Movie Name: 1941
Studio: A-Team Productions
Release Date(s): December 14, 1979
MPAA Rating: PG
Pearl Harbor has just been attacked, and America is reeling. With a rush to join the military, citizens of the southern coast of California worry that they will be the next target. Ward Douglas (Ned Beatty) and his wife (Lorraine Gary) find their property is being used for the placement of an anti-aircraft gun. Douglas’s daughter Betty (Dianne Kay) is off to a USO dance Corporal Chuck “Stretch” Sitarski (Treat Williams) hopes to get her in bed while Wally Stephens (Bobby Di Cicco) wants to woo her and win the dance contest. Motor Sergeant Frank Tree (Dan Aykroyd) and his team try to keep the order as the people panic while Angelo Scioli (Lionel Stander) organizes a resistance led by Claude Crumn (Murray Hamilton) and Herbie Kazlminsky (Eddie Deezen). Captain Loomis Birkhead (Tim Matheson) is trying to get with Donna Stratton (Nancy Allen) who is serving as a secretary for Major General Joseph W. Sitwell (Robert Stack), and Nancy has an affinity for planes and those who fly them. Others aren’t taking the news well, and Colonel “Madman” Maddox (Warren Oates) has taken hold of a military base set on stopping any potential threat while Captain “Wild” Bill Kelso (John Belushi) is patrolling the skies looking for Japanese Zeros. Meanwhile of the coast of California, a real Japanese threat lurks under the water, and Commander Akiro Mitamura (Toshiro Mifune) and Captain Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt (Christopher Lee) could strike at any moment!
Directed by Steven Spielberg, 1941 is a war comedy. The film was released to average reviews and so-so response at the box office (though gaining a cult following over the years). The film was nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects.
1941 was considered a bomb for Spielberg. The movie just didn’t have the steam of the young filmmaker’s early successes. The scale and the cast of the film was big…and that is why 1941 seems like a disappointment.
The idea behind 1941 is good one. With tons of characters and a plot that eventually brings them together, it feels a lot like Robert Zemecki’s I Wanna Hold Your Hand (which shared some of the cast as well). I think the problem with the movie is that he story goes on for too long. I also would have liked to not have the Japanese actually involved and to just have it all be paranoia or if they had to have the Japanese let it be more of a tangential tie. I love The Twilight Zone, and the movie could have been more like the classic “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” where the people destroy themselves…with the aliens orchestrating the destruction.
The movie’s cast is massive and it has its strong and weak points. The problem is that the movie needed more of a central character be it John Belushi’s crazy Wild Bill or wanna-be dancer Wally (Bobby Di Cicco) and his quest to woo Betty Douglas (Dianne Kay) from Sitarski (Treat Williams). There are just too many storylines and actors that get left behind. Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Toshiro Mifune, Tim Matheson, Christopher Lee, Robert Stack, Warren Oates, Nancy Allen, Slim Pickens, Wendie Jo Sperber, Mickey Rourke, John Landis, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Penny Marshall, and even an uncredited James Caan make appears…but you hardly get a feel for them. I do like the opening scene which recreates Spielberg’s Jaws’ famous opening with Jaws actress Susan Blackline taking her famous swim again.
Visually, the movie excels. It has some amazing sets and special effects. The look and feel of the movie is kind of an ode to the period of time, but unfortunately, the script seems like it sinks the effects of the film.
1941 should have probably been an hour and a half. Having made the mistake of watching the director’s cut that is two and a half hours, I wished I had watched the cut down version…and think they probably could cut it down even more. The movie is too robust to slim down that much without losing tons of characters an side plots…maybe they should have saved some of the stories for 1942 which could have maybe happened if this movie hadn’t been so stagnant.