DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: 1941

Saturday 31 December 2011


1941 (1979) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Bobby Di Cicco, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Treat Williams, Toshiro Mifune, Nancy Allen,


By Alan Bacchus

No one talks much about this picture these days, as it has been mostly forgotten by those who are old enough to have seen it when it was first released, and it's barely been seen by younger people. That said, with Steven Spielberg at the helm in the prime of his career - sandwiched between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark - we can't dismiss this film entirely. It's a loud, grating and obnoxious film to be sure, but there's still some memorable moments and sequences to marvel at, as well as an unforgettable rousing score by John Williams.

Penned by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (Back to the Future), Spielberg takes inspiration from the true story of a false alarm of a Japanese attack on Los Angeles, which put the city on high alert for one terrifying night in 1941. In an attempt to move away from the dreamy, epic sci-fi existentialism of Close Encounters, 1941 became an over-produced slapstick comedy of epic proportions.

The converging stories involving the varied cast include Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee as Japanese and Nazi sub captains encroaching Los Angeles by sea, Tim Matheson as a failed pilot trying to bed Nancy Allen aboard a B17 bomber, Bobby Di Cicco trying to avoid a fight with the bully figure of Treat Williams, Ned Beatty as a civilian who has been entrusted with guarding a massive artillery gun on his front lawn and John Belushi as a trigger-happy pilot running amuck through everything.

Some of the more astounding set pieces include the destruction of L.A. Harbor, finishing with the awesome site of a Ferris wheel rolling off the pier. There's also a brilliantly choreographed airplane dog fight low over the streets of Hollywood, and one of Spielberg's best ever sequences in the USO dance sequence featuring Bobby Di Cicco dancing his way around Treat Williams for the love of his girl.

Between these sequences is a whole lot of screaming, explosions and massive destruction. Most of the fine cast is wasted with Spielberg's exaggerations. Other fine actors showing up with unheralded roles include Slim Pickens, Murray Hamilton and Lionel Stander.

Spielberg himself has acknowledged this as a massive failure but also as a learning ground for his more controlled, efficient and economical productions from Raiders on. Take everything with a grain of salt in this one, but cherish this for Spielberg’s confident hubris and impressive production values, however grotesque they may be.

1 comment :

Mark said...

You can see the inspiration for '1941' in Robert Zemeckis' student film 'Field of Honor'. The idea worked much better in short form.