Spectacular, big-budget comedy film, directed by none other than Steven Spielberg
, which takes place, surprisingly enough
, in the year 1941
. The script was written by Robert Zemeckis
and Bob Gale.
The storyline follows the panic that ensues when, in the days after Pearl Harbor, paranoid Californians believe another attack is imminent. It's very loosely
based on actual events
(which, for one thing, actually occurred in 1942
Spielberg, with the combined backing of two
major studios (Universal
), spared no expense on this film. It has special effects rivaling those of "serious" World War II
epics and the cast reads like a who's who list of comedy in the 1970s
. All in the service of Slapstick
. Unfortunately, it was a critical bomb and received disappointing box office numbers (though it wasn't the complete flop it's usually remembered as), and stands as the one black mark in Spielberg's otherwise-outstanding run of blockbusters between 1975 and 1982. It has defenders, but they are small in number and most of them still
agree it isn't as good as the other movies from this period.
Not under any circumstances to be confused with Nineteen Eighty-Four
, or 1941
, the third game in Capcom's Nineteen Forty Two
video game series.
- Abhorrent Admirer: Exaggerated with both Stretch and Maxine in different ways - Stretch's pursuing of Donna is extremely creepy and evocative of rape, while Maxine, knowing and seeing how Stretch is terrorizing Donna, declares him the 'perfect man' and spends the rest of the film chasing after him, screaming his name, and punching anyone who gets between her and 'her man'.
- Acme Products: Acme Turpentine.
- The Bad Guy Wins: To recap - the Americans manage to level their own town and shoot down two of their own planes when all is said and done. The Japanese actually destroy a land-based American target and suffer no damages.
- Bar Brawl: An epic one ensues right after the Jitterbug tournament, which turns into a riot in the street.
- Broken Streak: The one black mark on Spielberg's career from 1975 to 1982. Although the film actually wasn't the huge flop it's remembered as; it's just that all four of his other films in that period were such huge hits that its more modest success couldn't measure up.
- The Cameo: John Landis plays the dust-covered soldier who delivers a message to Stilwell.
- James Caan can be glimpsed as one of the participants in the USO brawl.
- A deleted scene has John Milius as a man dressed as Santa, doing an impression of "Bigfoot caught in your headlights" that he often amused the rest of the crew with. After filming it they came to their senses, realizing (in those pre-Internet days) that absolutely no one besides the people who worked on the movie would get the joke.
- Combat Pragmatist
I know I can't beat you in a fair fight. 'Stretch' Sitarski: (scoffs)
Stupid, I don't fight fair. Wally Stephens:
Neither do I! (kicks Stretch in the crotch, then hits him across the face with a belt of .30 calibre machine-gun ammo; Stretch smiles dumbly for a second then falls over)
- Comical Overreacting: How Stretch reacts to being in contact with eggs, which he hates.
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: As the artillery crew is setting up the anti-aircraft gun in the Douglas family's yard, Sgt. Tree explicitly tells Ward what not to do with it - all the while demonstrating every step in the aiming/firing process. Hilarity Ensues when Ward later tries to use the cannon against the Japanese sub and nearly destroys his own house instead.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The opening scene where a skinny-dipping woman finds herself clutching the upthrusting periscope of a surfacing Japanese submarine (also serves as a hilarious Jaws take-off — it's even the same actress who was in the corresponding scene).
- Doesn't Like Guns: Mrs. Douglas is angrily declaring, "I will not have guns in this house!" when the muzzle of an ack-ack cannon comes crashing through the front door.
- Drives Like Crazy: The aerial variant, namely the dogfight between Donna Stratton and Wild Bill Kelso in the streets of L.A. That is, just simply Wild Bill Kelso.
- Eat the Evidence: Hollis P. Wood eats his toy compass when he sees the Japs are interested in it. So they force-feed him prune juice to make him give it up again. Or down.
- Epic Fail: Ward does heavy damage to his own house while trying to hit the Japanese sub with the anti-aircraft gun. The next morning, he nails a Christmas wreath to the front door, causing the remains of the house to collapse and fall into the ocean. The door is the only thing left standing on the foundation slab.
- Epic Movie: A rare comedy that can qualify as this.
- Ferris Wheel of Doom
- Firing in the Air a Lot: Well, Maddox wants to hear Wild Bill Kelso's machine guns. So he fires them while still on ground. Maddox' troops follow suit when Kelso takes off.
- Also in Real Life — some scenes were so noisy that nobody could hear Spielberg call "cut", so he had crew members shoot off machine guns as a signal that the cameras were no longer rolling.
- Funny Background Event: During Wally's speech to the General, Sgt. Tree can be seen holding a mannequin arm close to his chest and stroking it affectionately.
- General Ripper: Colonel 'Mad Man' Maddox.
- Get Thee to a Nunnery: Bizarrely, and probably unintentionally, used. In a deleted scene, Sgt. Tree says he's going to "ream" Sitarski for vanishing during tank maintenance. The common usage of 'ream', to mean 'rebuke', didn't come into American vernacular until 1950. In 1941, however, 'ream' was just coming into usage as a vulgar slang term for anal sex.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Sitarski, who destroys half of a civilian's garage for no real reason shortly after being reintroduced.
- Historical In-Joke
- We learn how the "HOLLYWOODLAND" sign really lost the last four letters.
- Also the Japanese sailor trying to fit an enormous radio down the submarine hatch.
"We've got to figure out how to make these things smaller!"
- Robert Stack plays the actual commander of the U.S. coastal defense so accurately that pictures of Stack in costume have been mistaken for ones of the real Stilwell.
- It's a Long Story: Averted by General Stillwell.
"Is this a long story?"
"Then save it."
- It's Quiet... Too Quiet: Spoken by some soldiers at a gun installation as they brace for the air raid.
- Jerkass: 'Stretch' Sitarski.
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Mile-High Club: Ice Queen Donna Stratton turns into a raging nymphomaniac whenever she gets into the air. Knowing this, Handsome Lech Captain Loomis Birkhead is willing to risk death (he flunked flying school) to get her up in an aircraft. Just as he's finally mastered the plane (and her) they're interrupted in the act by a machine-gunning John Belushi who thinks they're Japanese.
- Mobile Shrubbery: The director's cut includes a scene where the Japanese sailors disguise themselves in this manner at a Christmas tree lot run by Hollis Wood, who shows up and attempts to cut the "trees" down.
- Naked People Are Funny: It's hard not to laugh at the poor Polar Bear Club Woman (actually the same actress from the opening of Jaws) who went skinny dipping that morning, as she finds herself clinging to the periscope of the Japanese sub - and then endures the further sexual humiliation of having an excited Japanese sailor see her completely naked before submerging.
- Naked People Trapped Outside: The aforementioned Polar Bear Club Woman who gets caught naked by the Japanese sailor when he pokes his head out of the sub.
- Night Swim Equals Death: Parodied. Apparently night swims lead to Japanese submarines.
- Only Sane Man: General Stilwell, incidentally a real person, played by Robert Stack in the film.
- Panty Shot: The Jitterbug tournament alone has quite a number, but the girl in yellow underwear (and yellow is considered bad in post-Pearl Harbor America) takes the cake.
- Random Events Plot
- Reactive Continuous Scream
- Re Cut: Spielberg's extended director's cut, done for the film's network TV airing and later released on laserdisc and DVD, includes a half hour of additional footage to pad out the running time to a whopping 146 minutes.
- Roofless Renovation
- Rousing Speech: Sergeant Tree's (Dan Aykroyd) Crowning Moment of Awesome.
Sergeant Tree: Do you want to see Mickey Mouse blitzkrieging across Poland?
- Shout-Out: Spielberg pays homage to his own Jaws in the opening, complete with Susan Backlinie (the same actress who played the luckless first victim).
- The gas station where Kelso refuels his plane appeared in Spielberg's Duel.
- Tanks, but No Tanks: Averted when they built an accurate full-scale replica of an M3 tank which reportedly caused yet another budget overrun.
- Translation Convention: Bizarrely inverted; the Japanese sub crew and Captain Von Kleinschmidt each speak their own languages but have no trouble understanding each other.
- Trash the Set: Just imagine this trope applied to the whole of Los Angeles. Another reason it went over budget.
- Vehicle Vanish: Got the usual 1941 treatment. Why have one if you can also have a whole string of Vehicle Vanishes, partly even seen from behind?
- Ventriloquism: Herbie Kazlminsky, one of the plane-spotters perched atop the Ferris wheel, is accompanied by an obnoxious ventriloquist's dummy.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Battle of Los Angeles also the Japanese bombardment on Elmwood
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Hollis Wood is apparently just left to drown in the middle of the ocean after his heroic escape from the sub.
- You can in fact glimpse him at the very end of the film, in the aerial view of the destructed house, along with Captain von Kleinschmidt, who apparently also survived being tossed in the ocean.
- The Polar Bear Club Woman who got caught swimming naked in the opening by the Japanese disappears after that and is not seen again.
- Who's on First?:
- World of Ham: And even then, John Belushi's eccentric, overly patriotic Air Force pilot is a standout. Tellingly, each of the primary and supporting characters is represented in the end credits with a clip of them as their actor's name comes up — and in most of the clips, they are screaming.