hour hero after Akyroyd's cemented patriot turns demented madman and, following overlong dance numbers and dizzying fight sequences, the kid runs the tank aided by underdeveloped soldiers John Candy, Frank McCrea, Walter Olkewicz and a young Mickey Rourke... 

All steering towards that climactic Ferris Wheel-lookout with Eddie Deezen with JAWS mayor Murray Hamilton, here are more characters... along with Ned Beatty given an anti-aircraft gun in his backyard, totally useless middleman Lionel Stander and Kay's token fat friend Wendy Jo Sperber... who needed far less screen-time or none at all...

JAWS victim Susan Backlinie in 1941

But even with the theatrical 2hr cut cutting 30-minutes off Spielberg's original, there's still too much left into what's already far too bloated and busy to begin with: A shame since the stuff that works... including a JAWS parody prologue and splendid visuals of Belushi's plane zigzagging through the Grand Canyon... works both beautifully and memorably... 

Which is probably why it's only maligned by those who don't bother remembering some of the great stuff within all the bad and, either way... fan or not... it takes a lot of patience to either love or hate 1941.

John Belushi in 1941
Lucille Bensen in Spielberg's DUEL spoof in 1941
Nancy Allen in 1941
Nancy Allen in 1941 with Tim Matheson
Nancy Allen in 1941 with Tim Matheson
Nancy Allen in 1941 with Tim Matheson
Nancy Allen in 1941 with Tim Matheson
John Belushi in 1941
John Belushi in 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941 with Treat Williams
Dianne Kay in 1941 with Treat Williams
Slim Pickens in 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941 with Treat Williams
Dianne Kay in 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941
Dan Aykroyd and John Candy in 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941 with Frank McCrea
Robert Stack in 1941
Robert Stack in 1941 with John Belushi
Ferris Wheel from 1941
Ferris Wheel from 1941
Special Effects from 1941
John Belushi in 1941
Eddie Deezen and Murray Hamilton in 1941
Toshiro Mifune in 1941
Warren Oates looking Japanese in 1941
Effects that would maybe effect BLADE RUNNER from 1941
Effects that would maybe effect BLADE RUNNER from 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941
Treat Williams in 1941
Nancy Allen and Dumbo from 1941
Tar Pits from 1941 (early Jurassic Park foreboding)
A David Lean sunrise for Steve Spielberg's 1941
Mickey Rourke in 1941
John Candy in 1941
Director and war veteran Samuel Fuller in 1941
Dan Aykroyd and John Candy in 1941
Dan Aykroyd as Sgt. Frank "I'm a bug" Tree in 1941
Dan Aykroyd as Sgt. Frank "I'm a bug" Tree in 1941
Bobby Di Cici and the lips of gorgeous Dianne Kay from 1941
La Brea Tar Pits dinosaur from Steven Spielberg's 1941
Michael McKeon and David L. Lander in 1941
Mickey Rourke and Dan Aykroyd in 1941 with John Candy and Treat Williams
John Belushi takes a shot at war-nerves for 1941
Dianne Kay in 1941 with Ned Beatty
Dianne Kay in 1941 with Ned Beattyg
Grand Canyon sequence from 1941
Steven Spielberg's 1941 Japan Poster
Animal House reunion with John Belushi and John Landis in 1941
Dianne Kay and Treat Williams in 1941
Far-left side cameo of James Caan in 1941 with Perry Lang in the dance/fight sequence
Next year in THE BLUES BROTHERS Steven Spielberg with Belushi and Akyroyd
Next year in THE BLUES BROTHERS with Steven Spielberg

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