Jake: Well you see me and the lord have an understanding.
Elwood: We’re on a mission from God.
I am never not amused by the Blues Brothers. Some real Rock and Roll type people had a problem with John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd’s mediocre appropriation of Black Music as something of a bad gag, but isn’t the history of Rock and Roll pretty much the story of white guys trying to be as cool as their black heroes. Look at Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan alone. The SNL vets weren’t great singers but the outfits were way cool, the dancing was dementedly top notch, they got the top flight Stax musicians like Steve Cropper and “Duck” Dunn to back them and play along, and managed to get pretty good performances out of legendary Acts James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and John Lee Hooker. They don’t rip off Black culture they revel in it’s joy, freedom and cool. Capturing Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher on film alone should have been enough to win someone a medal. Hell, I don’t care how much money they wasted smashing up every police car in the city of Chicago while driving maniacally through cities and shopping malls, I’m entertained. Sometimes Coke addicts do know what’s funny. There aren’t many movies you can say this about, but if you don’t like this movie you’re just not cool.
My personal favorite detail about The Blues Brothers is Elwood’s vaunted affection for dry white toast. Along with all the mayhem they still had time to include goofy little minutia like the scene where the boys and the band go to Ray Charles’s pawn shop to search for instruments and equipment. While the band oohs and ahhs over the guitars, amps and drums, Elwood drools over how cool it would be if he could afford a used toaster oven.
Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) are former orphans who were apparently raised by Cab Calloway. The three of them dress in these sort of Black Beatle suits, eventually they would be associated with another cool feature, Reservoir Dogs. They have their names tattooed on their fingers and they even sleep with their sunglasses on. They drive around in a beat up old police cruiser and need to raise $5000 in eleven days to save the orphanage and Cab’s job. Eventually due to a lot of bad driving they are being pursued by the entire Chicago Police Force, Illinois Nazi’s, Jake’s well armed ex-girlfriend Carrie Fisher, and a Country Western Band called the Good Ole Boys, while they attempt to reunite their band and pull off a big benefit concert.
The boys running a group of Nazi’s off a bridge might seem a little absurd unless you remember that the movie was made right around the time of the Skokie Nazi Court Case, in which case you realize that it was a pretty nice political statement. Do Nazi’s really drive station wagons?
Chicago is rendered like sort of a Black music Nirvana, a cultural Mecca to the hip. All the landmarks are hit, Wrigley Field, the ever present el trains, the highways and the shopping malls. The cool thing about all the absurd stuff that goes down is that it is all underplayed. Instead of being about crazy in your face weirdness, Belushi and Ackroyd act as if they see this stuff every day. Their apartment is blown up and they pick themselves up out of the rubble and go about there own way.
The moniker Blues Brothers is a little misleading here. Jake and Elwood are all about the ‘60s Memphis soul of Booker T & the MGs, Stax records, and Sam and Dave. Steve Cropper is even here in an outrageous ZZ Top beard. Steve Cropper wrote Dock of the Bay for God’s sake!
I’m not exactly sure where their wild goofy dance routines came from, but it sure is fun to see a tall guy and a short fat guy twist in black suits.
So many scenes are so enmeshed into our cultural consciousness that they immediately unfurl at you when you hear just one descriptor. The penguin scene, the shrimp eating scene (look for waiter Pee Wee Herman), “Rawhide”, the entire band with Murray Sline in the sauna, and enough car crashes to personally bring the American auto industry back to life. Any future carnage from films derived from Saturday Night Live sketches shouldn’t be held against their amazing screwball innovator, not even It’s Pat or the unnecessary sequel where John Goodman, Joe Morton, and a little white kid try to bridge the chasm of the death of John Belushi. Belushi only shows his eyes once here, but even with him covered in mud it’s one of the more lovable shots of the twentieth century. Chicago is forever in their debt.