The Blues Brothers (1980)
May 23, 2016 6:27 AM - Subscribe

Jake Blues, just out from prison, puts together his old band to save the Catholic home where he and brother Elwood were raised.

The Blues Brothers is a 1980 American musical crime comedy film directed by John Landis. It stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as "Joliet" Jake and Elwood Blues, characters developed from "The Blues Brothers" musical sketch on the NBC variety series Saturday Night Live. The film's screenplay was written by Aykroyd and Landis. It features musical numbers by rhythm and blues (R&B), soul, and blues singers James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker. The film is set in and around Chicago, Illinois, where it was filmed. It features non-musical supporting performances by John Candy, Carrie Fisher, Charles Napier, and Henry Gibson. (wikipedia)

• Belushi had become a star in 1978 as a result of both the Blues Brothers' musical success and his role in National Lampoon's Animal House. At one point, he managed the triple feat of being the star of the week's top-grossing film, top-rated television show, and singing on the number-one album within a year. When Aykroyd and Belushi decided they could make a Blues Brothers film, the bidding war was intense. Universal Studios narrowly beat Paramount Pictures for the project. John Landis, who had directed Belushi in Animal House, was aboard as director.

• Aykroyd had never written a screenplay before, he admitted in the 1998 documentary, Stories Behind the Making of The Blues Brothers, or even read one, and he was unable to find a writing partner. Consequently, he put together a very descriptive volume that explained the characters' origins and how the band members were recruited. His final draft was 324 pages, which was three times longer than a standard screenplay, written not in a standard screenplay format, but more like free verse.

• To soften the impact, Aykroyd made a joke of the thick script and had it bound with the cover of the Los Angeles Yellow Pages directory for when he turned it in to producer Robert K. Weiss. Landis was given the task of editing the script into a usable screenplay, which took him about two weeks.

• Principal photography began in July 1979, with the film's budget still not settled. For the first month, things ran smoothly on and off the set. When Weiss saw the supposedly final $17.5 million budget, he reportedly joked, "I think we've spent that much already.”

• During the filming of the opening scene, guards at the prison fired at the helicopter filming the overhead shots, thinking that it was attempting to spy on the structure.

• In the next month, the production began falling behind schedule. Much of the delay was due to Belushi's partying and carousing. When not on the set, he went out to his familiar Chicago haunts such as Wrigley Field. People often recognized him and slipped him cocaine, a drug he was already using heavily on his own, hoping to use it with him. "Every blue-collar Joe wants his John Belushi story," said Smokey Wendell, who was eventually hired to keep it away from the star. As a result of his late nights and drug and alcohol use, Belushi would often miss unit calls (the beginning of a production day) or go to his trailer after them and sleep, wasting hours of production time. One night, Aykroyd found him crashing on the sofa of a nearby house, where Belushi had already helped himself to food in the refrigerator.

• Cocaine was already so prevalent on the set (like many other film productions of that era) that Aykroyd, who used far less than his partner, claims a section of the budget was actually set aside for purchases of the drug during night shooting. The stars had a private bar, the Blues Club, built on the set, for themselves, crew, and friends. Carrie Fisher, Aykroyd's girlfriend at the time, says most of the bar's staff doubled as dealers, procuring any drug patrons desired.

• The first traffic stop was in Park Ridge, Illinois. The shopping mall car chase was filmed in the real, albeit abandoned, Dixie Square Mall, in Harvey, Illinois. The bridge jump was filmed on an actual drawbridge, the 95th Street bridge over the Calumet River, on the southeast side of Chicago. The main entrance to Wrigley Field (and its sign reading "Save lives. Drive safely, prevent fires.") makes a brief appearance when the "Illinois Nazis" visit it after Elwood falsely registers the ballpark's location, 1060 West Addison, as his home address on his driver's license. (Elwood's Illinois driver's license number is an almost-valid encoded number, with Dan Aykroyd's own birth date embedded.)

• Producers rented the Dixie Square Mall in suburban Harvey, IL, for the mall chase scenes. The mall had been closed for over a year. Rumors began in the community that the mall was being refurbished and would be reopened after filming was complete, but those rumors were not true. Universal was later sued for over $87,500 for failure to make good on a deal to "return the mall to its original condition", something that had never been agreed upon. After years of political wrangling that saw only the the Montgomery Ward anchor store and mall power plant being demolished while the rest of the dead mall rotted unused, deals were finally struck that led to every part of the structure being torn down and cleared away in 2012.

• The film used thirteen different cars bought at auction from the California Highway Patrol to depict the Bluesmobile, a retired 1974 Mount Prospect, Illinois Dodge Monaco patrol car. The vehicles were outfitted by the studio to do particular driving chores; some were customized for speed and others for jumps, depending on the scene. For the large car chases, filmmakers purchased 60 police cars at $400 each, and most were destroyed at the completion of the filming. More than 40 stunt drivers were hired, and the crew kept a 24-hour body shop to repair cars.

• The Bluesmobile was actually going 118 miles per hour under the elevated train line. The film crew received permission to clear the street for two 100 MPH+ passes. Stunt pedestrians were added after the first pass to add realism.

• Before the falling-Pinto scene could be filmed, the filmmakers had to get an "Air UN-worthiness certificate" from the Federal Aviation Administration for the car. This was done by conducting preliminary drop tests to ensure that it would not behave as an airfoil and drift from its target line, but would drop "like a brick" when dropped from a great height.

• For the scene when the Blues Brothers finally arrive at the Richard J. Daley Center, a mechanic took several months to rig the car to fall apart.

• During the making of the movie, one of the actors, Stephen Brown, got separated from the vehicle caravan and drove the Bluesmobile 100 miles west on Interstate 80, to the city of Spring Valley, IL. When stopping at a gas station for directions he was arrested by local police for no registration (the plate was a prop), and no valid driver's license. A telephone call was made to the production, and the set director was more concerned with the return of the vehicle than with the return of his actor.

• A world-record--at that time--103 cars were wrecked during filming. This feat was exceeded two years later, when 150 cars (and a plane) were crashed for H.B. Halicki's The Junkman (1982). That record in turn held for two decades, until over 300 cars were wrecked during the filming of The Matrix Reloaded (2003).


This movie is a selection of the Shut Up And Drive! club.
posted by valkane (40 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Shut Up And Drive! will be screening this film tonight (Monday, May 23) at 9:00 pm ET. Click Here To Watch.
posted by valkane at 6:29 AM on May 23, 2016

So, um... will we be doing the sequel?
posted by Naberius at 6:34 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by valkane at 6:36 AM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

There was a sequel?
posted by entropicamericana at 6:41 AM on May 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

Well that's a load off my mind.

I love this movie, and have no difficulty whatsoever believing that it was written by someone who had never so much as seen a film script, or that it was fueled almost entirely by cocaine. It's a movie that works almost in spite of itself. It's got a lot of cool car stunts, a lot of really awesome musical performances - and for a white kid at the time, raised on top 40 pop radio, blues was kind of a revelation, as I gather it was for Belushi - and Jake and Elwood have an undeniable chemistry.

If you really pay attention to the story, it doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense, and all kinds of stuff is just thrown in there for the hell of it. But you don't care.
posted by Naberius at 6:44 AM on May 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

What a great flick! And a great post!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:52 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a ridiculous affection for this movie because of Aretha Franklin's role in it. Those slippers! That VOICE! I am a bad parent, but both my kids have seen it at my urging, and I am totally delighted when my little daughter says to her big brother, "You better think! You better THINK about the consequences of your actions!" Good post, valkane--thanks!
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:16 AM on May 23, 2016 [12 favorites]

Shameless Metafilter self-link to my very own previously

"The tall one wants white bread, toasted, dry, nothing on it."
"And the other one wants four whole fried chickens, and a Coke."
"Jake! The Blues Brothers!"
posted by Frayed Knot at 7:38 AM on May 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


Could just post a link to the script really. But I think this is my favourite:

"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."

Aretha's scene sends shivers up my spine, every time. She transcends soul.
posted by wabbittwax at 8:59 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is glue. Strong stuff.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:13 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

With Frank Oz!
posted by Chrysostom at 9:34 AM on May 23, 2016

"...I ran out of gas. I... I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN'T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!"
posted by Marky at 10:33 AM on May 23, 2016 [12 favorites]

Oh and...
"We had a sound that could turn goat-piss into gasoline."
posted by wabbittwax at 10:50 AM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

"Oh, we got both kinds -- we got country AND western!"
posted by briank at 11:54 AM on May 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

One of my favorite movies ever, and a very fine post. Thanks, valkane!!

The almost involuntary quoting of dialogue seems different with this movie: it's like reminding myself (or a fellow enthusiast) of things that have brought me joy in the past. Heck, if I could pronounce the image of a police car embedded in the side of a moving semi trailer with my human voice as easily as I say, "Now we'd like to do a favorite of the horn section. We hope it's one of yours," I would happily do so, probably about once a week on my commute.

I enjoy the scene where they visit the boarding house, and the lady sees them off saying what I think is "Thank you, Mister Mayor!" And if it's not that, like many pieces of half-understood dialogue, I really don't care to be corrected.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:38 PM on May 23, 2016

Also: Cab Calloway in a tux.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:39 PM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Carrie Fisher with a shotgun makes me weak at the knees. I had no idea for a while that she was Leia until about the fifth or sixth time watching the show when one of my siblings told me and blew my preteen mind.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:50 PM on May 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

The story I've heard a number of times about Carrie Fisher on the set of The Blues Brothers is that she was doing so much cocaine that Belushi had to take her aside and tell her to slow down for her own good. I don't know how true that story is, but the idea of Princess Leia doing so much cocaine that Joliet Jake told her to cool it is simultaneously shocking and utterly hilarious.
posted by wabbittwax at 1:27 PM on May 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

I listened to the audiobook version of her autobiography, "Wishful Drinking." I know that she mentions filming the movie; I should go back and see what she says specifically.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:28 PM on May 23, 2016

This is one of those films that makes me miss Chicago so much, even though pretty much every location in every car chase has almost no geographic relationship to the subsequent or previous locations. It is also an interesting visual record of a bunch of things that aren't there any more, such as Maxwell Street.

"Lotsa space in this mall..."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:40 PM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

The physical humor almost transcends the lines.

And the music. Oh. My. God.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:44 PM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Use of unnecessary violence in apprehension of the Blues Brothers . . . has been approved.
posted by Aznable at 3:32 PM on May 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

I read once that the opening title sequence apparently has one of the last filmed scenes of Chicago's South Works in operation. The works didn't close until 1992, but I like the relic anyway. More locations.

This is a movie I have memorized, and think of as one of the last great ensemble movies.
posted by rhizome at 4:18 PM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

And it's ladies night at the Palace Hotel Ballroom.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:42 PM on May 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Who wants an Orange Whip? Orange Whip? Orange Whip?

Three Orange Whips!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:16 PM on May 23, 2016 [11 favorites]

Setting aside everything else that's great about this movie, this is probably one of my favorite John Candy performances, alongside Uncle Buck and Harry, The Guy With The Snake On His Face. Every time I watch this's not that I forget that he's in it, it's just that he inhabits the film's world so perfectly and blends in so seamlessly. Everybody else is totally deadpan in the middle of utter pandemonium, but Candy's character just plain enjoys every single thing that's going on.
posted by MrBadExample at 9:28 PM on May 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

computech_apolloniajames, you have to get the intonation right: "...and it's...ladies night!" like he just thought of it. :)

When I was in high school I played drums, and the flashes of Willie Hall playing in the music store scene somehow was the epitome of cool for me. The entire "Shake Your Tail Feather" scene brings a tear to my eye, it's so perfect. The song is an absolute jam, the choreography is perfect (check the dude backflipping outside and landing right in the step), the foot sliding sounds during both times the crowd does The Twist. The mop top little girl played Molly when I saw "Annie" in the theater as a kid, probably 1981.
posted by rhizome at 10:05 PM on May 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm not saying I did, I'm not saying I didn't, but I might have sung the theme to Rawhide back in college in a crowded cafeteria after losing a bet.
posted by sapere aude at 9:50 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not to mention: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Steve Cropper, Chaka Khan...damn, this movie may have supplied 99% of any coolness found in my entire suburban whitebread childhood. AND IT'S GOT CHARLES FUCKING NAPIER.
posted by sapere aude at 10:01 PM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wonder what kids today make of the dialogue about "can I see your union cards" and "signing some traveller's checks," among other near-anachronisms? (Not to mention the "Fix the cigarette lighter" and "...and it takes leaded gas..." lines in the Bluesmobile scene after Elwood picks up Jake outside prison.)
posted by wenestvedt at 5:56 AM on May 25, 2016

I'm not saying I did, I'm not saying I didn't, but I might have sung the theme to Rawhide back in college in a crowded cafeteria after losing a bet.

My buddies and I definitely sang Rawhide at our friend Mark's wedding reception in 1985.
posted by briank at 1:04 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've also read that Aykroyd also turned in a monster script for Ghostbusters, which was originally written for him and Belushi, and had them jaunting all over time and space. Something tells me that, if he hadn't been edited down by his directors, these two movies might have turned out like Nothing But Trouble, his sole directorial effort, which has a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:41 PM on May 25, 2016

Much of the delay was due to Belushi's partying and carousing. When not on the set, he went out to his familiar Chicago haunts such as Wrigley Field.

You know, I have been to Chicago maybe half a dozen times in my life, never for longer than a few days. I am also not a baseball fan. So you might gauge the level of my love for this movie when I tell you the only address of anything in Chicago I can rattle off from memory is 1060 West Addison.

There is absolutely no reason why this should be any more watchable or memorable than, say, National Lampoon's European Vacation, but it is constructed of the mighty bricks of fantastic musical performances (backed up by an impossibly tight band) and the mortar of nearly unbeatable chemistry from the leads. And for a first-time screenwriter, a shambolic cocaine-fueled shoot, and the gamble of giving a lot of musicians acting roles, the movie is ridiculously quotable.

"One hat. Black."

"No, ma'am. We're musicians."

"Baby clothes!" "Yeah!"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:49 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

My brother and I routinely remind each other to fix the cigarette lighter. By now this mostly happens in cars that do not have one.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:11 AM on May 26, 2016

This thread prompted me to watch the movie again - for what I think is only the second time all the way through. (I've seen it many times in pieces!).

I always found the Penguin hilarious. The swooping! The doors! But this time I really noticed and enjoyed the casual talk during car chases. Like when they're noticing this or that store while driving through the mall, and when they're talking about art on the way to the Richard J. Daly plaza. "That's where they got that Picasso." "Yep."
posted by tomboko at 5:44 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I want to know if "Disco Pants and Haircuts" was a real store.
posted by rhizome at 4:10 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

"How often does the train go by?"
"So often that you won't even notice it."

P.S. "That's a lot of entertainment… for two dollars."
posted by ob1quixote at 11:55 PM on June 18, 2016

My kid is re-watching this with a buddy, and it's hilarious to hear him (he has headphones on) repeating dialogue and singing along. His question, upon seeing Jake and Elwood join the dance line at Aretha's restaurant, was "Well, why didn't they take her, too?"
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:21 PM on September 6, 2018

With PeeWee Herman as the waiter
posted by growabrain at 5:12 PM on August 7, 2020

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