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1941 - Collector's Edition  (1979)


Starring: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Ned Beatty, John Candy

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rating: PG

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Video

Release Date: January 7, 2003
Review posted: May 31, 2004

Spoilers: None


Reviewed by Keith Helinski


"This isn't the state of California, it's a state of insanity." - General Joseph W. Stilwell




Spectacular is certainly the word for this utterly wild comedy epic directed by Steven Spielberg and nominated for three Academy Awards. Lavish effects sequences highlight this hilarious, all-star extravaganza set in Los Angeles just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when fear of a Japanese invasion threw the city into a state of Pandemonium. Screwball characters run wild on Hollywood Boulevard as manic servicemen, zealous store owners, teary-eyed girls and bickering Nazis are thrown together in this fast-rising comic soufflé that even features a send-up of Spielberg's own Jaws opening.




This is a very underrated film that deserves more then it gets. It’s pure satire at its best and it doesn’t try to be any more then just that. It’s unique send-off on the historical events (which wasn’t too far off from the actual craziness of the time period) and its abnormal but lovable characters makes it more remarkable then ever before. I like to think of it when you mix the old school "Saturday Night Live" with American Graffiti and a little Dr. Strangelove in a Spielberg world – you get the greatness of an underrated cinematic classic titled 1941.

The choreographic is what truly is amazing, especially the dance sequence near the tail end of the film. The film involves a lot of subplots to each crazy character, which usually has an even crazier scenario to overcome. The most well-known of the film is the performance of John Belushi as Capt. Wild Bill Kelso, despite the fact that he’s only in it for roughly 20-mintues through out the film. My favorite performance is really Treat Williams as Cpl. Chuck 'Stretch' Sitarski as he plays the bully that truly sparks a laugh.

The film isn’t very well known and those who do know it claims it’s Spielberg’s Howard the Duck but I truly think that it was still a great masterpiece despite the over-the-top-ness of it. The score by John Williams is as marvelous as ever before and the writing of Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale proves that they were geniuses even in their beginnings in Hollywood. And for Spielberg himself, he doesn’t give much credit since he always says, “I wasn’t the right person for the job.” No other person could have directed the film better then Spielberg had. Because it wasn’t an A-list story to begin with, any director would have failed just like people say Spielberg failed on it but many of the action sequences and especially the dance sequence would have never been cued with perfection if somebody else helmed it.




Universal presents 1941 in 2.35:1 widescreen format. The video looks better than the hard-to-find VHS copies but it doesn’t look like Universal cleaned up the film all that much. In fact, it almost likes like the same quality you would see on the Turner Classic Movies network. The image is not colonized very well to fit in with today’s films; it really looks out of date. Some grainy spots and very bright (and faded) '70s filming is seen throughout the film. Overall, it doesn't look like much effort was put into remastering the video.




Universal presents 1941 in 5.1 Surround Sound and an isolated music score track that lets you listen only to John Williams' film score. Unlike the video, there seems to be some effort in the presentation of the sound quality. The studio did the best they could do to upgrade the film's poor sound quality. Dialogue is clear enough. The sound effects are great but sometimes distorted. The only real plus is the score, which is easily heard and sounds great from all the speakers; this makes the somewhat nervy experience with the sound enjoyable.




An hour and 40 minute in-depth “making of” which basically tells the story of the history of the film, the dread, and the disappointment but on the plus side, to hear all the key players talk about it is very sweet indeed and worth the watch. Spielberg’s hair is seen long so I have to take a guess this was filmed possibly for the laserdisc instead of specifically for the DVD. The DVD also includes Steven Spielberg home movies and behind the scenes footage (which is also worth a watch), theatrical trailers, outtakes from the film, storyboards & production photographs, original advertising-marketing-and publicity materials and something Universal has the balls to include, reviews of the film which isn’t all pretty.




I had to have the DVD just because it said “A Steven Spielberg Film” on it, so even though I’m just a tad bit biased on the director's films, I still think 1941 is truly underrated for what it is worth. It’s a satire, period. For Spielberg-and-or-history buffs, this film (and DVD) is worth the buy.




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