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
- Acme Products: Acme Turpentine.
- All-Star Cast: Featuring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Robert Stack, Slim Pickens, John Candy, and even Christopher Lee as the Nazi officer and Toshiro Mifune as the Japanese officer!
- Bar Brawl: An epic one ensues right after the Jitterbug tournament.
- 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.
- 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)
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The opening scene where a skinnydipping 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 gun of Sgt. Tree's tank 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 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.
- General Ripper: Colonel 'Mad Man' Maddox.
- Golden Age of Hollywood
- 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."
- 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
- 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.
- 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.