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Spectacular is certainly the word for this utterly wild comedy epic directed by Steven Spielberg and nominated for three Academy Awards. Lavish effects sequences highlight this hilarious, all-star extravaganza set in Los Angeles just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when fear of a Japanese invasion threw the city into a state of Pandemonium. Screwball characters run wild on Hollywood Boulevard as manic servicemen, zealous store owners, teary-eyed girls and bickering Nazis are thrown together in this fast-rising comic souffle that even features a sendup of Spielberg's own Jaws opening.
Watching this director's cut, it's finally possible to see why the studio made Spielberg mercilessly hack up this comedy: it's a screaming movie (everyone screams a lot), and screaming movies do not need character development. So all those character-development scenes hit the cutting-room floor and, surprise, they were all critical to Spielberg's pace for the humor in this film. The screaming wasn't that funny then--and it still isn't--but what is funny are the reinserted development scenes, showcasing the now-evident sense of hysteria in the Los Angeles community, post-Pearl Harbor. A bunch of certified nitwits, and a few certified lunatics, act as if Tojo Hideki's entire Imperial force is just off the mainland. Actually, one Japanese submarine is, and it helps fuel the frenzy. John Belushi is Wild Bill Kelso, an insane fighter pilot, and Dan Aykroyd plays a conciliatory tank commander. Robert Stack's performance as General Stilwell, one of the best of the film, finally makes sense. Also fun for the numerous cameos, Spielberg's inside jokes, and John Williams's great score. --Keith SimantonSee all Editorial Reviews
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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.