1941 (Steven Spielberg, 1979)
Hysterical Californians prepare for a Japanese invasion in the days after Pearl Harbor.
After a couple of blockbuster hits in the Horror genre with Jaws in 1975 and the Science-fiction genre with Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, Steven Spielberg was hot at the box-office. While grossing more than half a billion dollars with the two films aforementioned, Spielberg turned to comedy to make a comedy that was reminding of old tymes like the films of Howard Hawks, Norman McCloud, etc. Well, a comedy that was out of its time.
Despite the presence of the most iconic comedians of the time : Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, John Candy, Ned Beatty as long with film legends such as Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, Christopher Lee, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Stack and well known names like James Caan and Nancy Allen to name more than a few the film seemed to be a huge pot of anything. Even with the writing work of Robert Zemeckis, John Milius, and Bob Gale Spielberg’s lack of real natural touch for comedy has at the start failed 1941.
Not being a total train wreck does not save the film from being a mess. Scenes after scene the plethora of characters isn’t really connected neither really engaging. Some of the best scenes are with two of the greatest actors of all time Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee in the Japanese submarine. For the rest, some riots and the Hollywood boulevard scenes are directed with Spielberg’s mastery, however it’s still not enough to elevate the whole and achieve an Airplane or a Mel Brooks level.
Since there are many characters, there’s a waste of talent like Belushi who has to act again like an animal. Aykroyd might probably the most interesting character and Candy could have been bigger on this as well.
Even if Spielberg made a lesser film with his try at comedy with 1941 it didn’t stopped him from getting back on top with his excellent Raiders of the Lost Ark two years later. More than thirty five years after its initial release, 1941 has now earned a cult status and is an alien in Spielberg’s filmography. One of the few comedies he ever directed and one of the lowest rated films he ever made. It is indeed a curiosity and if you are a fan of the director you might give it a watch but don’t expect huge belly laughter.