1941 (1979)

1941a2016.52: 1941 -Extended Cut (Blu-ray)

1941 isn’t bad. Its terrible. This extended cut is no improvement either- there’s  146 mins of badness compared to the theatrical version’s 119, so there’s just even more bad movie, which of course cannot possibly be a Good Thing unless you are, inexplicably, a fan of this film. There are fans of this film, right? There must be (every film has its fans, after all), but I’m certainly not one of them. 1941 is supposed to be a comedy, and it isn’t even funny. Thats some kind of crime, surely.

Every great director has a bad movie inside of them and I guess this was Spielbergs- maybe there’s a few other films of his that might contend for this dubious accolade but I can’t really think of one, unless maybe the excesses of Hook or the romantic schmaltz of Always gets your blood boiling.  For me I think 1941, the whole misguided, badly-executed mess of it, is Spielberg’s Folly, just like George Lucas’ Howard The Duck a few years later. Films that… well, the idea of them is interesting but the execution is sadly pretty woeful and dire.

You wonder why some great ideas for films never get made and turkeys like these do instead, but at the time its all about the clout of the director- and after Jaws and CE3K, Spielberg was on a roll and he could have gotten a documentary on Kleenex greenlit. So 1941 was made.

I’d love to have been on-set during filming. What on earth made the cast and crew think that shooting guns and yelling loudly amid big explosions constituted the very heights of cinematic humour? I mean, thats about all that 1941 is- blazing guns and huge explosions, and Japanese soldiers disguised as Christmas trees. The prologue’s nod to Jaws is nice of course but its all downhill from there. John Belushi’s Capt. Wild Bill Kelso is just plain nauseating, strutting around onscreen as if he is somehow funny rather than just plain irritating, and the film wastes huge impressive sets and a fine 1970s cast, and -worse- a vintage John Williams score completely.

Sure, the dance hall set-piece is technically impressive but Spielberg would do all that so much better -and funnier- in the prologue of Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. That latter observation is telling, because the one good thing about 1941 is that it apparently educated Spielberg, made him a better (and more frugal) director. Its likely we owe 1941 that at least. But thats about all, frankly.

I bought this damn thing on disc (cheap, mind). But yeah, I bought it. Makes ET look like Shakespeare or something…


4 thoughts on “1941 (1979)

  1. This is one of the dwindling handful of Spielbergs I’ve not seen. I swear I heard someone singing its praises recently, though I forget where specifically, so I guess it does have its fans — but not very many! I also picked it up cheap a little while back, so I’ll brave it at some point

    1. Time for a “What Do You Mean, You Wish You Had Never Seen..?” section for bad films you wish you’d stayed away from.

      Yes 1941 does have its fans, likely people who saw it in 1979 and fell under its spell in kinder/more innocent times. But thats just making excuses for them, it was really a bad film even then, and isn’t really ageing well.

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    It is terrible, isn’t it?

    Oddly, my old boss used to rave about this, but had never watched ET.

    There’s a (theoretical) shelf labelled ‘massively self-indulgent masturbatory movies made by directors off the back of previous hits’, and this belongs there alongside ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, ‘Sucker Punch’, ‘Hail Caesar’, ‘Only God Forgives’ etc.

    It does have wonderful, wonderful photography though. Every frame is beautiful.
    If I ever watch it again, it’ll be with the sound muted.

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