The Blues Brothers

A Review

released 1980
reviewed June 1999

by David Flapan

    The Blues Brothers has the distinction of being the very first R-rated film that I ever saw, which I accomplished during its initial theatrical release.  I was very impressed, mostly by the stunts, dialogue, car scenes/chases, not to mention the local angles.  Subsequently, we were fortunate to indulge in video and cable, and I was entertained by more viewings of this film.  It owned a lofty perch on my list of favorite movies for most of my teen years.  Back in my day, I could quote much dialogue from this movie.  It was always a treat when I found others who shared my love of this film.  Later, on the Internet, I found more information and other fans than I ever thought were possible, and learned that the Blues Brothers was loved so much that it had become a modern cult film.
     Jake Blues had just gotten out of prison in Joliet at the movie's opening.  Elwood Blues, his brother, came to pick him up.  Their first stop is their old church.  They learn that the orphanage where they grew up is in danger of being torn down.  They decide to rescue it.  In order to raise the funds necessary, they decide to go back to their roots and put on a concert.   
    However, most of the members of their old band have dispersed and gotten on with their lives, some in the music industry, some not.  The first two-thirds of the film consists of Jake and Elwood hunting down their bandmates and convincing them to join them for one last show, as a good cause.  Or, as Elwood eloquently phrases it, because they "are on a mission from God."
    Their subsequent journey through several Chicago locales results in adventure, hilarity, and much inadvertant damage left in of their wake.  Spontaneous musical numbers, however, are also on the menu.  The most memorable is when the brothers go to recruit Matt "Guitar" Murphy and "Blue" Lou Marini.  They are working at a "soul food restaurant on Maxwell Street."  After they ask him to come back, his old lady launches into a musical number to ask him to "Think" about the consequences of his actions.  I found it so original and energetic to take an everyday venue like a greasy spoon joint and perform a lavish musical number.
    The final third of the film consists of the benefit show, and the ensuing hijinks of safely and quickly exiting the show, dodging most of "Illinois' law enforcement community," and getting the money to the assessor's office to save the orphange.  Will they make it?  Will they get caught?  Will the orphanage be saved, and their noble cause be realized?
    John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd created the Blues Brothers as a skit on Saturday Night Live in 1977.  They made several appearances on the show, all were full of energy and music.  The film that followed was one of the earliest of dozens of films to be produced that were based on skits or characters from SNL.  They are sarcastic, foul-mouthed, yet honorable in the underlying purpose of their mission.
    The cast is filled with stars from the music and film world.  Cab Calloway is their guardian who gives them the news of their orphanage's troubles.  Aretha Franklin is Matt "Guitar" Murphy's wife who turned her diner into an energetic musical stage.  James Brown is a preacher who has an early, magical, divine scene.  Ray Charles owns a shop where they buy some instruments.  Dozens of cameos are present as well.
    The film's appeal lies in many areas, most notably that of the ambiguity of the lead characters.  You want to see them go down, as they are jerks and foul-mouthed criminals.  Yet in another, prevailing sense, you root for them, because of their cause, sure, but also because they are rebelling against authority to follow their dream.  And, of course, because they are "on a mission from God."