The Blues Brothers is a 1980 American musical comedy film directed by John Landis. It stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as “Joliet” Jake and Elwood Blues, characters developed from “The Blues Brothers” recurring musical sketch on the NBC variety series Saturday Night Live.
It features musical numbers by rhythm and blues (R&B), soul, and blues singers James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker.
Universal Studios, which had won the bidding war for the film, was hoping to take advantage of Belushi’s popularity in the wake of Saturday Night Live, Animal House, and the Blues Brothers’ musical success; it soon found itself unable to control production costs.
The start of filming was delayed when Aykroyd, new to film screenwriting, took six months to deliver a long and unconventional script that Landis had to rewrite before production, which began without a final budget.
On location in Chicago, Belushi’s partying and drug use caused lengthy and costly delays that, along with the destructive car chases depicted onscreen, made the final film one of the most expensive comedies ever produced.
Jake Blues is released from Joliet Correctional Center after serving three years, and is picked up by his brother Elwood in his Bluesmobile, a battered, decommissioned police car.
During a sermon by the Reverend Cleophus James at the Triple Rock Baptist Church, Jake has an epiphany: they can re-form their band, “The Blues Brothers” – which disbanded while Jake was in prison – and raise the money to save the orphanage.
On their way to meet the final two band members, the brothers find the road through Jackson Park blocked by an “American Socialist White People’s Party” – “the Illinois Nazis” – demonstration on a bridge; Elwood runs them off the bridge into the East Lagoon.
Copy of the “Bluesmobile”, the car the Blues Brothers use in the film.
John Belushi as “Joliet” Jake Blues
See also: The Blues Brothers
The characters, Jake and Elwood Blues, were created by Belushi and Aykroyd in performances on Saturday Night Live.
The fictional back story and character sketches of blood brothers Jake and Elwood were developed by Aykroyd in collaboration with Ron Gwynne, who is credited as a story consultant for the film.
As related in the liner notes of the band’s debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, the brothers grew up in an orphanage, learned the blues from a janitor named Curtis, and sealed their brotherhood by cutting their middle fingers with a steel string said to have come from the guitar of Elmore James.
Belushi had become a star in 1978 as a result of both the Blues Brothers’ musical success and his role in National Lampoon’s Animal House.
When Aykroyd and Belushi decided they could make a Blues Brothers film, the bidding war was intense.
Aykroyd had never written a screenplay before, as he admitted in the 1998 documentary, Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, or even read one, and he was unable to find a writing partner.
He titled it The Return of the Blues Brothers, and credited it to “By Scriptatron GL-9000”. Landis was given the task of editing the script into a usable screenplay, which took him about two weeks.
Much of the film was shot on location in and around Chicago between July and October 1979, including Joliet Correctional Center in nearby Joliet, Illinois and Wauconda, Illinois, where the car crashes into the side of Route 12. Made with the cooperation of Mayor Jane M.
We wrote it as a tribute”, Dan Aykroyd told the Chicago Sun-Times in an article written to mark the film’s 25th-anniversary DVD release.
(Elwood’s Illinois driver’s license number is an almost-valid encoded number, with Dan Aykroyd’s own birth date embedded.) Jake’s final confrontation with his girlfriend was filmed in a replica of a section of the abandoned Chicago freight tunnel system.
Daley Center. Public murals by Japanese American artist Sachio Yamashita feature prominently in the film’s final car chase scene along lower Wacker Drive, including the “super graphics” work “Balance of Power.”
The Palace Hotel Ballroom, where the band performs its climactic concert, was at the time of filming a country club, but later became the South Shore Cultural Center, named after the Chicago neighborhood where it is located.
Costs for filming the largest scene in the city’s history totaled $3.5 million. Permission was given after Belushi and Aykroyd offered to donate $50,000 to charity after filming. Although the Bluesmobile was allowed to be driven through the Daley Center lobby, special breakaway panes were temporarily substituted for the normal glass in the building. The speeding car caused $7,650 in damage to 35 granite paver stones and a bronze air grille in the building. Interior shots of the elevator, staircase, and assessor’s office were all recreated in a film set for filming.
For the scene when the Blues Brothers finally arrive at the Richard J.
The members of The Blues Brothers band are notable for their musical accomplishments, as well.
The film is also notable for the number of cameo appearances by established celebrities and entertainment-industry figures, including Steve Lawrence as a booking agent, Twiggy as a “chic lady” in a Jaguar convertible whom Elwood propositions at a gas station, Steven Spielberg as the Cook County Assessor’s clerk, John Landis as a state trooper in the mall chase, Paul Reubens (before Pee-wee Herman) as a waiter in the Chez Paul restaurant scene, Joe Walsh in a cameo as the first prisoner to jump up on a table in the final scene, and Chaka Khan as the soloist in the Triple Rock choir.
Muppet performer Frank Oz plays a corrections officer, and in the scene where the brothers crash into Toys R Us, a Grover and Kermit the Frog toy can be spotted and a customer (played by stunt coordinator Gary McLarty) asks the cashier if they have a Miss Piggy doll, a Muppet character that is voiced by Oz. Singer/songwriter Stephen Bishop is a deputy sheriff who complains that Jake and Elwood broke his watch (a result of the car chase in the mall).
Makeup artist Layne Britton is the old card player who asks Elwood, “Did you get me my Cheez Whiz, boy?” The character portrayed by Cab Calloway is named Curtis as an homage to Curtis Salgado, a Portland, Oregon, blues musician who inspired Belushi while he was in Oregon filming Animal House.
One day after the editing was done, Wasserman invited Landis up to his office to speak with Ted Mann, head of the Mann Theatres chain, which dominated film exhibition in the Western United States.
Ultimately The Blues Brothers got less than half the bookings nationwide for its initial release than a typical big-budget studio film of the era, which did not bode well for its success at the box office.
The Blues Brothers opened on June 20, 1980, with a release in 594 theaters.
It ranks second, between Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World 2, among films adapted from Saturday Night Live sketches. Director John Landis claimed The Blues Brothers was also the first American film to gross more money overseas than it did in the United States.
The site’s critical consensus reads, “Too over the top for its own good, but ultimately rescued by the cast’s charm, director John Landis’ grace, and several soul-stirring musical numbers.” It won the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing and Sound Effects, is 14th on Total Film magazine’s “List of the 50 Greatest Comedy Films of All Time” and is number 69 on Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies”.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars, praising it for its energetic musical numbers and said the car chases were “incredible” if so over-the-top that they finally became numbing.
There’s even room, in the midst of the carnage and mayhem, for a surprising amount of grace, humor, and whimsy.” In his review for The Washington Post, Gary Arnold criticized Landis for engorging “the frail plot of The Blues Brothers with car chases and crack-ups, filmed with such avid, humorless starkness on the streets of Chicago that comic sensations are virtually obliterated”. Time magazine’s Richard Corliss wrote, “The Blues Brothers is a demolition symphony that works with the cold efficiency of a Moog synthesizer gone sadistic”.
She also took director Landis to task for “distracting editing”, mentioning the Soul Food diner scene in which saxophonist Lou Marini’s head is out of shot as he dances on the counter. In the documentary, Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, Landis acknowledges the criticism, and Marini recalls the dismay he felt at seeing the completed film.
Kim Newman, writing for Empire in 2013, considered The Blues Brothers to be “an amalgam of urban sleaze, automobile crunch and blackheart rhythm and blues” with “better music than any film had had for many years”.
He noted that Belushi and Aykroyd pack in their heroes: “Aretha storming through ‘Think’, Cab Calloway cruising through ‘Minnie the Moocher’, John Lee Hooker boogying through ‘Boom Boom’ and Ray Charles on electric piano, not to mention the hottest band.” He observed that “the picture had revived the careers of virtually all the musicians that appeared in it” and concluded “it still sounds great and looks as good as ever through Ray Bans”.
They went further, stating, The Blues Brothers “is a memorable film, and, judging by the facts, a Catholic one.”
The Blues Brothers has become a staple of late-night cinema, even slowly morphing into an audience-participation show in its regular screenings at the Valhalla Cinema, in Melbourne, Australia. John Landis acknowledged the support of the cinema and the fans by a phone call he made to the cinema at the 10th-anniversary screening, and later invited regular attendees to make cameo appearances in Blues Brothers 2000.
In August 2005, a 25th-anniversary celebration for The Blues Brothers was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. Attendees included Landis, former Universal Studios executive Thom Mount, film editor George Folsey, Jr., and cast members James Brown, Henry Gibson, Charles Napier, Steve Cropper, and Stephen Bishop.
The film’s original length was restored to 148 minutes for the “Collector’s Edition” DVD and a Special Edition VHS and Laserdisc release in 1998.
The DVD and Laserdisc versions included a 56-minute documentary called “The Stories Behind The Making Of The Blues Brothers”.
Produced and directed by JM Kenny (who also produced the Animal House Collector’s Edition DVD the same year), it included interviews with Landis, Aykroyd, members of The Blues Brothers Band, producer Robert K.
The Blues Brothers: Original Soundtrack Recording (later re-released as The Blues Brothers: Music from the Soundtrack) was released on June 20, 1980 as the second album by the Blues Brothers Band, which also toured that year to promote the film.
The songs on the soundtrack album are a noticeably different audio mix than in the film, with a prominent baritone saxophone in the horn line (also heard in the film during “Shake a Tail Feather”, though no baritone sax is present), and female backing vocals on “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”, though the band had no other backup singers, besides Jake &/or Elwood, in the film.
A number of regular Blues Brothers’ members, including saxophonist Tom Scott and drummer Steve Jordan, perform on the soundtrack album, but are not in the film.
According to Landis in the 1998 documentary The Stories Behind the Making of ‘The Blues Brothers’, filmed musical performances by Franklin and Brown took more effort, as neither artist was accustomed to lip-synching their performances on film.
The Blues Brothers with lead vocals by Jake Blues
The Blues Brothers Band
The Blues Brothers with lead vocals by Jake Blues
Ray Charles with the Blues Brothers (Jake and Elwood, backing vocals)
The Blues Brothers (Jake Blues, lead vocals; Elwood Blues, harmonica and vocals)
Aretha Franklin and the Blues Brothers with backing vocals by Brenda Corbett, Margaret Branch, Carolyn Franklin, Jake, and Elwood
Elwood, Jake, and the Blues Brothers Band
Cab Calloway with the Blues Brothers Band
The Blues Brothers with lead vocals by Jake Blues (dedicated to the musician Magic Sam)
Jake Blues and the Blues Brothers (Over the closing credits in the film, verses are sung by James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and “crew”)
Other songs in the film
The film’s score includes “God Music” (instrumental with choir vocalese) composed by Elmer Bernstein, who previously had worked with John Landis on National Lampoon’s Animal House.
The Blues Brothers band (their theme song; plays during the smashing of the Mall and again when they are introduced at the Palace Hotel Ballroom, incorporating “Time Is Tight” by Booker T.
John Lee Hooker (plays in the film twice; first when Jake tries to phone Maury Sline, again when the band go to Bob’s Country Bunker)
The Blues Brothers
The 1998 sequel, Blues Brothers 2000, had similar traits to the original, including large car-chase scenes and musical numbers.
Landis returned to direct the film and Aykroyd reprised his role, joining John Goodman, Joe Morton, and 10-year-old J.
Blues Brothers: Private
The Blues Brothers on IMDb
The Blues Brothers at the American Film Institute Catalog
The Blues Brothers at Box Office Mojo