John Landis

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Pauline Kael

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 438

It has taken all these years for Aretha Franklin to reach the screen—and then she's on for only one number! Getting her into "The Blues Brothers" was the smartest thing that the director, John Landis, did; letting her get away after that number was the dumbest. (p. 95)

This musical slapstick farce, set in Chicago, is good-natured, in a sentimental, folk-bop way, but its big joke is how over-scaled everything in it is, and that one sequence that's really alive is relatively small-scale. John Landis has a lot of comic invention and isn't afraid of silliness, but in terms of slapstick craft he's still an amateur. This showed in "Animal House," but it didn't seem to matter as much there: the sloppiness was part of the film's infantile gross-out charm. Here he's working with such a lavish hand that the miscalculations in timing are experienced by the audience as a form of waste. There are funny moments…. The script, by Aykroyd and Landis, keeps the jokes coming, and maybe it wouldn't matter much when they miss if almost all the musical numbers weren't staged so disappointingly. And maybe the jokes missing and the musical number fizzling wouldn't matter too much if only Aykroyd and Belushi really clicked together, in the slightly hallucinated way you expect them to. But the fun has gone out of their hipster-musicians act. Possibly it was only good for a few skits. There's nothing going on between them, and the taciturn style doesn't allow them to show enough personality for a full-length movie. (pp. 96-7)

Does the film traduce the great black rhythm-and-blues musicians in the cast? Only inadvertently, by not knowing how to use them. Since Aretha Franklin transcends the film's incompetence, one can perhaps forgive Landis (who is still in his twenties) for the somewhat patronizing casting of the black performers. No doubt he would do something comparable with Benny Goodman and Hoagy Carmichael and Gene Krupa. (Amateurism crosses color lines.) A chief ingredient of the film is noisy car crashes, pileups, and demolition scenes: the Blues Brothers antagonize so many individuals and organizations in the course of rounding up their old band that thousands of vehicles chase them and converge on unlucky streets and plazas. ["The Blues Brothers"] is probably more fun for people who drive than for people like me. Even when I laugh at car stunts, I'm not having a good time—I'm just giving in. I blot them out instantaneously, the way one forgets pain. (p. 97)

Pauline Kael, in her review of "The Blues Brothers" (© 1980 by Pauline Kael), in The New Yorker, Vol. LVI, No. 20, July 7, 1980, pp. 90, 93-7.∗

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