by Scott Weinberg
One of the most satisfying thing about reviewing movies is that you get to defend the ones you love. Steven Spielberg's 1941 is a film that has been ridiculed, vilified and just plain hated since it was released in 1979. Yes, it's way overdone and quite cartoonish, but I think it's damn entertaining.Hey, blame Universal. They're the ones who kept throwing money at this project when it was widely known throughout Hollywood that it was a mess. But guess what? It's funny. Sure, it's a misfire and it lost A LOT of money, but it's really a wild ride. Young Steven obviously bit off a little more than he could chew on this one, and sometimes it threatens to explode like a tube of toothpaste in a microwave oven, but let's examine the good points:
"Jeez! Lay off this poor, underrated movie already."
1. The story--A small California town near Hollywood, in the grips of war hysteria, believe they are being attacked by a Japanse submarine and a fleet of airplanes. Turns out they're right, but it doesn't really matter here. What matters is slapsticky humor and a bunch of destruction. I mean a LOT of destruction. (More on that later.)
2. The cast--John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Tim Matheson, John Candy, Ned Beatty, Robert Stack, Nancy Allen, Treat Williams, Warren Oates, Christopher Lee, Toshiro Mifune, Slim Pickens, Eddie Deezen, Perry Lang, Bobby Di Cicco, even Michael McKean and David Lander (Lenny & Squiggy) show up together. 1941 offers some great comedic characters in just over-the-top and ridiculous situations. (Would you a plane just to sleep with Nancy Allen?)
3. The spectacle--The USO dancing scenes are wonderful, Spielberg's Rube Goldberg-like contraptions are great, everyone screaming things like "What the HELL is THAT?", and it looks like they're having fun with this movie. (Indeed, it is well documented that 1941 was NOT a "fun shoot".) This movie offers some things that you've never seen in a movie before, and won't ever again. Which leads us to....
4. The destruction--Everything in this movie gets destroyed: Beautiful mountaintop houses, giant ferris wheels (in a classic scene), four or five airplanes, dance halls, movie theaters, Santa Claus, and especially people. There are pratfalls, huge brawls, nasty fistfights and air battles. (Hey, it was co-written by Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, and John Milius. These guys would go on to somewhat successful careers.)
5. The rest--There are car chases, motorcycle chases, and Japanses soldiers disguised as Christmas trees (in the director's cut.) There's Slim Pickens being forced to poop at gunpoint, chubby Wendy Jo Sperber desperately trying to make out with Treat Williams (who gives a wonderfully sleazy performance), and nerdy Eddie Deezen as the world's most annoying ventriloquist. There's Ned Beatty shooting an anti-aircraft gun through his house, Dan Aykroyd frothing at the mouth, smooth Tim Matheson trying to get laid, and John Belushi sweating and flipping out every five minutes.
6. My reasoning--I've stated before that movies you love as a kid you often feel very passionately about as you get older. An 11-year old movie nut doesn't know anything about narrative or a director in over his head. I watched this with wide-eyed amazement when I was a kid, and you will too. Although it's a satire, I wouldn't classify it in the same vein as Airplane! or the like. It's more like a Mad Magazine version of the war. Yes, it's a mess, but it's a big fun mess that deserves a better fate.
Disclaimer: It's tough for a movie like 1941 to earn any new fans, because of its reputation as a monumental bust. This is no Howard the Duck or Ishtar, you know. (By the way, neither of those movies are as bad as the critical armageddon they both received, either.) I think Spielberg was due for some backlash thanks to the brilliant work he did on Jaws and Close Encounters, and 1941 was certainly an easy target. More people should like this movie.
Plus, you have to love a movie that has a tank drive through a paint store, come out the other side looking like a rainbow, then having it drive through a turpentine plant, only to end up spotless. Just a brilliant and wonderful waste of Hollywood money.Yes, I give it five stars. Guilty pleasures are one of the best things in life, and 1941 will always have a welcome spot in my movie collection. And Spielberg knew what he was doing: When you close your movie with a picture of each cast member screaming at the top of their lungs over the credits, well that's just fun. Oh, and John Williams contributes one of the great musical scores of the past twenty years in this movie, period.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1913&reviewer=128
originally posted: 12/30/99 07:50:11