In 1976, Dan Aykroyd introduced metalhead John Belushi to the blues. The two went on to form The Blues Brothers, a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live, singing blues standards to a crowd that normally didn't listen to such music. The duo then took the act out, performing at nightclubs, including their own afterhours club.
Aykroyd spent time working on a script to give the Blues Brothers a backstory. After judicious editing – Aykroyd went to great detail in his work – a filmable script for a full-length movie was produced. John Landis took the helm as the director of The Blues Brothers. The movie was released in 1980.
The plot was simple. Jake (Belushi) and Elwood (Aykroyd) Blues were asked by the nun who ran their old orphanage to earn the money needed to keep the orphanage open. She didn't want any tainted money; the money had to be properly earned. After a search for an idea and seeing the light, Jake and Elwood decided to get the band back together. The first half of the movie followed the Blues Brothers as they recruit the old band members and get instruments. The second half followed the band as they work to get the money at a variety of gigs, ending with a massive concert. During this, the Blues Brothers ran afoul of the law, starting with a speeding violation and expired licence and building up from there, the Illinois Neo-Nazis, the Good Ol' Boys country & western band, Jake's parole officer, and Jake's ex-fiancée. The action culminated in a massive chase involving the previously mentioned plus the Army, Coast Guard, Reserves, and state, county, and city law enforcement as the boys try to make the deadline to pay the orphanage's back taxes.
The plot, while basic, serves as the framework for the music. Ultimately, The Blues Brothers is a musical, featuring a number of blues artists, including John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles, showcasing a number of different blues styles. The soundtrack has placed consistantly in the top ten blues albums sold, reaching an audience that had never heard the blues or never considered the blues as listening material. The car chase through Chicago was recorded at speed, hitting over one hundred miles per hours, and setting a new bar for chase scenes for movies following.
The potential for trouble starts with taking a five minute musical sketch and stretching it to an over two hourrunning time. This issue was mentioned in the discussion of The Naked Gun, with the added problem of having almost no characterization of the Blues Brothers prior. The stretching problem would become a inevitable for any Saturday Night Live sketch made into a movie; sometimes, a gag can only go so far. Fortunately, Aykroyd's background work, much of which never was shown on screen, helped him work out the motives of the characters in the film. Staying true to the original sketch also helped; the sketch was all about the music, and so was the movie. It's easy to fill in much of the running time when all that needs to be done is link from song to song. Random destruction, such as police chase through a mall, also fills time, especially when the scene adds to the motivation of two of the pursuers.
The movie is an unqualified success, especially at the core reason it was made; to get a wider audience for the blues. By staying focused on that goal and adding action and comedy elements to attract an audience that wouldn't normally go to a musical, The Blues Brothers will remain a classic.
Next, a look back at what we've discovered so far.