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Film / 1941 (1979)

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"This isn't the state of California, it's a state of insanity."

1941 is a 1979 American epic war action comedy, 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, and John Milius executive produced and co-wrote the story.

That story 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 two months later, in 1942).

Spielberg, with the combined backing of two major studios (Universal and Columbia), spared no expense in making this film. It has special effects rivaling those of "serious" World War II epics, and the All-Star Cast reads like a who's who of movie comedy in The '70s, 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 misfire in Spielberg's otherwise-outstanding run of blockbusters between 1975 and 1982.

Not to be confused with the third game in Capcom's 1942 video game series and the Ukrainian series.

Tropes include:

  • Abandon Ship: Parodied. When Kelso's plane has been shot down, he indeed crawls out of the cockpit and deploys his parachute... it's just that said plane has already crash-landed in the streets of Los Angeles.
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Exaggerated with both Stretch and Maxine in different ways. Stretch's pursuing of Betty is extremely creepy and evocative of rape, while Maxine, knowing and seeing how Stretch is terrorizing Betty, 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.
  • Action Girl: Donna punches Birkhead out for making an unwelcome pass at her early on and can fly a plane well enough to avoid being shot down in an Unfriendly Fire situation despite having zero training or experience.
  • Actor Allusion: When Hollis P. "Holly" Wood has his belongings inventoried by the Japanese aboard the sub, he says "one box of genuine cracker jacks. One genuine rabbit's foot" and the like. This is a nod to Slim Pickens' role as Major Kong in Dr. Strangelove, where his character does the same thing with the survival kit.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: Although it's very hard to tell who's kicking whose ass in this movie, it takes place on December 1941, starting at 7:01 am on the 13th of that month and ending between 8 and 10am on the 14th. As such, Christmas elements are quite prominent, such as Christmas tree decorations at the USO ball and nailing a symbolic Christmas wreath on a door at the film's conclusion.
  • Artistic License – Ships: In-Universe. Several characters think that the Japanese sub was "sunk" while it was actually just submerging.
    Wally: I think we hit the sub. I saw it go down!
  • Ash Face: While riding in the tank, Pvt. Jones gets a sack of flour on his face, while Pvt. Foley takes a blast of ash on his face. Foley starts laughing at Jones because of lighter complexion, until Jones points out that Foley has darker complexion and laughs while telling Foley to "go to the back of the tank."
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The Americans manage to level their own town, and shoot down two of their own planes. The Japanese destroy a land-based American target (although it's just a middle-of-nowhere fair on the coast when they were aiming for Hollywood), and suffer no damages to their submarine. On the other hand, they are all now trapped on a submarine with "Wild" Bill Kelso, who is an Axe-Crazy General Ripper, so the Japanese troops don't get off completely unscathed. Oh, and Von Kleinschmidt is apprehended, possibly becoming the first German POW in the US of the whole war.
  • Bar Brawl: An epic one ensues right after the Jitterbug tournament, which turns into a riot in the street.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Stretch whenever he comes in contact with eggs. So naturally, he gets launched into them quite a bit.
    • Sgt. Tree hates to see Americans fighting each other. He even tries to give a Rousing Speech to the effect, saying that Americans are better because Japanese people apparently don't believe in Sanata Claus.
    • Wild Bill Kelso hates the Japanese, as well as anyone pointing out that he's a crazy incompetent.
    • Claude Crumn is afraid of heights, but is placed on a Ferris wheel. Herbie Kazlminsky constantly pokes fun of this.
  • Brick Joke: General Stillwell ordered a one-block perimeter around the movie theater. Later, Kelso's plane crashes right in front of it:
    Sergeant: We tried to hold the block, sir, but the plane broke through our perimeter.
  • 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.
    • Samuel Fuller played the role of Interceptor Commander in this movie.
  • Captain Obvious:
    • General Stillwell gets off a blistering one after walking out of a movie theater with his men and seeing the chaos caused by panicking civilians who think the Japanese are invading.
    Stillwell: Sergeant, secure this area. I want a one-block perimeter.
    Sergeant: Yes sir! What's the plan of action, sir?
    Stillwell: Hold the block. You can hold one block, can't you?
    • Later, the soldiers next to Stillwell qualify even better.
    Stillwell: (points at Kelso's downed plane) What the hell is that?
    Pvt. Du Bois: Appears to be an airplane.
    Stillwell: (Jones runs by while saluting) What's that?
    Pvt. Du Bois: Appears to be a large negro, sir.
    Stillwell: (Mishkin runy by with the contract in his hands) What's that?
    Pvt. Du Bois: Salesman.
    Other Pvt.: A businessman.
    Pvt. Du Bois: Accountant.
    Other Pvt.: A lawyer.
    Stillwell: (Sitarski runs by swearing loudly) That?
    Pvt. Du Bois: A corporal.
  • Casting Gag: The woman who goes skinny-dipping in the beginning of the film, only to be startled by a Japanese submarine surfacing beneath her, is played by Susan Backlinie, who played Chrissie in the opening scene of Jaws, where she had a rather similar but somewhat less embarrassing / more fatal skinny-dipping encounter with a shark.
    • The gas station owner is played by Lucille Benson who also played a gas station owner in Spielberg's first movie, Duel.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: The massive Bar Brawl sees the sailors, soldiers, marines and Zoot-suiters use this on each other.
  • Cigar Chomper: Kelso. He even keeps his cigar in mouth when trying to swallow Coca-Cola, and the last thing we see him do in the film is asking the Japanese for a light.
  • Cock Fight: Between Wally and Stretch for Betty.
  • Combat Pragmatist
    Wally Stephens: 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.
  • Concussions Get You High: After Sgt. Tree is hit on the head in the late third act, he spends the rest of the film acting like a Cloud Cuckoolander.
    Sgt. Tree: '('puts on pantyhose on head with two oranges over his eyes)'' I'm a bug!
  • Creator Cameo: 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.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Sitarski absolutely despises eggs, even getting them on his clothing. As a result, he ends up as a Butt-Monkey by getting launched into a huge stack of eggs, and spends quite a bit of the film avoiding them as much as he can.
  • 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).
    Japanese Lookout: Horrywood! Horrywood!
  • 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.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Referenced in-universe. 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.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: This is what "Madman" Maddox suspects Loomis is doing. He even considers Loomis might be wearing stilts to appear bigger.
    Col. Maddox: Little tall for a Jap, wouldn't you say?
  • Drives Like Crazy
    • The aerial variant, namely the dogfight between Donna Stratton and Wild Bill Kelso over the streets of L.A. That is, just simply Wild Bill Kelso.
    • The messenger from Col. Maddox' base also runs over several people with his motorcycle when he is to deliver a message from Maddox to Stillwell.
    • When Sgt. Tree gives Wally command over his crew, the tank crushes cars, and destroys a paint factory.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Despite the Downer Ending explained above, Wally and Betty have finally gotten together by the end of the film, and Wally's got a 7-picture deal with RKO Pictures (courtesy of a talent agent who saw Wally's incredible dance moves at the USO).
  • Eat the Evidence: Hollis P. Wood swallows 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: It has many of the traditional epic movie markers: an ensemble cast that includes multiple A-list movie and TV stars, a historical wartime setting, a focus on the characters' stories rather than the larger World War II backdrop, hundreds upon hundreds of extras, and gigantic, action-packed, often effects-intensive setpieces such as the dance contest and subsequent brawl that spills into the streets and anything that has to do with the planes. It's just that it's all Played for Laughs, and it's rare for a comedy movie to also be an epic movie. It's taken even further in the director's cut, which drives up the runtime to a whopping 146 minutes.
  • Everybody Lives: No characters die in this movie. In the final aerial shot after the house has collapsed, Captain Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt can be seen being apprehended by U.S. soldiers and dragged away, gesticulating wildly. Also, Hollis Wood manages to get back to shore despite being the middle of the ocean, since he can be seen in the final aerial shot.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The extended edition of the movie is about two hours and twenty minutes long, but the movie begins at 7:01 a.m. on December 13th and ends somewhere between 8:00 and 10:00 on the morning of December 14th. About 2/3rds of the movie takes place between 7:00 p.m. and midnight.
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: Shortly after regaining consciousness following the inter service Bar Brawl, Wally gets knocked out by one of these.
  • Ferris Wheel of Doom: The result of the Japanese sub destroying the wheel's supports when trying to aim for the lookouts that were in it.
  • Fight Bell Hijinks: Played for Laughs. Groups of U.S. military personnel (Army soldiers, Marines and Navy sailors) are squaring off to fight. A fight bell sounds and the groups attack each other.
  • 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.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: The various plot lines throughout the movie are as follows: Hollis Wood's kidnapping by the Japanese, the Japanese being unable to find the city of Hollywood to attack, Loomis trying to get in Stratton's panties, Kelso's continuous violent bumbling, a party that gets destructive because of Interservice Rivalry and the panic of an alleged Japanese attack, the Douglas family trying to have a nice Christmas, and then its patriarch tearing the house apart in a bumbling attempt to help the nation because of the aforementioned Japanese popping up nearby. the film typically spends a significant amount of time on one plot/set of characters before switching to another, and the plots don't converge until the USO brawl and the subsequent air battle.
  • 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.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: The Japanese soldiers sent to explore the mainland and later kidnap Hollis Wood are mentioned by Captain Mitamura to be members of ninja families.
  • Greasy Spoon: Malcomb's Cafe is exactly this. Wally and Dennis work there initially. They get fired shortly afterwards, though.
  • Groin Attack: When Wally confronts Stretch near the end of the movie, he kicks Stretch in the crotch before hitting him with a belt of ammunition.
  • Gun Nut: Ward Douglas. He's first seen carrying a shotgun out to the garage, his wife finds a revolver under the couch cushions while cleaning the living room, and he's absolutely fascinated by the anti-aircraft gun emplacement in his front yard.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Sitarski, who destroys half of a civilian's garage for no real reason shortly after being reintroduced.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: John Belushi and Warren Oates during "Lemme hear your guns!"
  • Hidden Depths: General Stillwell is tougher than leather, coldly competent, and takes charge of every situation, but he gets misty-eyed while watching Dumbo. Given that he can mouth along to "When I See an Elephant Fly", this isn't the first time he's seen the movie, either. (Robert Stack's performance is one of the highlights of the film.)
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: When Birkhead and Stratton crawl out of their wrecked airplane, they are scared to death for a brief moment when they stare directly at a tyrannosaurus - which happens to be only a model placed by the La Brea Tar Pits. Later, Steven Spielberg would direct a quite famous film about dinosaurs...
    • That scene itself finds itself replicated in Jurassic Park III, yet with an actual dinosaur.
  • 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 comments:
      "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.
    • Kelso boasts to have shot down the first Japanese plane over the Continental US. Historically, nothing like that happened in the whole war.note 
  • Hollywood Atlas: Barstow is more than 120 miles from Hollywood, yet Birkhead and Stratton make it there in about 90 minutes.
  • Implacable Man: 'Stretch' Sitarski spends a chunk of the climax chasing after the woman he wants, Betty Douglas, in a manner described by Brad Jones (The Cinema Snob) in his review of the film as "a combination between Michael Myers and Pepe Le Pew" to have his way with her.
  • Indy Ploy: Parodied. Hollis Wood manages to eat a compass the Japanese need, forcing them to keep him prisoner until he craps it out. By acting like he's using the toilet, Hollis Wood tricks the Japanese submarine's soldiers into letting their guard down until breaks out of the submarine and gets to the water's surface. But Wood realizes once he's actually out of the sub that he doesn't know which way the nearest land is.
    Hollis Wood: Which way's the damn beach!? Aw, shit!
  • Interservice Rivalry: The Bar Brawl happens after Wally, wearing a stolen Sailor Police uniform, gets punched out by Army man Sitarsky, who is about to be knocked-out by Dennis, who dressed up as a Marine to pick up girls, when he accidentally hits a a sailor with a chair and soon, all three branches are slugging each other.
  • It's a Long Story: Averted by General Stillwell.
    "Is this a long story?"
    "Err... yes, sir."
    "Then save it."
  • It Makes Sense in Context: The events of the battle, as explained by Sgt. Tree:
    Sgt. Tree: They responded immediately and about 2300 hrs engaged the enemy.
    Gen. Stillwell: Damage?
    Sgt. Tree: Ah... the Japanese sank both our tank and our Ferris wheel, sir.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: Spoken by soldiers Willy and Joe (played by Michael McKean and David Lander, aka Lenny and Squiggy) at a gun installation as they brace for the air raid.
  • Jerkass: 'Stretch' Sitarski, constantly looking to prove his alpha maleness by looking for a fight, and picking Wally as a target. He further cements his brutishness by chasing after and nearly assaulting Betty with no remorse. And he goes absolutely bonkers when coming in contact with eggs.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Sgt. Tree actually ends the riot with a lengthy speech from atop a tank.
    What the hell do you people think you're doing? You're acting like a bunch of Tojo stooges! What do you wanna do, put Yamamoto in the White House? The Axis is crawling like a slime all over Europe! I can't believe it, Americans fighting Americans! We got the lousy Huns to fight!
  • Just Plane Wrong: In-Universe. After shooting down Birkhead and Stratton, Kelso insists their twin-engined plane was a Japanese Zero fighter. Justified, since he is just a paranoid lunatic.
  • Madness Shared by Two: At one point, Claude just gives in to Herb's quirks.
    Claude Crumn: Holy shit, Herb. The dummy's right.
  • 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.
  • The Millstone: The Americans throughout the movie are running on Patriotic Fervor, but they're so gung-ho about fighting and running on such paranoia that they cause more problems for their country's war effort than they solve. They start a huge brawl over an Interservice Rivalry, manage to shoot down two of their own planes while taking out none of their enemy's, and destroy their entire Californian coastal town with a heavy-mounted machine gun. The closest anyone gets to the actual Japanese sub which is trying to attack them is Hollis Wood, and he only manages to trick the Japanese soldiers into letting their guard down so he can escape.
  • 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. The first one faints, the second one jumps to avoid his axe, and the third one jumps him.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Wally acquires a Shore Patrolman's uniform in this manner in order to get into the USO dance.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: From Claude when under fire from the Japanese submarine, directed to Herb:
    Claude Crumn: Give us this day our daily bread and deliver us from evil... and please don't let me go to the same place he goes.
  • Nazi Nobleman: Captain Wolfgang Von Kleinschmidt's name.
  • 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 stranding you naked on their equipment.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Played with. While General Stilwell and Meyer Mishkin are actual figures, the female singing trio at Stewart's Ballroom was modeled after The Andrews Sisters and called The Anderson Sisters in the credits, while actual songs of The Andrews Sisters are playing in that very scene.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Betty's father hates Wally for some reason; it's implied by dialogue he might've somehow damaged or destroyed the Douglas family's barn and car.
    • Loomis Burkhead apparently flunked out of flight school, and was Kicked Upstairs into becoming an aide to General Stilwell, but we get no more details on what happened.
  • Not What I Signed Up For: Claude volunteers to become a civil defense air raid spotter due to being told it will only entail sitting in a lawn chair in Ward's yard. Then the army places an AA gun in the yard, and Claude (who is afraid of heights) gets reassigned to a post at the top of a Ferris wheel along with Manchild Herbie.
  • Only Sane Man: General Stilwell, incidentally a real person, played by Robert Stack in the film.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Played for drama, despite the comedy found across the film. While Japanese troops really are coming to attack America, the people on the small coastal Californian town are also extremely paranoid about anything even vaguely happening, including an Interservice Rivalry that causes more problems for the town than it solves. Also, the Japanese troops are so committed to the ideal of honor and serving their country that they refuse to go home until they've completed an objective, and end up so far off-course that they blow up a Ferris wheel, thinking they're attacking Hollywood. Both the Americans and the Japanese as portrayed in the movie are paranoid idiots who are jumping at ghosts, and consistently fail to achieve what they set out to do because of wartime worries. But the movie packages it all up in comedy, getting laughs out of the situation by playing the conflict up as two bunches of idiots flailing in the dark.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero:
    • The white Private Folley bullies the new incoming Private Ogden Johnson Jones simply because Jones happens to be black. When the call comes in to suppress the riot in Hollywood Sgt. Tree orders Jones to enter the tank via the rear hatch.
    • There are a lot of anti-Axis racial epithets tossed around by the protagonists throughout the film (especially Wild Bill). Justified because of the wartime Patriotic Fervor, as well as the fact that the attack on Pearl Harbor was less than a week old at the time the movie takes place.
  • Prince Charming Wannabe: Sitarski clearly thinks he's a dashing romantic lead, in reality though he's an inelegant meathead. This is best demonstrated when he and Betty Douglas get on the dance floor, and he throws her about like a ragdoll.
  • Random Events Plot: Several turning points just occur incidentally.
    • Wally and Sitarski bump into each other at Malcomb's Cafe, at the Douglas' house and later at the USO dance.
    • The Japanese only make their way to the Santa Monica pier since they randomly captured Hollis Wood and also chose to take his radio with them.
    • It's only after Kelso has met Col. Maddox that he actually turns towards Los Angeles.
    • The whole Bar Brawl at the Crystal Ballroom also starts only by accident.
  • Reactive Continuous Scream: The Video Credits are cut to 90% of the cast's noisy, often screaming, reactions to various moments of the plot!
  • Recoiled Across the Room: The anti-aircraft cannon is not secured to the ground the way it's supposed to be. As a result, when it's fired at the Japanese submarine offshore it rolls backwards along the ground and into a wooden building.
  • 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.
  • Reluctant Fanservice Girl: The Polar Bear Club Woman ends up naked and trapped in the middle of the ocean thanks to the Japanese submarine surfacing right beneath her, allowing one Japanese soldier to get a good look at her from below when he opens the hatch.
  • Roofless Renovation: The end result of Mr. Douglas manning the cannon and trying to shoot the submarine. By the very last scene, the only thing still standing is the house's door.
  • Rousing Speech: Sergeant Tree (Dan Aykroyd), when he accuses the brawling G.I.s of acting like "a bunch of Tojo stooges".
    Sergeant Tree: Was Mickey Mouse the one blitzkrieging across France? Or Donald Duck at Pearl Harbor?
  • The Ruins I Caused: Parodied. The Douglas' house finally slides off the cliff when Ward Douglas intents to nail a Christmas wreath on its door just after the final battle is over.
  • Rule of Funny: A film about stupid people in WWII America with stupid axis powers in a submarine? Stupidity at its finest. Especially since it was heavily inspired by several true stories.
  • Scenery Censor: The nude Susan Backlinie's modesty is protected by the beach's picket fence and the submarine's periscope.
  • 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 had also appeared in Spielberg's Duel.
    • The music that starts playing as the USO brawl kicks off is "Rakes of Mallow", which was also played during the climactic fight in The Quiet Man.
    • Hollis Wood's enumeration of his effects to the Japanese is done in the same manner as the famous survival kit contents scene in Dr. Strangelove (which featured Hollis Wood's actor, Slim Pickens, as Major Kong).
  • Shown Their Work: The events that inspired events in this movie a couple months off — a zoot suit riot took place in 1942, not 1941 — the filmmakers' accuracies were spot on in terms of what happened in those events, their effects on America, and the Patriotic Fervor and casual anti-Japanese sentiment floating through the country at the time.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Plenty of it given the premise and setting. After the Video Credits for the performers are rolled, there are still more explosions under the first two-thirds of the credit scroll!
  • Take Me to Your Leader: In the denouement, once on the Japanese submarine Wild Bill Kelso tells the Japanese on board, "Turn this tub around! You're takin' me to Tokyo!"
  • Tank Goodness: They built an accurate full-scale replica of an M3 tank which reportedly caused yet another budget overrun.
  • Tar and Feathers: This is how Birkhead and Stratton end up. Justified, though by accident, as their plane crashes into the La Brea Tar Pits.
  • Title by Year: A 1979 film taking place in the titular year.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Captain of the Kriegsmarine Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt: to begin with, his ridiculous stereotypical name. He is wearing inside the submarine his full uniform rather than a utility uniform as a submarine crewman should, including many medals, among them the prestigious Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Additionally, he is vaguely Germanic, arrogant, and obsessed with "discipline," criticizing his allies for their incompetence.
  • Translation Convention: Inverted — the Japanese sub crew and their German liaison each speak their own languages but have no trouble understanding each other. This sets up a hilarious argument between Captain Von Kleinschmidt and Captain Mitamura where neither will deign to speak to the other in his native language.note 
  • Trash the Set: Just imagine this trope applied to the whole of Los Angeles. Another reason it went over budget.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Wally's friend Dennis seems to be taken with a pair of twin sisters they meet at the clothing store, and seems pretty happy when he shows up with both of them as dates for the jitterbug competition.
  • 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: According to co-writer Bob Gale in the DVD documentary, many of the events in the movie are based on real incidents. The Army really put an anti-aircraft gun in the yard of a homeowner on the Maine coast. A Japanese submarine shelled a refinery in Ellwood on the California coast on February 23, 1943. An air raid false alarm over Los Angeles resulted in Civil Defense and Army weapons firing into the air on the night of February 24 and 25, 1942, thinking they were being attacked by the Japanese. The infamous Zoot Suit Riots, between Hispanic youths and servicemen, took place in June 1943.
  • War Hero:
    • Subverted with Wally. He steals an army uniform only to attend the USO dance, where he wins the Jitterbug contest, which earns him a seven-year movie contract that will likely keep him from the war...
    • ...and then he still takes part in the actual action, when he joins the tank crew after Sgt. Tree has been knocked out, turning this into a Double Subversion.
    • Also deconstructed with Kelso. He may be a skillful and daring pilot, but he's just plain crazy and hardly causes anything but havoc.
  • Wet Blanket Wife: Mrs. Douglas tries her hardest to be one to her war-wacky husband and children, even as her home is becoming increasingly wrecked from their antics with the Ack-Ack gun.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Polar Bear Club Woman who got caught swimming naked in the opening by the Japanese disappears after that scene, and is never heard from again in this movie.
  • Who's on First?:
    Cmdr. Mitamura: Where's Hollywood?
    Hollis "Holly" Wood: Right here.
  • World of Ham: And even then, John Belushi's eccentric, overly patriotic Air Corps 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 (except for Robert Stack and Lionel Stander), they are making a whole lot of noise, if not outright screaming.
  • "You!" Squared: Happens when Wally and Stretch just happen to "run into" one another in Ward's garage:
    Wally: You!
    Stretch: (ragingly pointing at Wally) YOU!
    Ward: (catching Wally in the garage) You!
    Sgt. Tree: (also catching Wally the garage, but more calmly) You... have a serious wardrobe problem, kid.

Alternative Title(s): Nineteen Forty One