Steven Spielberg directs John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Nancy Allen in this ensemble war farce, where California thinks it might be about to come under attack and become “the next Pearl Harbour.”
Excessive, racist, overlong… this was considered the rare misfire of Spielberg’s blockbuster career. Comedy isn’t his forte and he seems happier with destroying miniatures or setting props and humans up as domino rallies than hitting punchlines. Stanley Kubrick’s assessment of his friend’s foray into spoof was it should have been marketed as a drama rather than a comedy. Spielberg considered turning it into a musical at one point, mid production. Yet there is a seductive mania to it all and the sheer unrepeated size of the production that actually makes it quite watchable. When John Belushi is allowed to let rip (he’s one of the few actors who gets space to himself- not surrounded by a hundred extras, choreographed FX work or complex camera set ups) he is very funny. The bullying hubris and clumsy slapstick of his Wild Bill Kelso generates plenty of free form laughs. Sadly, his character also spouts a lot of clunky racism. Given the period and wartime attitudes it isn’t exactly out of character but it sits awkwardly in a family comedy for modern viewers. It is one small aspect of a very busy film but it kept occurring, and not just in Belushi’s crazed, possibly improvised, rants. Maybe if 1941 lost one subplot or gave Aykroyd similar leeway to cut loose it would be considered a comedy classic. It looks as good as any Spielberg fantasy and there is enough chaotic, sexy, daft and satirical fun within for a great film. But fuck me do you have to sift for it at times.