Abandon ship, abandon ship, all is lost, all is lost. At least that is what the critics would have had you believed when Spielberg’s (one and only to date) slapstick comedy hit the cinema back in 1979. The reality is this; 1941 for all of its faults is actually a genuinely funny war parody and goes to show how much of a darn shame that Spielberg hasn’t dipped into this genre more often.
What many people do not know, is that Bob Gale and Robert Zemekis wrote the script. It really does feel a lot different from their more well known work (such as Back To The Future). It becomes clear that they made a good impact on young Spielberg (obviously leading to him to help executively produce the aforementioned film).
Essentially a war time version of Airplane, this piece of cinematic slapstick throws everything but the kitchen sink at the screen. It has a tip top comedy performance from John Belushi (and goes to show just how much of a comedy genius he was), while pilling on the celebrity cameos thick and fast. Seriously if you can find a film (and a comedy no less) which includes more celebrity guest appearances then you can shake a stick at, well I for one would like to see it. Loaded Weapon 1 really doesn’t count, even if it does have a rather great cameo from John McClane.
It’s a vitiable who’s who of Hollywood actors and actress. Everyone from the late great John Candy, the legendary Toshiro Mifune and amazingly smooth voiced Robert Stack make an appearance. Hell, even John Landis has a cameo, along with the first acting role for one Mickey Rourke. For the time it really did have every quality actor you could shake a stick at.
This is the film where Spielberg really let his beard down. It really is balls to the wall hijinks and just goes to show how much of a shame it is that The Beard hasn’t expanded more into outlandish comedies. In all fairness this was at the start of his career and he possibly feels that this type of humor is beyond him. Come on Steven, ignore the awards and accolades for the modern Spielbergian features and lower yourself down to the levels of slapstick comedy once again. One thinks that you still have it within you to show a few of the young pretenders of modern comedy films a thing or two about to produce some real, belly rumbling laughs.
Opening with a scene that Spielberg rips straight from Jaws, except with added Carry On elements. The actress is even the same as the previous film, but instead ol’bruce the shark has been replaced by a Japanese submarine submerging (ooh err thats full of low brow comedy connotations). From then on everything gets all the more sillier as each new scene tries to outdo the next, in terms of shtick. Ever wanted to see Christopher Lee loose his rag with a load of Japanese actors, then bravo its featured here. Ever had the urge to see John Belushi eating pasta dressed as Marlon Brando from al la The Godfather, fear not your prayers are answered.
Looking back over 1941 for this Spielberg retro has made me remember just how underappreciated it really is. And while it is far from the best release from the great man himself, it is quite possibly, an interesting deviation from any of his previous or future work. Had it received more praise, maybe it would not have deterred Spielberg from the comedy genre. Who knows? What I do know is that 1941 is that rare gem from Spielberg’s back catalogue, which needs to be hunted down by any serious fans of the great man. Granted it really is not for everyone but it is something a bit different. Even if you are not a diehard Steven Spielberg fan, it certainly is still worth at least one viewing.
As it stands, in my most humble of opinions, this is one of his most underrated and most rare gems. Less seriousness and more comedy please Mr Beard, hopefully the upcoming Tintin adaptation can provided those lost comic moments. Fingers crossed at least.