Trivia / 1941

  • Acting for Two: During the USO riot scene, when a military police officer is tossed into the window of a restaurant from the fire truck, John Belushi plays the patron eating spaghetti. He is in makeup to resemble Marlon Brando in The Godfather, which he famously parodied on Saturday Night Live. Belushi told Steven Spielberg he wanted to appear as a second character and the idea struck Spielberg as humorous.
  • 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!
  • Box Office Bomb: Budget, $35 million. Box office, $31,755,742 (domestic), $92 million (worldwide). The film was panned by critics for its excessive slapstick note  and its failure was one of several flops that helped bring about the end of New Hollywood. Fortunately, Spielberg bounced back with Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Deleted Scene:
    • In one deleted scene, Captain Wild Bill Kelso meets Sergeant Frank Tree right before he boards the Japanese sub. They look at each other as if recognizing one another, a nod to John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd's real-life friendship. It was the only scene in the film where they interacted.
    • A scene of Slim Pickens being threatened with what looks like a torture device but turns out to be a coat hanger was cut, but Steven Spielberg liked the joke so much he swore that he'd try to put it in every one of his future movies until it stayed. He got his wish in his very next film, but just imagine if he hadn't and had held his promise during some of his later work...
  • Doing It for the Art: An actual, functioning replica of an M3 Lee medium tank was built for filming. Part of the reason the movie went over budget. Particularly noteworthy as the M3 Lee is far less well-known than its replacement, the M4 Sherman medium tank.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Toshiro Mifune, who had been in the Imperial Japanese Military during World War II, grew disgusted with the lackadaisical behavior of the actors (mostly Nisei) who were playing the submarine crew. So he took the expedient of actually acting like an Imperial Japanese Navy captain would with his crew, including shouting at them and administering at least one Bright Slap to the actors, all of this with Spielberg's permission. The actors shaped up, realizing that Mifune was not playing around.
  • Fake Nationality: Christopher Lee as a German officer.
  • Follow Up Failure: Although not really the Box Office Bomb it's often remembered as, 1941 was almost universally panned by critics and, by Steven Spielberg's own admission, provided a needed humbling experience after the success of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had gone to his head. Fortunately, things got right back on track with his next film.
    • Spielberg also said that for Raiders he really wanted to prove that he could do a movie in time and under budget (which he did) and this movie was one of the main reasons.
  • In Memoriam: The film is dedicated to the memory of Charlsie Bryant, a longtime script supervisor at Universal Studios. She had served in that capacity on both Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and would have reprised those duties with this film had she not unexpectedly died.
  • Mid-Development Genre Shift:
    • The original Zemeckis-Gale script was a Black Comedy entitled The Night the Japs Attacked.
    • Stanley Kubrick tried to talk Spielberg into making the film as a straight war drama. Later, Spielberg supposedly considered doing it as a musical.
  • Old Shame: Spielberg readily acknowledges he screwed up big time. It was such a massive failure that in the trailers for Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was the only Spielberg movie not mentioned.
  • Playing Against Type: John Candy, usually cast as Big Fun or at least Nice Guy characters, is a racist Jerkass here.
  • Recycled Set: The gas station that Wild Bill Kelso accidentally blows up early in the film is the same one seen in Duel, with Lucille Benson appearing as the proprietor in both films.
  • Throw It In!: John Belushi really did slip on the dew that had coated the plane wing. Luckily, his ability to pop right back up made it fit perfectly with the character.
  • Troubled Production: Robert Zemekis and Bob Gale wrote the script in film school and it quickly becoming notorious in the industry for how batshit insane it was, with the two of them throwing in any random idea off the top of their head. One of those people intrigued by it was Steven Spielberg, who after becoming the biggest name in Hollywood after the back to back smash successes of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind decided to do this script next. And putting these three fresh young egos together quickly sent them even further down the rabbit hole, with the script mutating pretty much daily with one crazy idea after another, while no one was willing to rein them in. Further problems were caused by them beefing up the role of Wild Bill Kelso after casting John Belushi, fresh off his own success with Animal House, only for his notorious unreliability and habit of wandering off set without warning wrecking havoc with the schedule. Also causing issues was Toshiro Mifune, who was disgusted with the lackadaisical attitude of the other actors playing the Japanese submarine crew and appointed himself as a drill sergeant to whip them into shape and take the process seriously. The film's massive action scenes caused so much noise that the cast were unable to hear Spielberg yell "Cut," so he resorted to firing one of the prop machine guns in the air during these scenes to let them know to stop. The premiere screening was a disaster, with Spielberg having noted he was especially bemused to see so many people covering their ears; he'd seen plenty covering their eyes during Jaws but this was a new one for him. It was savaged by critics and did middling business, which Spielberg and the Bobs have described as a much-needed humbling experience, after which they were all able to go on to wildly successful careers (with the film's position smack in the middle of what would otherwise be a spectacular four film smash hit run for Spielberg ironically causing it to be remembered as a much bigger bomb than it was), including Spielberg producing one of the Bobs' biggest hits Back to the Future a few years later.
  • What Could Have Been
    • Spielberg initially approached John Wayne to play Stilwell. Wayne, unaware that the film was to be a comedy, showed an interest... until he read the script, after which he refused in disgust at the film's "anti-American" tone. Charlton Heston passed on it for the same reason.
    • The Ferris wheel subplot started as a vehicle for Jackie Gleason and Art Carney to essentially reprise their roles from The Honeymooners, to the point that the original script says the characters resemble a bus driver and a sewer worker. Gleason torpedoed the plan by mysteriously refusing to work with Carney again.
    • For a while there was going to be a scene where Wally is dancing along with a musical film behind the screen, and ends up falling through it, out of Joe E. Brown's mouth.
    • Zemickis and Gale briefly considered ending the film with the "Buy war bonds at this theater" card which was a regular feature during World War II (those being the days when films, shorts, cartoons, and newsreels simply ran on a constant loop and people left once it got back around to where they came in).
    • Harold Ramis was first hired to write a draft of the screenplay, but was fired due to creative differences between John Milius and Steven Spielberg.


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