What a kick in the nuts, today we lost Soul Sister Number One as Aretha Franklin has died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was one of the finest singers to ever walk this Earth and the world of music will be a little darker without her bright flame.
I was brought up on real R n’ B music, soul and the like. I still remember Sunday mornings as a kid when Mom would make us do housework before Nan and Granddad would visit for dinner. Mom would always put some music on while we polished, vacuumed and washed. Songs from people like Sam and Dave, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and of course Aretha Franklin would fill my ears and turn me into the fan of proper blues, soul and Motown that I am today.
But there was another element that turned me into the fan of what I like to call “real music”, a film and one of my all time favorite films ever, a musical film and a film Aretha was a part of herself – The Blues Brothers. The loss of The Queen of Soul today has got me thinking about the amazing talent involved in The Blues Brothers and how many of them we have lost over the years. So here, I’d like to pay my R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the stars of The Blues Brothers and even its sequel. Yeah I’ll throw in Blues Brothers 2000 as whether you liked the film or not, one can not deny it had some stunning people in it who are sadly no longer with us. This is for all those, in memorandum for all they have given us over the years.
Walter Horton 1921 – 1981
“Big” Walter Horton appeared in the first film alongside John Lee Hooker on the street as they performed Boom Boom together.
John Belushi 1949 – 1982
One of the originators of the whole Blues Brothers craze, along with Dan Aykroyd. The duo created a phenomenon that has lasted decades and still attracts new fans to this day.
Cab Calloway 1907 – 1994
The oldest member of the family, he was born when the 1900s were till new. Cab provided one of the best scenes in the original film when he belted out Minne the Moocher.
John Candy 1950 – 1994
His role as parole officer Burton Mercer in The Blues Brothers was one of his first movie acting roles after a successful career in TV.
Junior Wells 1934 – 1998
Wells made a small cameo in Blues Brothers 2000 as one of the band members during the Cheaper to Keep Her song.
Grover Washington Jr 1943 – 1999
Grover was a part of the ensemble group, The Louisiana Gator Boys from Blues Brothers 2000 where he was joined by several other musical legends.
Bobby Sheehan 1968 – 1999
Not just appearing in the sequel but also a founding member of the band Blues Traveler who feature in the film.
George Sperdakos 1931 – 2000
A character actor known for small roles in numerous films. He played a priest in Blues Brothers 2000.
Kathleen Freeman 1919 – 2001
Kathleen played Sister Mary Stigmata A.K.A The Penguin, the vicious nun Jake and Elwood have to visit in the first film and she returned for the sequel too.
Esther Ridgeway 1959- 2003
She was one of the entourage of friends that accompanied and joined in with Aretha Franklin as she sang Respect in the car dealership in Blues Brothers 2000.
Jeff Morris 1934 – 2004
Jeff played Bob of Bob’s Country Bunker where the boys did their Country & Western gig in the first film. He also returned for the sequel to reprise his role.
Ray Charles 1930 – 2004
Of course this man doesn’t need an introduction, its Ray Charles. He played (imaginatively) Ray of Rays’s Musical Exchange where Jake and Elwood get their instruments from in the first film.
Gracie Ridgeway 1957 – 2006
Along with her sister Esther, she was also part of the entourage that sang Respect with Aretha Franklin in the sequel.
Wilson Pickett 1941 – 2006
Wilson appeared in Blues Brothers 2000 playing the character Mr Picket at the “phone company” where he sang 634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.).
James Brown 1933 – 2006
The hardest working man in show business, The Godfather of Soul. He played Reverend Cleophus James in both films.
Billy Preston 1946 – 2006
Another one of the Louisiana Gator Boys supergroup that popped up in Blues Brothers 2000.
Lou Rawls 1933 – 2006
And yet again, one of the Louisiana Gator Boys from the sequel.
Bo Diddley 1928 – 2008
Yes he was another one of them Louisiana Gator Boys. That band had some serious talent in it eh?
Isaac Hayes 1942 – 2008
Guess what? Aside from recording the greatest song ever with Shaft. Yes Isaac was also a Louisiana Gator Boy in Blues Brothers 2000.
Wally High 1938 – 2008
Played one of the Russian thugs chasing after Elwood in Blues Brothers 2000.
Koko Taylor 1928 – 2009
A female in the Louisiana Gator Boys band from the sequel and known for he powerful blues singing voice.
Henry Gibson 1963 – 2009
A brilliant character actor who you would find popping up in a lot of comedy films of the 80s – one of which was The Blues Brothers where he played the leader of the Illinois Nazis.
Alan Rubin 1943 -2011
Known as Mr. Fabulous, Rubin was one of the members of The Blues Brothers band appearing in both films as the trumpet player.
Clarence Clemons 1942 – 2011
Along with the many others, Clemons was part of the Louisiana Gator Boys from Blues Brothers 2000.
Charles Napier 1936 – 2011
Played Tucker McElroy, lead singer and driver of the Winnebago for The Good Ole Boys Band in the first film. He was another one of those great character actors you’d see in many films.
John Lee Hooker 1942 – 2001
One of the best blues musicians ever, he appeared in the first film singing Boom Boom on the street.
Pinetop Perkins 1913 – 2011
Along with John Lee Hooker, he was also on the street performing Boom Boom in the first film.
Donald “Duck” Dunn 1941 -2012
Another member of The Blues Brothers Band. “Duck” was the bass player as uttered some of the best lines in both of the films. “We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline.”
B.B. King 1925 – 2015
Played Malvern Gasperone who sells Elwood the police car that would become the new Bluesmobile in Blues Brothers 2000…he also became one of the Louisiana Gator Boys later in the film. As well as bring one of the most recognised blues musicians ever.
Carrie Fisher 1956 – 2016
She played Jake’s stalker/ex-girlfriend in the first film hellbent on trying to kill Jake and his brother Elwood because she was stood up at the alter by Jake.
Matt “Guitar” Murphy 1929 – 2018
The lead guitarist of The Blues Brothers band and married to Aretha Franklin’s character in both films.
Aretha Franklin 1942 – 2018
Which all brings me to the latest loss in The Blues Brothers family. A force to be reckoned with as the strong willed wife of Matt “Guitar” Murphy. She had two great performances in both films singing Think in The Blues Brothers and Respect in Blues Brothers 2000.
She will be missed, one of the very finest singers ever with a career that spanned six decades. I’ll Say A Little Prayer For You..
Don’t say Aretha is making a comeback, because I’ve never been away!
John Belushi was one of the most beloved and respected comedy actors who ever lived. So to show that deep respect and admiration… they made a terrible biopic movie that just takes a big dump on Belushi, his family, friends and loyal fan base all in one go.
That’s right, I’m going to take a look at the cinematic disaster that was Wired.
Based on the book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi written by Bob Woodward. Wired is a movie so messed up and disrespectful that it became a huge critical and a commercial failure, plus it has never seen a DVD release as of writing either. Wired currently holds an overall approval rating of 4% on Rotten Tomatoes.
How The Disaster Began
It was when Belushi’s widow, Judith and his manager Bernie Brillstein approached Bob Woodward and asked him if he would like to write a factual account of the life of John Belushi in an attempt to straighten some of the rumours that had been circulating over his death at the time. The result of which was the book – Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi.
Several of Belushi’s closest family and friends were interviewed for the book including his widow Judith his brother James Belushi and closest friend Dan Aykroyd. Yet none of them were happy with the final product as they felt to book was exploitative and not representative of the John Belushi they knew and loved. In fact, Judith detested the book so much that she eventually wrote her own account on the life of her husband withSamurai Widow.
Even though the family and friends of Belushi hated the book and made that very clear, it still went on to become a best seller. Woodward then sought out to sell the movie rights to the book and the result of that was the movie Wired.
It Gets Bad Within Minutes
The movie opens with Belushi leading the Killer Bees in a rendition of the classic blues song I’m The King Bee in what is supposed to be a scene from Saturday Night Live – but as the film couldn’t secure the rights to use anything from SNL, these scenes look less like something from one of the biggest and most popular shows of the 70s/80s and more like something shot in a dingy basement.But it gets worse, so much worse.
Before I get much further into this cinematic mess of a film – I would just like to point something out. Yes the movie is beyond terrible but I have to recognise Michael Chiklis in his debut film role playing John Belushi. He is amazing and nails the Belushi performance, the mannerisms, the high energy, the voice – he even gets the eyebrow thing nailed. Chiklis is most definitely the best thing this film has to offer. The movie is horrendous but I still would suggest watching it just for Michael Chiklis’ amazing performance.
Anyway, as I was saying – the movie gets bad right from the off. After the brilliantly acted but terrible looking opening, the film cuts to Belushi’s dead body in a body-bag being wheeled into a morgue lying on a gurney. Belushi’s body is left alone in the morgue when suddenly a hand from the body-bag pops out, grabs a donut, eats it and then burps before getting up from the gurney and running down the corridor of the morgue. Yes you just read that right. This film has the dead body of one of America’s much loved and dearly missed comedy actors returning from the dead, swallow a donut like a cartoon character and then run around a morgue naked except for a sheet covering his modesty.
The film also has Bob Woodward appear played by J. T. Walsh. Yes, the author of the book that the film is based on is a character in the film. That is not so much 4th wall breaking but more so just smearing the 4th wall in excrement. Anyway, Belushi escapes the morgue and runs into a taxi driving angel… seriously, his name is Angel and he’s an angel – the film quickly becomes one of those ‘guardian angel’ flicks where the main character is shown his life and what went wrong… only done badly. So if you have been keeping up so far, this is a biography where the dead body of John Belushi comes back to life and is driven around in a taxi by an angel to be shown how crap his life was.
Can you understand why Belushi’s family and friends felt this film was disrespectful?
Disrespectful And Exploitative
Angel takes Belushi to the scene of his death just in time to see his corpse being carried away. We then get that overused and bog-standard scene where the dead body doesn’t believe they are dead and the reveal by the guardian angel that no one can see or hear him. Angel then takes Belushi on a tour of his life. Think A Christmas Carol only written by the same guy that wrote The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension – because it was. Wired’s screenplay was penned by Earl Mac Rauch and also the last movie he wrote.
We are introduced to Dan Aykroyd played by Gary Groomes who lectures Belushi on his drug intake. The film also shows various SNL performances and sketches featuring The Brothers Blues – not The Blues Brothers because, as I mentioned earlier, the movie didn’t have the rights to use certain names. These Brothers Blues scenes are pretty well done though and again, Chiklis provides a stunning performance and if you didn’t know better – you could swear that was the real John Belushi at times as his dancing, movements and mannerisms are perfect.
The film takes us on a mish-mash of various ‘flashbacks’ to Belushi’s life but fails to show anything of his actual life. It becomes more a collection of SNL sketches that didn’t really exist because they didn’t have the rights to use them. They couldn’t even use the names of some of the people Belushi was closely associated with in his career.
There is one scene where John asks Judith to marry him and its really well done too, its personal, emotive and well shot. But sadly these scenes that do delve into his life and that of those around him that could have been more interesting if they were the focus are few and far between as the movie is more focused on trying to hammer home that drugs are bad. The film is basically one overtly long anti-drug PSA and not a respectful biography of John Belushi.
But the opening of the dead body of John Belushi waking up and running around naked was just the tip of the iceberg as this movie even manages to out-do its own disrespect. There is a scene in the movie that shows Belushi’s autopsy… and that’s not the worst of it. Belushi is depicted as being awake during this as its played up for laughs as Angel dances around in the background and Belushi screams in pain as well as do impersonations of Marlon Brando while a laugh track plays.
Just take that in for a moment and try to put yourselves in the shoes of a family member or friend of John Belushi watching that scene. Seeing a person you loved and cared about screaming during an autopsy while a laugh track plays over the top. Yeah pretty disrespectful right?
A Diamond In The Rough
Look, the film is horrendous, disrespectful and exploitative. It just shows no regard, no attention, no respect to John Belushi, his life or anyone that knew him. However, there are some great moments in the flick. Aside form Michael Chiklis as John Belushi, Patti D’Arbanville plays Cathy Smith – the woman who supplied Belushi with most of his drugs and who injected him with the speedball that killed him. D’Arbanville’s portrayal of the drug dealer is mesmerising as she is interviewed by the police. The scene is brilliantly acted and shot as well as being brutally honest. An excellent scene… just a shame it ends with the line “Just another fat junkie went belly up” in reference to the death of John Belushi.
But then there’s a scene where they show Belushi’s coffin being loaded onto a plane and its handled in a slapstick/comedy manner as they struggle to get the dead body of John Belushi on-board. As they just can not fit the coffin on the plane, they decide to take his dead body out and just strap it into a seat instead. I know I have used the word ‘disrespectful’ more than a few times in this article but what else can I call this scene?
The last act of the movie mostly takes place in the room Belushi’s died in and again, its well done for the most part. Well directed, well shot and well acted – its moody and effective. But then these scenes are inter-cut with Belushi and Angel playing a Blues Brothers pinball table where its agreed that if Belushi wins that he can go home. This is the main problem with this film, the good scenes – and there are some really good scenes are ruined with slapstick and inane comedy. One second you are watching Cathy Smith inject John Belushi with the fatal drug cocktail that killed him in a scene that is brilliantly convinced, portrayed and very powerful, then seconds later you watching ghost Belushi play pinball with an angel or even Bob Woodward interviewing John Belushi quite literally as he slowly dies. For every great scene in this film, there are a dozen or so bad scenes that ruin them.
Wired is a mess of a picture. It depicts Belushi as a burping, farting imbecile and shows hardly anything of his good and caring nature. I know Belushi was no angel. I’m fully aware of his legendary drug taking and how he could and would disrupt a film shoot. His behind the scenes antics are well known and reported on. Yet despite all of this, the people that knew him best like his widow Judith and best friend Dan Aykroyd always said that he was one of the most caring and thoughtful people they knew. A man who underneath his many demons still had a heart of gold.
This movie shows pretty much none of that and chooses to portray Belushi as a thoughtless, careless drug addict. As a bio – the movie just does not work as it tells very little about the life of John Belushi other than he liked drugs a lot. Then as a movie about drug abuse it falls flat as all of the hard hitting and well shot scenes that are supposed to leave an impact on the viewer are book-ended and inter-cut with unnecessary bad, slap-stick comedy. There are just not enough ‘ WTF Hollywood’s’ to go around.
A new John Belushi biopic has been rumoured for quite some time as back in 2013 Emile Hirsch was said to have been cast to play Belushi.
The film was set to be relased in 2015 and obviously, that never happened and nothing has been heard of since. Wired was such a huge insult and disappointment for John Belushi fans that a new bio that does the great man justice would be welcomed with open arms. Make it happen Hollywood, give us a worthy Belushi bio that can wash away the bad taste of Wired.
The Blues Brothers is one of my all time favourite films. You can read my quick overview of the film here.
But there is much more to the film than I covered there with many interesting behind the scenes stories and information on the whole production. I have wanted to do this for a quite a while now, but I just kept putting it off or was too busy to get it done.
So here, I’d like to take a look at how the film got made to begin with. Rather like my behind the scenes look at JAWS I did a while back.
Yet before I can get into all the behind the scenes stuff with the film, first I need to go back to the very beginning and cover who The Blues Brothers are and how the whole phenomenon began…
Back in the early/mid 70s, Dan Aykroyd was running a backstreet bar called Club 505 in Toronto, Canada. It was sometime in 1974 when John Belushi was on a trip to Toronto and he went into Club 505 and first met Aykroyd. As Dan tells the story, he was playing a lot of old blues music; Downchild Blues Band, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, etc. Despite being from Chicago (the home of blues music), John Belushi really knew very little about the genre but loved what he heard in the club. This is when Dan and John first struck up a conversation when Belushi asked Aykroyd about this amazing music he was playing in his club and they became close friends as Dan educated John on blues music.
In 1975, John became a regular cast member on the then new TV show; Saturday Night Live (SNL). Dan was also hired to work on the show as an writer (some say at John Belushi’s request), but he soon became part of the main cast. It was around 1976 when John and Dan started to do musical warm ups for the audience of SNL. John and Dan used to dress up as bees and sing various comedic songs, which apparently John hated doing. It was one night when Belushi was getting into the bee costume once more he decided to wear a pair of sunglasses and sing a blues song called; King Bee…
From this performance, John and Dan came up with the idea of forming a musical group based on their shared love for blues music. They worked out the now iconic costumes, they developed the characters and put together a real band they could perform live with and decided to use these characters as a warm up for the SNL audience members instead of the bee thing. They had everything set… except for a name.
It was just before their first warm up as they had to be introduced to the audience when the SNL announcer just made up on the spot: “Here they are, those brothers, those brothers in blues… The Blues Brothers.”
Their first official performance as The Blues Brothers was said to be electric, the crowd went wild, there were standing ovations and cheers for more…and this was just a warm up remember. The new band idea was a roaring success and The Blues Brothers act gained popularity as John and Dan continued to perform, yet they only appeared on SNL as The Blues Brothers a total of three times (after the initial warm up). They appeared on 17th January, 1976, 22nd April, 1978 and their third and final appearance on 18th November, 1978.
Their passion and respect for classic R n’ B music was obvious as each performance was better than the last as they belted out great music and songs. Eventually, the characters started to grow as John and Dan continued to develop them over time, giving them a history, back story and even names. “Joliet” Jake Blues (named after Joliet Prison) and Elwood Blues (named after the Elwood Ordnance Plant, which made explosives during World War II). After the success of the SNL performances, the idea came about to put together an album and; Briefcase Full of Blues was relased in 1978.
Briefcase Full of Blues was recorded live when the band opened for comedian Steve Martin at the Universal Amphitheater on September 9, 1978. The album reached number one on the Billboard 200 and went double platinum, it is one of the best selling blues albums of all time and sold over 3.5 million copies. The Blues Brothers were now considered a genuine musical act.
Also around 1978, it was clear this simple musical group was starting to get too big for their SNL origins so Dan started to get ideas to turn this small act into a fully blown and developed story. He sat down and started to flesh out the concept even further, the idea became so big, it was too big for a TV show now and it slowly evolved into a film script… and a huge film script at that.
Originally titled; The Return Of The Blues Brothers, the script got out of hand and Dan had trouble selling the idea to anyone in Hollywood, until Universal Pictures finally decided to pick the project up and got the ball rolling on the film.
Your average movie script would come in around 120 pages. Dan’s script for this movie was over 340 pages long, it was full of in-depth back stories for each and every member of the band, long Aykroyd-esque monologues, and extremely detailed scenes that would be impossible to film in the late 1970s. This is when John Landis entered the picture as director and told Aykroyd the script was out of hand and needed trimming down… a lot. “The phone book” is what Landis would refer to the original script as. With the filming start date only a few months away, this script needed to be cut to a more manageable concept. So John Landis locked himself away and worked on the script for around three weeks trimming and cutting all the fat and eventually got it down to a more respectable and film-able idea. Still, there were a few heated discussions between Landis and Aykroyd. Landis needed a workable shooting script as the start day for filming got closer and closer, Aykroyd would fight pretty much every cut suggested. After a while, they reached a compromise and agreed to make more than one film from Dan’s original script, the idea was to make at least three films in total. With the promise of more Blues Brothers films, Dan finally agreed to several cuts knowing his ideas would be used in future films.
The film began shooting in John Belushi’s home city of Chicago, but it was never an easy or smooth production. The original budget was $12 million, which was an unheard amount to spend on a comedy film in 1979. Yet this film was to contain huge R n’ B stars like; Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Cab Calloway, plus the OTT car chases and crashes also pumped up the budget a fair bit too. Another costly factor and cause of some major problems included John Belushi’s now legendary drug use.
Dan Aykroyd: “We had a budget in the movie for cocaine for night shoots. Everyone did it, including me. Never to excess, and not ever to where I wanted to buy it or have it. John, he just loved what it did. It sort of brought him alive at night, that superpower feeling where you start to talk and converse and figure you can solve all the world’s problems.”
With the filming occurring in Chicago… and Belushi being from Chicago himself, he was treated like royalty. Drugs were literally being thrown at him, fans would readily hand over drugs to their favourite star without question, they would hand him vials and discrete packets as and when they could. This was something that started during the SNL skits they did, in fact if you get to watch any of the early Belushi performances… keep an eye out for “items” being thrown on stage. The drugs grew to such a problem that producers of the film hired Smokey Wendell as an “anti drug bodyguard” for Belushi to keep fans from supplying the drugs.
Smokey Wendell: “Every one of those guys wants to tell his friends, ‘I did blow with Belushi’.”
It wasn’t just cocaine that Belushi indulged in during the filming, he was also fuelled by quaaludes, mescaline, LSD, and even amphetamines. The only major drug he never touched was heroin. Well, he did try it once and well… All of the drug use was on top of the alcohol consumed as John and Dan set up their own private bar during production; The Blues Club, where the cast and crew would attempt to drink the place dry after a day of filming.
Belushi’s drug usage aside. There was even confusion over what kind of film they were making to begin with. Is the picture a comedy, buddy flick, musical?
John Landis: “You could tell there was confusion. I told some of the crew, ‘This is a musical.’ They were so confused. They didn’t know what the fuck they were making.”
It was only about a month into the shoot when the producers began to worry about the budget of the film. That initial $12 million was almost all gone already. A lot of the money was being spent on having to pay people overtime as John Belushi’s notorious partying began to cause problems. Belushi would often stay out all night drinking and doing drugs then turn up for filming pretty much wasted and would either continually ruin takes or just lock himself in his trailer and sleep for most of the day. These constant problems began to cause a rift between Belushi and Landis. You ever notice that most of the film takes place at night? This was party due to the fact Belushi was too wasted to work during the day.
John Landis: “John was fucked up. It became a battle to keep him alive and to keep him working on the movie.”
One night around 3 AM while filming the infamous shopping mall/car chase scene. Landis and Belushi got into an argument and then John Belushi just disappeared and nobody had any idea where he had gone to, not even his wife; Judy. His trailer was checked and nothing, the search began to find one of their main stars. Dan, on a hunch followed a nearby grassy path leading towards a residential area. As he gets closer, he noticed a house with a light on at 3 AM, so he thought he would ask to see of anybody there had seen Belushi, as Dan recalls…
Dan Aykroyd: “Uh, we’re shooting a film over here. We’re looking for one of our actors.
‘Oh, you mean Belushi?’ the home owner replied. ‘He came in here an hour ago and raided my fridge. He’s asleep on my couch’.”
Only John Belushi could walk into a complete stranger’s home at 3 AM and help himself to the contents of the fridge, then fall to sleep like Goldilocks. Dan woke John up and they both returned to the film as if nothing had ever happened.
By now, the shoot was now well over budget and time too. It was supposed to finish filming around mid September 1979. But September came and went and the film was still not finished. At this point, Landis had enough of all the delays being caused by Belushi’s antics and he headed to his trailer to confront him. When Landis got inside, he finds Belushi is not there but he does find a small mountain of cocaine on a table.
John Landis: “It’s like Tony Montana. It’s like a joke. I scoop it all up and flush it down the toilet. Probably a lot of money’s worth. So I’m on my way out of the trailer, and John comes in and says, ‘What’d you do?’ Then he pushes me, mostly to get to the table. It’s pathetic. He’s trying to get to the table to save the cocaine.”
As Landis recalls, the pair got into a slight scuffle but nothing too serious. Belushi then just broke down and began crying, the two Johns just hugged each other. It was painfully clear that Belushi was in desperate need of serious help. The idea to send Belushi to rehab came up but this would cause all sorts of problems in itself. They couldn’t replace John and use doubles to finish the shoot, no one can do John Belushi other than John Belushi. They could’t shut down production and wait for Belushi to get back from rehab as the film was already way over budget and any more delays would just cause even more problems. Then there was also the big problem that there would be no way Belushi would agree to go to rehab anyway. There was no option other than to just keep on filming.
Eventually, the Chicago shoot was finished, but there was still work to do in Los Angeles. This brought with it it’s own set of potential partying for Belushi. He was known to party at the Playboy Mansion, wild nights out with De Niro and Nicholson among others too. Around this time, Smokey Wendell (Belushi’s anti drug bodyguard) recalls a time when John Belushi came to speak to him.
John Belushi: “If I don’t do something now, I’m going to be dead in a year or two.”
During the Los Angeles shoot, Belushi did show some periods of sobriety. He was still using drugs on a regular basis and going out drinking all night, but he had cut back a lot since the filming began. Belushi was also on his best behaviour when in the presence of the picture’s big musical stars; Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Cab Calloway. These were like heroes to him and he was eager to impress them as much as he could.
It was time to shoot the big final concert scene which was shot at the Hollywood Palladium. Its a big and impressive scene that features hundreds of extras, Cab Calloway the entire Blues Brothers band and the dancing that Jake and Elwood had become famed for, the two stars needed to be 100% focused and fit for the filming. Sean Daniel, Universal’s vice president in charge of production at the time gets a phone call the day of the shoot. The story goes that Belushi saw a kid playing on a skateboard in the street and asked if he could have a go… he fell off the skateboard and seriously injured his knee.
Sean Daniel: “This was bad. We had to deal with it in the most effective and emergency-like way.”
It was also Thanksgiving weekend and finding a reputable doctor/orthopedist at such short notice was next to impossible. It took a few angry/desperate phone calls by the production staff but somebody was eventually found who was willing to give up their weekend. The orthopedist wrapped up and injected Belushi with painkillers as he then grits his way through the finale. Yes, John Belushi did that big finale with all the dancing and back flips while under medication and bandaged up after a really stupid accident.
The film is finally finished, yet it came it at just over two and a half hours. Which for a comedy film in 1979 was ridiculous. John Landis was ordered to cut the film down, he eventually removed around 20 minutes from the film (later re-added to the extended cut on DVD). But the problems didn’t end there. Landis received a call from the producers about a well respected cinema chain owner; Ted Mann of Mann Theaters. Among his cinemas were the Bruin and the National, both located in Westwood, a prosperous white neighbourhood. John Landis recalls the conversation…
Ted Mann: “Mr. Landis, we’re not booking The Blues Brothers in any of our national or general theatres. We have a theater in Compton where we’ll book it. But certainly not in Westwood.”
John Landis: “Why won’t you book it in Westwood?”
Ted Mann: “Because I don’t want any blacks in Westwood.”
Apparently, Mann explained why white people would refuse to see The Blues Brothers.
Ted Mann: “Mainly because of the musical artists you have. Not only are they black. They are out of fashion.”
Isn’t racial harmony a great thing eh?
Back then, your average film would get between 1,200-1,400 bookings to show the film in cinemas. The Blues Brothers got around 600 for the entire North US. The film was eventually released on 20th June, 1980 and it received pretty poor reviews from critics at the time. The odds were definitely against this film and its original $12 million budget being exceeded by more than doubling the initial estimate to around $26 million due to the various production problems and delays… and probably John Belushi’s drug expenses. It was looking like the film would be a major bomb, everything was going against it.
Yet the film proved the critics wrong. On its opening weekend, The Blues Brothers took around $5 million (that was a lot in 1980) and ended up taking $115 million worldwide by 1983… and it still pulls in the cash today too.
The Blues Brothers was/is one of Universal’s biggest hits and still continues to endure by entertaining and engaging audiences today. It has become its own successful franchise, spawned live stage shows, countless fan tributes and introduced several generations of people to a great and often overlooked genre of music and musical artists. Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown all credited this film with rejuvenating their careers at the time.
The Blues Brothers is one of my all time favourite films and I’ll never get tired of watching it… never. Learning about the problems the film had just makes me enjoy all the hard work put into it even more.
When John Belushi went to his “anti drug bodyguard” while making this film and said he thinks he’ll be dead in a year or two… he was not wrong. John Belushi died from acute cocaine and heroin intoxication on 5th March 1982 aged 33. Sadly, he never got to see just how popular and influential the film would become. Belushi’s early death also meant we never got to see any of those promised Blues Brothers sequels from Dan’s original script, though a few of the ideas did eventually make it into Blues Brothers 2000.
A life ended way too early, but what a legacy he left behind.
John Belushi: “I give so much pleasure to so many people. Why can I not get some pleasure for myself?”
Little Bit of History: Directed by John Landis and written by Dan Aykroyd & John Landis, released by Universal Pictures in 1980. This film is a wonderful mix of comedy, music and car chases. Featuring an amazing all star cast of some of the greatest blues/soul musicians ever. The film début of the classic Saturday Night Live characters of the same name.
Little Bit of Plot/Story: The plot is pretty simple. The recently released from jail; Jake Blues is reunited with his brother; Elwood. They pay a visit to their old orphanage where they were raised and agree to get money to keep the old place open by reforming their old band to play some gigs and raise the money needed.
Little Bit of Character: So many characters to cover here starting with the titular brothers; Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) Blues. The ‘penguin’; Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman), Reverend Cleophus James (James Brown), Ray (Ray Charles), Mrs. Murphy (Aretha Franklin), Curtis (Cab Calloway), then there are the ever persistent Burton Mercer (John Candy), Illinois Nazi leader (Henry Gibson) and Jake’s mysterious girlfriend (Carrie Fisher) as the characters trying to chase and stop The Blues Brothers in their “mission from God”. That’s before we even get to The Blues Brothers Band; Steve “the Colonel” Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Murphy Dunne, Willie “Too Big” Hall, Tom “Bones” Malone, “Blue Lou” Marini, Matt “Guitar” Murphy and “Mr. Fabulous” Alan Rubin. Plus cameos from Steven Spielberg, John Lee Hooker, Twiggy, Paul Reubens, Chaka Khan, Charles Napier and Frank Oz among others. The film is full of amazing talent.
Little Bit of Influence: The Blues Brothers started out as a simple musical sketch on the infamous Saturday Night Live TV show, but it grew into this film and spawned a very successful franchise. With a sequel movie; Blues Brothers 2000. They also had several music albums; Briefcase Full of Blues (1978), Made in America (1980), The Blues Brothers Band Live in Montreux (1990), Red, White & Blues (1992), Blues Brothers and Friends: Live from Chicago’s House of Blues (1997) as well as two movie soundtracks and even several compilation albums. Then there were numerous Blues Brothers video games. Plus they even had their own bar; The Blues Brothers Bar was an illegal back-house tavern started by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd themselves, until it was discovered by authorities and forced to close in 1982.
Little Bit of Memories: I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw this film, I have seen it so many times they all kind of blur into one. But I’m pretty sure an old family friend, Mike Price (I bet he can still recite the opening monologue to ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’) was the one who introduced me to this film when I was a kid. The film is a huge cult classic with die hard fans all over the world. Since falling in love with the film, I have seen several Blues Brothers tribute acts and even the official Blues Brothers live show. I always make sure to watch the live Blues Brothers show at Universal Studios every time I go. I do recall introducing others to this film, including my oldest and best mate, Paul, who loves the film just as much as I do.
Little Bit of Watchability: Is this film still watchable today? Hell yes. Its one of the greatest films ever made. Amazing music, some of the best car chases ever caught on film, damn funny comedy and a cast that is so full of talent, I can’t think of any other film that comes close. The fact the band are a real band full of respected musicians and can actually play really adds to the musical elements of this film. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were at the top of their game and their chemistry is unmatched. Plus the film is directed by the mighty John Landis, one of the greatest film directors of the 80s. This film is my Bible.
Now, its about here in my movie overviews where I choose a line from the film that is memorable, funny, iconic, witty, emotional, etc. Just one line that sparks off some kind of a memory. The trouble with The Blues Brothers is that is has so many iconic and memorable lines its impossible to select just one. I could write up a dozen quotes from the film and still not even scratch the surface, which one do I choose?
“We’re on a mission from God.”?
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas…”?
“Four fried chickens and a Coke.”?
“Well thank you, pal. The day I get outta prison, my own brother picks me up in a police car!”?
“How much for the little girl? How much for the women?”?
“It’s got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks…”?
“It wasn’t a lie, it was just bullshit.”?
“Who wants an orange whip? Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips.”?
“No, ma’am. We’re musicians.”?
“I offered to help you… You refused to take our money. Then I said: I guess you’re really up Shit Creek!”?
“We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline.”?
“So, Jake, you’re out, you’re free, you’re rehabilitated. What’s next? What’s happenin’? What you gonna do? You got the money you owe us, motherfucker?”?
“Ow, you fat penguin!”?
“2000 bucks and it’s yours. You can take it home with you. As a matter of fact, I’ll throw in the black keys for free.”?
“You on the motorcycle… You two girls… tell your friends.”?
“Jake, you get wise. You get to church.”?
“The Blues Brothers? Shit! They still owe you money, fool.”?
“Did you get me my Cheez Wiz, boy?”?
“You’re gonna look pretty funny tryin’ to eat corn on the cob with no fuckin’ teeth!”?
“Breaks my heart to see a boy that young goin’ bad.”?
“Get out, and don’t come back until you’ve redeemed yourselves.”?
“You want I should wash the dead bugs off the windshield?”?
“Why not? If the shit fits, wear it.”?
I need to stop and select a quote before I go on too much… I know, too late.
Elwood: “Hey, Jake. Gotta be at least seven dollars worth of change here.”
I actually want to do a more in-depth look at this film and The Blues Brothers in general when I have more time. As the making of the film has some really interesting titbits and stories behind it. But that will have to wait until a later date… or you can just click here.
Anyway, thanks for introducing me to this film Mike.
“YES! YES! JESUS H. TAP-DANCING CHRIST… I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT!”