For the last several months I've been e-mailing an old mission buddy of mine. Brad and I always have these great philosophical exchanges, but I've always felt bad that even after spending two years as a resident of the Windy City, he still hadn't seen "The Blues Brothers", not only the quintissential Chicago movie, but also in my estimation the greatest comedy of all time.
Growing up, the "Blues Brothers" had been one of my favorite movies; I could never get enough of the two guys dressed in black going around Chicago telling people they were on a mission from God. When I got my mission call there, it was nothing short of destiny. I wanted Brad to feel the same way.
So, once he finished up this past semester (and graduated--congrats, buddy) I arranged to have him come by and finally take in a viewing of the all-time classic. For extra mojo, I also invited my buddy Breto, another longtime BB fan.
In a way, the screening was kind of like the second time I went to see "Phantom Menace" back in the Summer of 1999. Breto and I were on the front row, and at my right was a little five-year-old kid and his dad. The kid was the same age I was when I took in the first run of "Star Wars" movies, and sitting there next to him, I felt like I was passing the torch. Now I was passing the "Blues Brothers" torch to Brad.
He loved it, of course; I mean, who wouldn't? But the viewing made me realize that I needed to at least take a little time to put the film's greatness in words. It deserved no less than to become an official "Baboon Shavin' Tunes". So, without further ado, here is "Viva Blues Brothers: Why the Blues Brothers Is the Greatest Comedy of All-Time"
When I was little, I knew a lot of movies for one memorable scene. "American Graffiti" was the movie where the street gang pulled the rear axle off the police car, "Bullitt" was the movie where the 68' Mustang chased the Dodge Hemi through the streets of San Francisco. "The Blues Brothers" was the movie where they had the car chase through a shopping mall.
By the time "Blues Brothers" came along, car chases were a movie staple. But nobody ever thought to have one in a shopping mall. Bless you, Dan Aykroyd, bless you.
It's interesting to see how much a film instantly benefits from the addition of Nazis. "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Victory", "Schindler's List", there's no bad guy that's as instantly effective as a Nazi. Yet while those other movies are set in WWII, "The Blues Brothers" gives us an even more irritating Nazi: the Illinois Nazi.
This Nazi drives a Pinto, marches in Marquette Park, and is easily duped into checking out false addresses (like when Elwood falsifies his Driver's License and puts the address for Wrigley Field--1060 West Addison, if you were wondering). This Nazi also doesn't look much like the Aryan ultimate male, though; this one looks more like an out-of-shape guy from the Midwest in something that sort of looks like a Boy Scout uniform. The leader is played by Henry Gibson, the old German man from "The Burbs" (and a cast member on "Laugh In" for the more pop-culturally educated).
Every appearance by the Illinois Nazis is great, but when they enter the big climactic chase at the end of the movie and Wagner's "Ride of the Valkries" starts up, it's movie magic, baby.
Often filmmakers get the idea that a cameo equals instant laughs, and often it does. But most of the time the cameos are either really lame or so overdone that they become running non-gags (See "Singles Ward" for the ultimate parade of semi-celebrity cameos).
"The Blues Brothers" has a constant stream of celebrity cameos, but it works because they are designed as tributes to the musicians that inspired the film's creators in the first place. Many of them were out of work when the movie was made, and the film was largely made to raise awareness of these great music pioneers, who had been largely forgotten in the wake of Disco and Arena Rock. Here are some examples
-James Brown as the Triple Rock preacher
-Aretha Franklin as Matt "Guitar" Murphy's wife and co-owner of the Soul Food Restaurant on Maxwell Street
-Ray Charles as the owner of Ray's Music Exchange in Calumet City. (His shoplifting policy is one of the movie's greatest gags)
-Cab Calloway as Curtis, the Blues Brothers mentor
The Blues Brothers band is made up of real musicians, too, though without as much reputation as the foru above.
-Donald "Duck" Dunn and Steve "The Colonel" Cropper played bass and lead guitar for Booker T. and the MG's back in the 60's, as well as providing session tracks for most of the Stax/Volt releases during the same period. (Think Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave).
-Tom "Bones" Malone still plays horn with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra on "Late Show with David Letterman".
Besides the noted guest stars in the movie, the "Blues Brothers" also excels in a category ESPN's Bill Simmons dubs the "That Guy" factor. Essentially a cameo by a guy that never gets top billing, or hasn't made it big yet, but is nevertheless recognizable. "Ghandi" is my current leader in "That Guy" factor. But "Blues Brothers" has plenty. For example
-The black cop that's chasing them throughout the movie is Steven Williams, better known as the mysterious "X" in the "X-Files" TV show.
-The "Dom Perignon at 125 dollars" waiter at the Chez Paul Restaurant scene is Paul Reubens, better known to the world (and the cops) as Pee Wee Herman.
-The Cook County Accessor at the very end of the movie is Steven Speilberg.
-The release officer at the beginning of the movie ('One hat--black') is Mr. Yoda himself, Frank Oz.
-Ray Mercer, the corrections officer, is played by an SCTV-era John Candy
-Jake's revenge-minded ex-fiancee is Carrie Fisher, better known to the world as Princess Leia
COMING SOON--PART 2!
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