1941 (1979) – Steven Spielberg

It has been a long time since I last watched Spielberg’s 1941, but as I’m revisiting his films and exploring the ones I haven’t written about before, it seemed like a perfect time to look at this one again.

The film did not do well upon release, in fact, watching it now, it still feels like a bit of a mess, but damn if I didn’t have a good time this round.In fact, it may have gotten better with age, time has been very kind to it. It’s almost like a cartoon brought to life, the film delivers one hectic night in Los Angeles with the American public succumbing to the fear of a Japanese sneak attack.

With a variety of tales making up the film the stories ricochet across the screen, some of the laughs misfire, some are dated, and some are right on the mark. Spielberg even takes a swipe at his own film, Jaws, in the opening, introduces a joke that doesn’t work but plays brilliantly in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and packs the screen with a horde of stars.

Running down the cast list tons of names pop out, Nancy Allen (who is stunning this film), Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, John Belushi, Treat Williams, Christopher Lee, Toshiro Mifune, Ned Beatty, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Carl Gottlieb, Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, and Robert Stack. Each of them has a moment to shine in a script penned by Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, and Spielberg.

There are zoot suit riots, fights over dames, Americans fighting Americans, race commentary, dogfights, explosions, Disney cartoons, a dance sequence, fun model work, continuity errors, and a John Williams score to beat the band.

I honestly laughed a lot more this time through the film with some of the gags than I had previously. I just fun with it. It’s a bonkers movie, and after it flopped it could have impacted Spielberg’s career as well as Gale and Zemeckis, but Spielberg would be back on top soon enough.

Still, there are some cool things at work here, the aerial photography, the model work, the costumes, and so many recognizable stars doing their best to be true to their characters in a film that just gets more and more rioutous as it progresses.

Did it get away from Spielberg? Was it just too big to be restrained? I don’t know. I know it took me a long time to embrace the sense of fun that permeates it, but it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s very silly.

It feels like big budget madness, I can imagine this spiraled out of control, and then just wasn’t what the studio thought they were gonna get. But watching it now, it’s… well, it’s something. It does show that Spielberg can handle big effects sequences, and we know that paid off in a big way down the line.


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