John Landis Lawrence O'Toole - Essay

Lawrence O'Toole

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There's no denying that certain scenes in The Blues Brothers have a wild, off-the-hip humor, and that the great Aretha Franklin sings a sizzling Think and that the stunt work is spectacular. But this cop-chase-car-crash-let's-be-as-crass-as-we-can farce, where everything in sight is smashed with infantile pleasure, has a rankling edge of desperation to it. That desperation reflects the sorry state of movie comedy right now, which began with the anarchic Animal House and left a trail of forced funnies—Meatballs, 1941, Where the Buffalo Roam, Roadie, Wholly Moses et al. Crude comedy used to release us from our complacencies; now the vulgarity has lost its charm—it has become, ironically, too common. Being irreverent has no bite because young directors feel they have to be irreverent about everything: they don't have a focus, or reason, for their anarchy, and so they begin with a single idea and just toss it to the winds.

The Blues Brothers is a single idea out of control….

The cutting of the chase scenes and the musical numbers is so frantic you get the feeling that Landis … just kept shooting footage, piling the jokes and the cars on top of one another as a last, rash resort. When he parodies other movies (Close Encounters, The French Connection, The Sugarland Express), the scenes have some zest—we know where they're coming from. When Landis stages a demolition derby through a shopping mall, it's nihilistic in the most juvenile way—a kind of baby's rage over not being able to do anything better. The Blues Brothers doesn't have a plot; it strings gags together by connecting them to the chase. The moviemakers probably assume that audiences will laugh so that they won't feel square, and the moviemakers are probably right. Current comedies don't stop to relax and crack a good, honest joke—they're too busy bullying.

Lawrence O'Toole, "The Animals Go to a Demolition Derby," in Maclean's Magazine (© 1980 by Maclean's Magazine; reprinted by permission), Vol. 93, No. 26, June 30, 1980, p. 53.