4.8 6
Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Belushi


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It's December of 1941, and the people of California are in varying states of unease, ranging from a sincere desire to defend the country to virtual blind panic in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Thus begin several story threads that comprise the "plot" of this strange period comedy, a sort of satirical disaster movie, from Steven Spielberg. The… See more details below


It's December of 1941, and the people of California are in varying states of unease, ranging from a sincere desire to defend the country to virtual blind panic in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Thus begin several story threads that comprise the "plot" of this strange period comedy, a sort of satirical disaster movie, from Steven Spielberg. The stories and story threads involve lusty young men, officers (Tim Matheson) and civilians (Bobby Di Cicco) alike, eager to bed the young ladies of their dreams; Wild Bill Kelso, a nutty fighter pilot (John Belushi) following what he thinks is a squadron of Japanese fighters along the California coast; a well-meaning but clumsy tank crew (including John Candy) led by straight-arrow, by-the-book Sgt. Tree (Dan Aykroyd), who doesn't recognize the thug (Treat Williams) in his command; and homeowner Ward Douglas (Ned Beatty), who is eager to do his part for the nation's defense and, despite the misgivings of his wife (Lorraine Gary), doesn't mind his front yard overlooking the ocean being chosen to house a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun. There is also a pair of grotesquely inept airplane spotters (Murray Hamilton, Eddie Deezen) who are doing their job from atop a ferris wheel at a beachfront amusement park; a paranoid army colonel (Warren Oates) positive that the Japanese are infiltrating from the hills; a big dance being held on behalf of servicemen, being attended by a lusty young woman of size (Wendie Jo Sperber) eager to land a man in uniform; and General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell (Robert Stack), in charge of the defense of the West Coast, who can't seem to get anyone to listen to him when he says to keep calm. And, oh yes, there's also a real Japanese submarine that has gotten all the way to the California coast under the command of its captain (Toshiro Mifune) and a German officer observer (Christopher Lee), only to find itself without a working compass or usable maps. Its captain won't leave until the sub has attacked a militarily significant, honorable target, and the only one that anyone aboard ship knows of in California is Hollywood. By New Year's Eve, all of these characters are going to cross paths, directly or once-removed, in a comedy of errors and destruction strongly reminiscent of the finale to National Lampoon's Animal House (as well as several disaster movies from the same studio), but on a much larger and more impressive scale.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
One can look at 1941 today and justifiably wonder, "What was Steven Spielberg thinking?" Or was he really thinking clearly at all? Long before the events of September 11, 2001 made sneak attacks on the United States a serious matter for modern audiences, 1941 seemed a grotesque misfire of a comedy; most of the material that's supposed to be funny seems silly, and most of the actors seem to be straining to be funny, and going so far over the top as to be ridiculous. Not that there aren't some good moments and scenes, as well as portrayals that, in a more careful and subtle production, would have worked -- Ned Beatty and Lorraine Gary are funny, John Belushi, Slim Pickens, and John Candy have their moments, and Wendie Jo Sperber steals every scene in which she appears. Even Dan Aykroyd (doing what amounts to a dry run for his portrayal of Joe Friday in Dragnet) and Robert Stack do well in straight, nicely understated performances. But the rest -- and there's a lot of "the rest" in a cast of over 50 and a running time of 146 minutes -- is so over-the-top, between the multi-layered stunt work, the bathroom humor, and the compound (and ultimately repetitive) slapstick comedy, and so off-balance and off-putting as to render the movie never more than moderately amusing. All of that makes this picture a chore to enjoy, albeit an interesting one. What makes 1941 so odd is that Spielberg and company did succeed in creating several more subtle layers of humor, though these mostly take the form of in-jokes that only movie professionals, critics, and pop-culture fanatics could appreciate: Dan Aykroyd's first scene is a brilliant parody of Cliff Robertson's opening scene from Midway (another Universal production), and the opening credits and the time and date references covering the scene changes also parody the style of Universal's large-scale disaster movies, most notably The Hindenburg and Earthquake. Even John Williams got into the act with his score, which is a good parody of his own epic style and displays one element of extraordinary subtlety (for Williams) -- the music associated with John Belushi's crazy pilot utilizes a chord structure heard in the patriotic song "Reuben James," in a way that would be reverential in any other context but here comes off as totally loopy. The movie was released at 118 minutes; however, in keeping with Universal's approach to network showings of its major films, 28 minutes of material was restored for the network presentation of 1941, and was fully reintegrated, in full Panavision aspect ratio, for the mid-'90s laserdisc and the subsequent DVD edition.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Universal Studios

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Dan Aykroyd Sgt. Tree
Ned Beatty Ward Douglas
John Belushi Wild Bill Kelso
Lorraine Gary Joan Douglas
Murray Hamilton Claude
Toshiro Mifune Cmdr. Mitamura
Christopher Lee Von Kleinschmidt
Nancy Allen Donna
Robert Stack Gen. Stilwell
Tim Matheson Birkhead
Warren Oates Maddox
Treat Williams Sitarski
Eddie Deezen Herbie
Bobby Di Cicco Wally
Diane Kay Betty
John Candy Foley
Frank McRae Ogden Johnson Jones
Perry Lang Dennis
Slim Pickens Hollis Wood
Wendie Jo Sperber Maxine
Lionel Stander Scioli
Iggie Wolfington Meyer Mishkin
Joe Flaherty USO M.C.
Richard Miller Officer Miller
Carol Ann Williams USO Girl
Jenny Williams USO Girl
Lucille Benson Gas Mama
Jordan Brian Macey
Elisha Cook Customer
Patti LuPone Lydia Hedberg
J. Patrick McNamara DuBois
Dub Taylor Malcomb
David L. Lander Joe
Michael McKean Willy
Susan Backlinie Polar Bear Woman
E. Hampton Beagle Phone Man
Deborah Benson USO Girl
Don Calfa Telephone Operator
Vito Carenzo Shore Patrol
Mark Carlton Stilwell Aide
Gary Cervantes Zoot-Suiter
Paul Cloud Stilwell Aide
Luis Contreras Zoot Suiter
Lucinda Dooling Lucinda
Gray Fredrickson Lt. Bressler
Brian Frishman USO Goon
Samuel Fuller Interceptor Commander
Denise Gallup Twin
Brad Gorman USO Nerd
Jerry Hardin Map Man
Audrey Landers USO Girl
John Landis Mizerany
Akio Mitamura Ashimoto
Walter Olkewicz Hinshaw
Mickey Rourke Reese
Whitney Rydbeck Daffy
Donovan Scott Kid Sailor
Kerry Sherman USO Girl
Geno Silva Martinez
Rita Taggart Reporter
Maureen Teefy USO Girl
Andy Tennant Babyface
Jack Thibeau Stilwell Aide
Galen Thompson Stilwell Aide
John Voldstad USO Nerd
Carol Ann Beery USO Girl
Penny Marshall Miss Fitzroy
Dave Cameron Reporter
John R. McKee Reporter
Hiroshi Shimizu Ito

Technical Credits
Steven Spielberg Director
John P. Austin Set Decoration/Design
Paul de Rolf Choreography
Sally Dennison Casting
Bud Ekins Stunts
Buzz Feitshans Producer
A.D. Flowers Special Effects
William A. Fraker Cinematographer
Bob Gale Screenwriter
Robert Glass Sound/Sound Designer
Michael Kahn Associate Producer,Editor
Terry J. Leonard Stunts
John Milius Executive Producer
Dean Edward Mitzner Production Designer
Deborah Nadoolman Costumes/Costume Designer
WIlliam F. O'Brien Art Director
Abe Olman Songwriter
Steve Perry Asst. Director
Mario Roberts Stunts
Bob Troup Songwriter
Judy Van Wormer Choreography
Bob Westmoreland Makeup
John Williams [composer] Score Composer
Jack Yellen Songwriter
Robert Zemeckis Screenwriter
Jerry Ziesmer Asst. Director

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