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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.39%
Average: 8.16%
Pretty Bad: 9.18%
Total Crap: 6.12%

3 reviews, 80 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Spielberg's least-understood masterpiece."
5 stars

Ah, the critics back there in 1979. They didn't know. They hadn't grown up on TV reruns of "Our Gang" and "The Three Stooges" and Bugs Bunny. Walking into Steven Spielberg's epic slapstick farce "1941," they didn't realize they were in for a live-action cartoon. They also didn't know what was coming just two years later.

Perhaps it's only because I first happened to catch 1941 on cable around the same time Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, but it has always been my belief that 1941 was no more or less than a dry run for the Indiana Jones films. It has the same look, the same sound (John Williams' score is hysterically over-amped); with a tweak here and there, it could plausibly be unfolding in the same reality. Indy fights Nazis in 1936; five years later, one of them (Christopher Lee) turns up on a Japanese sub. One sight gag involving Lee and an apparent instrument of torture didn't come off well and was deleted, but Spielberg later revived it for Raiders. Tim Matheson, one of the initial contenders for the role of Indy, turns up here and delivers the exact same sardonic "Ah-ha-ha-haaaa" laugh Harrison Ford does in the Well of Souls.

So if you go into 1941 looking at it as Indy's scrappier younger brother, with its pants around its ankles and firing a pistol into the California night sky, you might have a better time with it. The movie is explicitly Spielberg's attempt to wield farce on the level of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, stuffed with stars and chaos, a gigantic Mad-magazine parody of itself (Mad never parodied the film, perhaps reasoning that its work had already been done) with each frame jammed with Jack Davis or Mort Drucker caricatures. Everyone in the huge cast bellows and shrieks, and for good measure they all reprise their screaming during the end credits. 1941 is loud.

Coming as it did during the late-'70s era of excess -- The Blues Brothers and Heaven's Gate were right around the corner, and critics had already boggled at Apocalypse Now and New York, New York -- it became a stick with which to slap Spielberg down. He'd had two big hits in a row; now he would be made to eat dirt. But really there's nothing to be ashamed of here. There's a surfeit of diversions here, legions of characters chasing each other around, locked into their own violent, fearful or sexual obsessions. The perversity runs wild: the movie kicks off with a goofball riff on Jaws (the nude swimmer is even played by the same actress, Susan Backlinie); the then-hot comedy team of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are in the movie but never share a scene; if there's an actual protagonist, it's hoofer Bobby DiCicco, who just wants to enter a USO dance contest. (Whatever happened to Bobby DiCicco? He was a great dancer and not a bad comic presence. His last credit, according to the IMDb, was as a voice in 1996's All Dogs Go to Heaven 2.)

If, on some level, you can't relish the scenes between Christopher Lee and sub commander Toshiro Mifune -- especially when Slim Pickens drops in for some cornpone scatological yucks (Mifune's crestfallen "This has not been honorable" always cracks me up) -- well, I don't know what to tell you. Similarly, the meeting of Belushi's deranged Wild Bill Kelso and Warren Oates' equally deranged Colonel "Madman" Maddox -- two grizzled icons of different generations squinting at each other and taking one another's demented measure. (The sequence always makes me envision Belushi in a Peckinpah film.) Or Treat Williams' scummy corporal who has a thing against eggs. Or Ned Beatty allowing an anti-aircraft gun on his property, to the consternation of wife Lorraine Gary. Or the way Aykroyd looks perfectly at home as a sergeant rattling off tech specs. Or Robert Stack's Major General Stilwell -- the film's only voice of sanity -- shedding tears during a screening of Dumbo. Or the truly weird combo of Murray Hamilton, Eddie Deezen and a ventriloquist dummy atop a ferris wheel, which eventually gets unmoored and rolls out of control, which a lot of critics adopted as a metaphor for the film itself, which I do, too, but not disapprovingly.

There's no way a movie this massive, this dedicated to craziness, and this fun needs to justify itself on any level. It is -- unless you count Catch Me If You Can -- Spielberg's sole official comedy as of this writing, although he did go over the top into physical farce in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, emboldened by the success of Raiders. There's a lavish, colorful entertainer at work in 1941 and the first two Indy films that now seems long lost. 1941 is the closest Spielberg has ever come to mounting a full-fledged musical, and I wish it had done better at the box office if only so that we could've gotten more brilliantly inspired sequences like the jitterbug number, which degenerates into a messy brawl, which a lot of critics adopted as a metaphor for the film itself, which I do, too, but ... well, you know.

1941 is chaotic because it seeks to tell, in slapstick terms, a story of American hysteria -- the script by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis was based loosely, in part, on the actual "Battle of Los Angeles," in which a still-unknown thing in the sky led to the Army pretty much losing their shit and perforating the night air with shells. 1941 shows that Spielberg was not always the somber WWII chronicler of Saving Private Ryan, prostrating himself at the graves of the Greatest Generation. Here, the Greatest Generation is a bunch of morons. America is stupid. But Japan is stupid, too -- they don't even have a working compass on their sub. Everyone (except Stilwell) is stupid. It's a farce, an anti-patriotic farce post-Vietnam.

Is it, uh, perfect? Getouddahere. The women tend to be floozies, ditzes or straight-up nymphos (Nancy Allen as a reporter who gets wet when she's up in a plane, much to Tim Matheson's delight). The racism of the day is exploited for laughs (more so in the extended cut on DVD, which fleshes out the conflict between Frank McRae and John Candy). But, again, pretty much everyone in the movie is a suitable case for treatment. Charges of sexism/racism don't stick to a happy clusterfuck like this movie, which sprays everyone with the same mix of soot, slime and raw eggs.

I love "1941." I don't apologize to you, or my fellow critics, or even Spielberg for that. I saw it at precisely the right time, eleven years old, grew up on the Little Rascals and "Nyuk nyuk nyuk" and Looney Tunes, and therefore knew what I was watching. Does the rest of the world know what this film is? I guess not.

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originally posted: 05/03/10 10:46:19
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User Comments

11/19/21 Steve R. A film of absolute insanity, and I love it. 5 stars
5/28/20 dupadoit yeah baby 4 stars
5/02/18 Charley I couldn't agree more. We need to lobby for a 40th anniversary reissue on the big screen! 5 stars
3/23/15 D. The R. The loudest, stupidest, and unfunniest assault on the ears since comedy was invented. 2 stars
1/12/15 Steve It's a blast. Turn down your snob knob and get ready to laugh. 4 stars
7/05/14 thomas its not a raiders dry run!!!? its a loser big budget rip off of Animal House! 1 stars
4/29/14 Bob Don't listen to what anyone says watch this movie it's great. But be sure to get the direct 5 stars
6/09/13 s One of my all time guilty pleasures 5 stars
6/01/13 Marie Logan A huge misfire!! What a waste of money and talent. 1 stars
12/25/11 Mark Durland Just fun, and lots of it. Don't worry, film festival types. We know you don't like fun. 5 stars
10/26/11 George League I loved it too! Extremely funny, great dance numbers too. 5 stars
10/10/10 Joe Schmo Will be looked back on in MUCH kinder ways by future generations. Esp. the director's cut! 4 stars
5/19/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Sometimes funny, mostly loud and annoying. 2 stars
1/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Misfire from Hollywood's top Hostess twinkie baker. 1 stars
12/06/09 Wayne 'Wild Bill Kelso' George OTT and as funny as hell..1941 is pure class.UK DVD available 28/12/09 5 stars
11/21/09 blues_for_jesse This is Spielberg's ode to It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World 4 stars
6/30/08 Grant My personal favorite film 5 stars
5/26/08 Carol Loved this movie since I first saw it years ago. 5 stars
11/05/07 StinkyWicket Love it. The scale, the characters the sillyness, brilliant 5 stars
3/10/07 CHAS I'm a crazy ass SOB. 1941 features my kind of people! Critics - craw back into your holes. 5 stars
2/23/07 Steve_CEC Great cast - funny script - big big effects - superb film! 5 stars
7/19/06 adam the biggest pile of unfunny crap i've ever seen . Its not a hidden masterpiece atall. 1 stars
2/10/06 Chip Underrated Comedy 4 stars
6/27/05 Cheif mrs brody is in it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
4/26/05 tatum Tons of mayhem and destruction, but not all that funny 3 stars
2/02/05 ralph a true movie expert 32 yrs old a true classic is goldrush,duck soup,modern times,not this rusty 3 stars
12/10/04 Rusty "Pipes" Heyman This is a true classic. All those critics don't understand a true classic when they see it 5 stars
11/22/04 javed elahi i m 22 yers old n i like sexy movie 3 stars
10/13/04 Paul Sewter Silly, but very funny - shame the DVD is not available in UK 5 stars
8/27/04 john collins This movie will one day be recognized as one of sielbergs best films and be a classic. 5 stars
7/07/04 chimpy121 Fun as hell and well-made. 4 stars
4/29/04 Patrick awesome 5 stars
2/12/04 Kevin Overlooked Belushi film 4 stars
12/25/03 paul heslep Spielberg explores his (still young) style. A very solid comedy 5 stars
12/18/03 * An Idiot Who Loves Dan Aykroyd* FUCKIN' SWEET! I LOVED IT IT WAS THE GREATEST! JOHN BELUSHI ROX! 5 stars
12/07/03 john a bit long and overblown but better than its reputation 4 stars
11/30/03 *A Monotonous Creton who loves Tom Hulce* john rulz. aykroyd rulz. this damn movie rulz. screw DarkHorse!!!!!!! 5 stars
11/11/03 Simon Beal Slap-stick comedy at its best! 5 stars
10/25/03 Al Baston There are scenes that are mind blowning!!! 4 stars
9/23/03 MellCat_Slayer_de_Jake "the stars at night are big and bright" oh, KELSO, you were the FUCKING BEST!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/21/03 CAT BLUES it was sweet frank tree is such a fuzz wad kelso was nuts ...who gives a horse shit... #1 5 stars
8/31/03 Kitty Kelso u think i would use KITTY KELSO 4 nothing???!!! 5 stars
8/30/03 Kitty B. "TAKE THAT TOJO!!" doi, belushi kicked ass!! 5 stars
7/18/03 EZE pretty amusing evn after the first time u watch it, a bit long tho 4 stars
5/18/03 David Keeling Funny,not as bad as its rep. 4 stars
4/12/03 Michael One of the funniest movies I have ever seen 5 stars
12/15/02 Eugene Donaldo Favorite comedy spectacular 5 stars
12/11/02 jay saw this movie when it was released n 1979 and loved it ever since.FUNNY!!!!!! 5 stars
9/27/02 Tom Fleeman This was some funny shit! 4 stars
5/12/02 Allen Forster Loved it especially the ventriloquist dummy "Jeezus it's a Jap sub!" 5 stars
5/01/02 lecomte A very good moment ! 5 stars
2/11/02 Steve Weiss A classic - Belushi, Akyroyd, Candy - it is AWESOME!! 5 stars
1/20/02 Sean 1941 was an extreamly funny movie! 4 stars
11/18/01 Romaniac This movie's hilariously funny! A good piece of parody and slapstick. 5 stars
10/17/01 Hitler's 3rd Testicle Okay, so it's not terrible. But it IS pretty boring. Wacky sunts and elaborate production 3 stars
9/20/01 Luca great movie great belushi 5 stars
8/08/01 Mr. Hat Surprisingly not Steven Spielberg/Dan Aykroyd/John Belushi/John Candy/Rob Zemeckis fare. 3 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk John Belushi is GOD! This was back when Spielberg had balls. 5 stars
7/30/01 Anthony Mancuso Fucking Amazing! 5 stars
7/05/01 Luis Roizman one of the best movies of all times 5 stars
6/20/01 Judith Latham I saw it when it came out (I'm in my 30s) and it was awful and brilliant at the same time 2 stars
6/15/01 Matthew Bartley Underneath all the mess there's a great movie struggling to get out... 3 stars
6/12/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Yes, it's bad. But it's goddamn funny. 4 stars
3/03/01 campibis laughed so hard my side hurt for three days 5 stars
2/19/01 Steve in Prague GREAT flick..probably John Williams BEST score, even better than JAWS...TERRIFIC MOVIE 5 stars
2/06/01 Classicdog Belushi enough said! 5 stars
12/10/00 robbie vinder just nice, you know, it's just nice 5 stars
6/28/00 Chocise A classic spectacle in the mode of "Mad, Mad World". The USO dance sequence is superb! 5 stars
11/04/99 christopher hofer I can not believe that 1941 got such terrible reviews, I love this movie. Aside from the de 5 stars
7/27/99 Ron Great movie! Sure its lowbrow, but pretty hilarious nonetheless. 4 stars
7/26/99 Erwin An hilariously over-the-top, hysteric comedy 5 stars
7/26/99 Biondo It's the best film of S.Spielberg, the best for ilarius, the best for the special effect 4 stars
4/16/99 little jerry Not particularly funny but seen on the big screen it really is quite something to behold. 4 stars
4/14/99 Thethug266 This was pretty funny. A war comedy that bombed. What, America can't make war comedy's?! 4 stars
4/08/99 Neil Frankland underated and misunderstood comedy with plenty of redeeming features 3 stars
4/07/99 Cool Thing I bet Speilberg still has nightmares about this one. 1 stars
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  14-Dec-1979 (PG)


  02-Feb-1980 (PG)

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