You would have to have a hard heart indeed not to be drawn in to the music and fun that seeps out of every pore of this film. One of the best ‘buddy pairings’ of all time sees Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi as the Rhythm and Blues obsessed musicians and former jailbirds, tasked with a mission to save the Catholic Orphanage where they were brought up. On the way, they have to re-form their old band, avoid the attentions of some bumbling neo-Nazis, and elude both the full weight of Illinois law enforcement, and the disgruntled members of a Country and Western band. For good measure, Jake is being stalked by his homicidal ex-girlfriend, who will do anything to kill him.
This film throws everything at you with a relentless pace, managing to run at least three sub-plots side by side, and still featuring so many great songs, with cameo appearances by some of the greatest stars in musical history. Crazy car chases, an enormous cast of extras, and location filming all over Chicago, and the wider state. That might all sound too much, if you have never seen it, but believe me, it works. Not only does it work, it is also funny, sometimes even hilarious. As Jake and Elwood, Belushi and Ackroyd are on fire; with dance routines, vocal performances, and snappy exchanges from the great script.
Set pieces are a delight. Trying to get the old band back together, the brothers turn up in an elegant restaurant, their gross behaviour upsetting the other diners, and leaving their hapless friend no option but to quit his job as manager, and rejoin the band. When they appear at the diner owned by another old friend, they have to deal with his feisty wife, played by Aretha Franklin, and having to buy new instruments and equipment, they visit the shop owned by Ray Charles. This gives those stars the chance to shine with some familiar songs, and powerful performances. Even the mighty John Lee Hooker features, as a street performer that the brothers walk past.
For the band’s first gig, they are mistakenly booked into a Country and Western club, providing the opportunity for a hilarious evening, as the cowboy-loving audience go crazy when they play the ‘wrong’ music. In desperation, the band resorts to singing the theme to the TV show ‘Rawhide’, and a rendition of ‘Stand by Your Man’. It’s simply wonderful! And all the time, the pair are being pursued by that ex-girlfriend, (Carrie Fisher) various police departments, (with John Candy in charge) and the Illinois Nazis, who they upset by disrupting their parade.
For the big fund-raising gig, they drum up the support of an audience of five thousand, but have to try to get to the venue avoiding all those chasing after them. By the time the brothers turn up, the police, the Nazis, and the Country and Western band are all in the audience, waiting to get them. In the tunnels below, the ex-girlfriend is waiting with an assault rifle, and the audience are screaming for entertainment. And that’s what we all get, entertainment. Vintage crooner Cab Calloway leads the band in a rendition of his famous hit, ‘Minnie The Moocher’, then Jake and Elwood hit the stage for some acrobatic performances of classic numbers like ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’.
For the finale, the boys have to get $5000 to the city authorities by a certain time. They escape the venue, and the homicidal Carrie Fisher, leading to a madcap car chase involving dozens of assorted vehicles, and all the different groups of people out to stop them. Once they arrive and have paid the taxes for the orphanage, hundreds of police surround the building, and there is no escape. This film really is a one-off. They didn’t make them like that before, and they haven’t since. No matter how many times you see it, it is always enjoyable, and the music never gets old.
Don’t worry about the later sequel, (2000) but if you have never seen this feel-good film, it is high time you did.