Saturday 24 June 2023

The Blues Brothers (1980)


Off-List: The Blues Brothers

"It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark... and we're wearing sunglasses." "Hit it."

When I was a student at the University of Aarhus there were a few of movies with exceptional cult status. At campus, “The Blues Brothers” was likely the movie most often watched, quoted and imitated at parties. Frequently you would see people show up as the Blues Brothers and the soundtrack was always a hit. I cannot say that I was the biggest fan, my taste in music pointed in a different direction, but I was as caught up in the party as much as anybody else. And this was a decade and a half after its theatrical release. That this movie was never included on the List is mindboggling. Did the editors never go to our parties?

Jake Blues (John Belushi) is released from prison and picked up by his brother Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) in his new Bluesmobile, a former police car as he reasonably enough traded the old car for a microphone. They visit the “Penguin” (Kathleen Freeman) at their old orphanage, where they learn that the place will be shut down unless they can produce 5000$ to pay taxes. When Jake and Elwood subsequently visit the church of Reverend Cleophus James (James Brown), Jake is endowed with divine inspiration and realizes they must get the band back together.

This is not easy as everybody got new jobs, but they succeed and head out to make that big show that will produce the 5000$ needed by the orphanage. They are on a mission from God, as they keep telling everybody. In the process they manage to piss off the police, a country and western band and the local chapter of the Nazi party, not to mention a mysterious woman (Carrie Fisher) who seems hell-bent on blowing up Jake. To say they have to run a gauntlet is an understatement, but they are cool. Very very cool.

“The Blues Brothers” is a tremendously fun movie to watch. Both Aykroyd and Belushi were at their comedic peak here and their characters, Elwood and Jake, are priceless. But what everybody remembers “The Blues Brothers” for is the horn of plenty of music. Not lame-ass music for the movie stuff, but some of the best black music America has ever produced. Okay, I will likely get nailed for that statement, but seriously, we have James Brown, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway and Ray Charles all appearing and singing some of their best-known songs, plus we have The Blues Brothers with their excellent band singing a whole string of classics. Not many movies can boast this. I mean, friggin’ Aretha Franklin singing “Think!” Do you have any idea how many times that very version was played at the parties I went to in the nineties?

You might then ask, what would be so special about two comedians singing blues? The Blues Brother and band with backstory and all was actually formed years before and had a number 1 hit on the album charts with their music and only then did they get the idea of making a movie. This is the real deal, even if it started as a stunt. That they manage to add energy, charm and crazy fun to the music is just add-on.

John Landis managed to take this music and this crazy stunt and actually weave a coherent story around it that is both engaging and fun and I can even forgive that events go completely off the rails in the last chase toward the Cook County Assessor’s office. It is a balancing act with the anarchy threatening to topple the movie and it is mostly successful.

It has been years since I watched “The Blues Brothers” the last time, but it has not lost an inch since then. It is still one of the best music comedies ever made and I still get happy watching it. I just need some shades and a hat.

List editors, shame on you!



  1. Agreed completely.

    This is probably the first R-rated movie I saw in theaters. I was 12. It's still a classic, still funny, and the music still kills. It's ridiculou that this isn't in the book.

    1. How was it, watching The Blues Brothers at the age of 12? I am not certain I would have caught all the references back then, but even without those, it is still a great movie.
      It is also great for spotting cameos. Did you notice Steven Spielberg?