Janet Maslin

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 463

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There isn't a moment of "The Blues Brothers" that wouldn't have been more enjoyable if it had been mounted on a simpler scale. This essentially modest movie is reported to have cost about $30 million, and what did all that money buy? Scores of car crashes. Too many extras. Overstaged dance numbers. And a hollowness that certainly didn't come cheap. A film that moved faster and called less attention to its indulgences might never convey, as "The Blues Brothers" does in all but its jolliest moments, such unqualified despair….

["The Blues Brothers" features] two very deadpan white men whose love of black culture forms the story's main, perhaps only thread. This aspect of the movie, potentially its most interesting and original aspect, goes largely neglected. Though the story leads Jake and Elwood Blues of Chicago to a number of wonderful soul or blues performers—among them Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway—it uses the musicians in cameo roles and devotes itself otherwise to a conventional, poorly rendered plot. The whole movie supposedly hinges on Jake and Elwood Blues's efforts to raise money to pay taxes on a church orphanage. Had the orphanage been tax exempt, there would be no story at all….

In the movie's only show-stopping episode, they walk into a Chicago luncheonette, and there, behind the counter, is Aretha Franklin, playing a waitress. Her husband is a former member of their band, and they want him. Miss Franklin wants him too, and lets him know it by singing "Think" with all her formidable might. It's quite a song, and she offers quite a rendition. Even this, the best scene here, is furiously ill-directed, with cutting that really hampers the rhythm of the music. One of the musicians is directed to stand on the luncheonnette counter, although that means the camera will lop off his head.

John Landis, who also directed "Animal House," manages to fill "The Blues Brothers" with senseless extra shots, distracting editing, views of virtually everything from too many angles. This is part of the movie's exhausting overkill, and it also means that when the brothers drive a car into a shopping mall, they will crash into every last plate glass window. And it means that when the brothers perform before an audience, the crowd will rise to its feet in unison, or clap so enthusiastically that their behavior seems entirely pre-fab. There are parts of "The Blues Brothers" that would have played infinitely better with a knock-about feeling, a sloppiness like that of "Animal House." As it is, the movie is airless. The stakes needn't have been so suffocatingly high.

Janet Maslin, "Movie: 'Blues Brothers'—Belushi and Aykroyd," in The New York Times (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 20, 1980, p. C 16.


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