They were on a mission from God. No one stood a chance, let alone the entire representation of the Illinois Law Enforcement Community. Born out of a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers exists in an elite band of consummate cult films.
The story is not a complex one. In order to raise money to save the orphanage in which they grew up, recently paroled convict Jake Blues (John Belushi) sets out with his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) to reform their old blues band. Along the way, they encounter a kaleidoscope of iconic musicians and notable figures from the early ’80s.
One of the main reasons why I love this film so unashamedly is that it was a true one-off (Blues Brothers 2000 is testament enough). In what amounts to a sad reflection of the current state of filmmaking, The Blues Brothers simply couldn’t be made now. Though its budget of $30 million might sound meagre compared to today’s standards, the production of The Blues Brothers was anything but smooth.
The film set a new world record for the number of cars destroyed during filming – 103. Behind the camera, delays started occurring as a result of Belushi’s extensive drug taking. It was even rumoured that a portion of the film’s budget was set aside to fund Belushi’s addiction. As a result, the final spend was virtually double what Universal Studios had set aside to make the film and it is still one of the most expensive comedies ever made.
At the heart of what makes The Blues Brothers so loveable is the relationship between the two leads. Jake and Elwood are two endearing rogues who become consumed by their mission from God. Along the way they assemble the real-life members of their old blues band.
No discussion of the merits of The Blues Brothers can be complete, however, without acknowledging the unparalleled array of cameos which occur throughout the film. In the opening sequence alone, legendary puppeteer and voice artist extraordinaire Frank Oz appears as the hilariously deadpan corrections officer who reunites Jake with his belongings before leaving prison. Steven Spielberg later appears as an office clerk and Carrie Fisher is a mysteriously brooding presence who stalks the two brothers with an increasingly potent array of weaponry.
The Blues Brothers is in many ways a glorified love letter to a golden era of music. Scarcely a scene passes by without an appearance by one of the greats of musical history. From James Brown and Chaka Khan’s gospel choir, to Ray Charles’s musical emporium and Aretha Franklin’s fried chicken shop, the film is a veritable gift to music lovers.
But it’s not just the A-list names who get involved. The fabulous Blues Brothers pitch in on the act with memorable renditions of the TV theme from Rawhide and ‘Stand by Your Man’, before finishing on a high with ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’.
I’m not one for issuing cinematic edicts. However, I believe The Blues Brothers should be compulsory viewing for every living human being. It has music, car chases, stellar cameo appearances, and Illinois Nazis. In an era in which movies regularly pass the two hour running time, the 133 minutes spent in the company of The Blues Brothers will never be anything other than time well spent.