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Pandemonium erupts in Los Angeles after the WWII attack on Pearl Harbor in the wartime spoof, 1941, directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, this epic comedy soufflé features lavish special effects and screwball characters in an all-star extravaganza set on the streets of Hollywood. As hysterical Californians prepare for an imagined Japanese invasion, a motley crew of defenders attempt to guard their beloved palm-tree-lined coast.
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BUY 1941 and watch it. John Belushi gave a stellar performance as he did in National Lampoons Animal House and The Blues Brothers. 1941 is packed full of action and fun all the way through.
1941 makes good on both of those assessments even if as a comedy it falls a little short of the mark. It's a loud, undisciplined mess that has some very funny moments buried within 2+ hours, but mostly it gets by on slapstick to the point that you'll either turn it off after a half-hour (if you last that long) or sit back with it and go for the ride. This past week was the first time I saw it since its premiere in 1979; at that time, I was one of 6 people in the theater it played in (on a Saturday night!) and my major reaction was "What the h**l was THAT??" My other recollection was that I think I would have preferred being stuck in a room with Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music." This time out, while I was NOT stunned by the subtle nuances that I missed the first time out (NOTHING in this movie is subtle!) or the reverence with which 1941 treats wartime history (you guessed it, it doesn't), I did find myself enjoying the thrill ride considerably. I was even tempted to go again!
Steven Spielberg once said that what he wanted to do was split the difference in his movies between the projects which had gravitas and the ones which were meant to sell lots of popcorn and give people a good couple of hours of fun. If 1941 isn't the best example of the latter in his filmography, it still sells the popcorn, and it's a much better couple of hours of fun than I thought once upon a time.
As an aside, many of the events portrayed in the movie are based on fact, although obviously not as shown. Following Pearl Harbor there was indeed a Battle of Los Angeles, in which war nerves led to an all out flak barrage over the city during a false alarm (I think some UFO nuts still try to claim flying saucers were responsible). There were indeed Zoot Suit Riots in L.A., at least partially ethnically-motivated.
There are a lot of characters in this film: Dan Ackroyd, John Candy, Christopher Lee, even Lenny and Squiggy as Air Defenders! It's like my generation's version of It's Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. If you've never seen it you owe it to yourself to watch.