Cast & Crew
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, mass hysteria breaks out in Southern California when a Japanese submarine is spotted off the coast of Santa Barbara.
Wendie Jo Sperber
Carol Ann Williams
Eddie Jordan Brian
Gary Carlos Cervantes
David O Cameron
E Hampton Beagle
L. B. Abbott
Fred J Brown
Michele Sharp Brown
R Anthony Brown
Gene S Cantamessa
Paul Martin Casella
A. D. Flowers
Robert W Glass
Joseph F Griffith
Robert M Mcmillian
Dean Edward Mitzner
Donald M Morgan
Daniel Grant North
William F O'brien
Charles W Short
William Ladd Skinner
Bruce Alan Solow
The Andrews Sisters
Frank Van Der Veer
Judy Van Wormer
Eric Von Buello
Best Visual Effects
It all began innocently enough with Spielberg's desire to make a comedy. "I've always been a frustrated comedian," he revealed in an interview to a British journalist at the time. "I've wanted to do what Woody Allen's been doing for a long time now. People laugh when I tell them that. But I really started my career making short joke movies." He also admitted that "I always wanted to do a comedy like Hellzapoppin , which I must have watched 100 times on television late-night movies when I was a kid."
When Spielberg first read Zemeckis and Gale's screenplay, he was immediately smitten by "its highly illiterate nature it appeared to have been written by two guys whose only excursions into literature had been classic comics. My initial instincts were not far off: I subsequently learned that the sole writing experiences of the authors had been spray-painting the walls of public buildings with profanity and ethnic slurs. I continued to read their first-draft screenplay at a local junk-burger dive in the San Fernando Valley. Moments of the script were so funny that I vomited from laughter. It was this feeling of nausea that I felt moved to translate into cinematic imagery." (from Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Joseph McBride)
1941 opens on the day of December 13, 1941, and incorporates the Japanese submarine incident into a dizzying number of subplots which build to a massive paranoid freak-out comparable to the effect that Orson Welles's radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds (1953) had on its listeners. Among the many plot threads are a gonzo pilot named 'Wild Bill' Kelso who crash lands his plane in the La Brea Tar Pitts, a rivalry between enlisted men and zoot-suited locals which begins at a canteen dance and spills over into the streets, a coastal defense commander who tries to minimize his stress by attending a screening of Walt Disney's Dumbo, a Santa Monica couple whose beautiful seaside home is selected by the army as a strategic artillery base, and a pair of night watchmen (one is a ventriloquist) at an amusement park.
During the casting process, Spielberg felt that John Belushi would be perfect in the role of the Japanese sub commander, a decision that was probably influenced by Belushi's Toshiro Mifune samurai parody in skits on TV's Saturday Night Live. After meeting the actor, however, he decided he was more ideally suited to play the barnstorming 'Wild Bill' Kelso and, in a strange twist of fate, Spielberg was actually able to get Toshiro Mifune for the role of Commander Akiro Mitamura, whose shelling of a California oil field sets the plot in motion.
Regarding his performance, Belushi told Spielberg, "We'll work it out on the set...I'm best there. I'm fast. I like to improvise. I won't let you down." What the director didn't know at the time was that Belushi already had a serious drug problem and once filming began, it began to show up in his work. In one incident, cited in Steven Spielberg: A Biography, "Belushi arrived on the set an hour and a half late, "so drugged up that he nearly rolled out of the car onto the ground." Angrily confronting Belushi in the star's trailer, Spielberg told him, "You can do this to anyone else, but you can't do it to me. For $350,000 [Belushi's salary] you're going to show up."
At the other extreme of Belushi was Robert Stack, a seasoned Hollywood professional and probably the only character in 1941 who retains his dignity during the ensuing chaos. Originally Spielberg wanted John Wayne to play the role of Major General Joseph W. Stilwell, a real officer who was actually stationed in California at the time the movie is set. Wayne, however, was offended by the movie's irreverent tone and tried to discourage Spielberg from making it. Needless to say, Stack won the part and during the actor's big scene in the movie theatre, Spielberg actually had the actor play it while watching Dumbo. "As I was watching the scene in Dumbo," Stack recalled, "tears were starting to come. This guy was shooting me with a massive camera and all that incredible equipment, but he didn't get overpowered with the camera. Steven shot that in one take! I couldn't believe it. He has incredible confidence. I've never done anything like that before, without coverage or protection. I thought, 'This guy knows what he wants. That's class!'"
Part of the reason 1941 ran over budget and schedule was due to the construction of elaborate miniature sets, time-consuming special effects and the staging of some of the film's most important sequences which required detailed choreography such as the riot on Hollywood Boulevard involving hundreds of extras in period costumes and multiple car crashes. "For the film's ending, Spielberg had an actual full-sized house built at a cost of $260,000 and dropped off a beachfront hillside, with seven cameras capturing its descent. The spectacularly detailed miniatures built by Close Encounters model maker Gregory Jein included a panoramic aerial view of the San Fernando Valley; the Hollywood Boulevard canyon where the dogfight occurs; and Ocean Park in Santa Monica, where a Ferris wheel blasted free by Japanese shells rolls into the ocean." (from Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Joseph McBride)
Spielberg's film knowledge and love of classic movies is evident throughout 1941 with its numerous homages and in-jokes. He even hired legendary animator Chuck Jones (Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Daffy Duck) as a creative consultant on the film and the screenplay is clearly inspired by The Three Stooges' brand of infantile humor. You can see parallels to Norman Jewison's Cold War satire, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) and Stanley Kramer's similar ode to comical destruction, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). There are also references to Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Quiet Man (1952), Mack Sennett comedies and even Spielberg's own Jaws: the actress (Susan Backlinie) who was attacked by the shark in the opening sequence of that film appears here as a swimmer who is frightened by the surfacing Japanese sub.
Like Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1941 is also brimming with cameos by famous character actors, fellow directors and comics. Slim Pickens, Lionel Stander, Elisha Cook, Jr., Dub Taylor, Christopher Lee (as a Nazi officer) and Roger Corman regular Dick Miller all show up briefly as do directors John Landis, Penny Marshall and Sam Fuller, who with customary cigar-in-mouth plays the commanding officer of the Southern California Interceptor Command. Joining Belushi is fellow Saturday Night Live player Dan Aykroyd plus two members from Second City TV (John Candy & Joe Flaherty), Michael McKean (who later appeared in the films of Christopher Guest such as This Is Spinal Tap, 1984), and Eddie Deezen, who was memorably obnoxious in Robert Zemeckis's feature debut, I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978).
Prior to release, 1941 was subjected to numerous sneak previews; first one with Universal and Columbia executives who had mutual financial interests in the film and then various audiences ranging in age from twelve to forty-nine. The final outcome of this was that Spielberg had a lot of work to do before releasing the movie. "I jettisoned, repositioned and tightened scenes from the first forty-five minutes of 1941, the part of the film most viewers said caused the most consternation," the director admitted (in Steven Spielberg: The Unauthorized Biography by John Baxter). He would later comment that Zemeckis would have been a better choice of director and that his version would have been darker, ending with the jitterbugging Wally Stephens (Bobby Di Cicco) aboard the Enola Gay and bombing Hiroshima in retribution for losing a USO dance contest.
1941 was greeted with one of the most hostile critical receptions of any movie made in the seventies. Part of the backlash was due to the unreasonably high expectations reviewers had for the film and a pervasive jealousy in the media for Spielberg's past triumphs at such a relatively young age. The Washington Post labeled the film "pointless, tasteless, an artistic disgrace;" The Los Angeles Times referred to it as "the last major oil spill;" Playboy magazine called it "one of the most inept comedies of the decade," and Stephen Farber of New West magazine deemed it "the most appalling piece of juvenilia yet foisted on the public." One of the few critics to defend 1941 was David Denby in New York magazine who wrote, "He's made a celebration of the gung-ho silliness of old war movies, a celebration of the Betty Grable-Betty Hutton period of American pop culture. In this movie America is still a very young country foolish, violent, casually destructive, but not venal. That we joke about a moment of national crisis shows that we are still young and sane." Most critics, however, took issue with the film's Mad Magazine-like treatment that presented the famous Zoot Suit Riots of 1942 in Los Angeles (a series of violent clashes between servicemen and the Chicano community) as a comical plot device while ignoring the whole issue of Japanese-Americans being deported to internment camps at the same time. One can only imagine the response if Belushi had ended up playing the Japanese sub commander!
Although Spielberg was apt to agree with the majority view at the time that 1941 was a failure and that his forte was not comedy after all, he would remark years later that "1941 is a film I look at fondly, but when it was released it was like the critics thought I was Adolf Eichmann. They were that tough on me. Until then I thought I was immune to failure. But I couldn't come down from the power high of making big films on large canvases. I threw everything in, and it killed the soup." Spielberg, however, is mistaken if he thinks 1941 is his most unsuccessful film; it works infinitely better than his later Hook (1991) and compared to his more ambitious literary and historical adaptations - The Color Purple (1985) and Amistad (1997), which received poor to mixed critical reviews it doesn't feel like a homework assignment or something that was made to impress the Academy Award members. And despite the enormous cost of production, 1941 actually turned a profit, taking in a worldwide gross of $90 million dollars, which is more than you can say for some of Spielberg's later pictures such as The Terminal (2004) and Munich (2005).
Seen today, 1941 can be enjoyed for many hilarious bits and pieces and for the dazzling technical virtuosity of several sequences that have a genuine emotional sweep to them, particularly the elaborate canteen dance number, set to Benny Goodman's "Swing, Swing, Swing." Several performances also shine through the madness such as Bobby Di Cicco's smartass semi-delinquent character, Ned Beatty and Lorraine Gary as an embattled married couple watching their dream home being destroyed and Wendie Jo Sperber's frantic boy chaser which is like Betty Hutton on speed. 1941 even managed to garner three Oscar® nominations for Best Cinematography by William A. Fraker, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. Not bad for a movie that was once considered the nadir of Spielberg's career.
Producer: Buzz Feitshans
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale; Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, John Milius (story)
Cinematography: William A. Fraker
Art Direction: William F. O'Brian
Music: John Williams
Film Editing: Michael Kahn
Cast: Dan Aykroyd (Sgt. Frank Tree), Ned Beatty (Ward Douglas), John Belushi (Capt. Wild Bill Kelso), Lorraine Gary (Joan Douglas), Bobby Di Cicco (Wally Stephens), Murray Hamilton (Claude Crumn), Christopher Lee (Capt. Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt), Tim Matheson (Capt. Loomis Birkhead), Toshiro Mifune (Cmdr. Akiro Mitamura).
by Jeff Stafford
Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Joseph McBride (Simon & Schuster)
Steven Spielberg: The Unauthorized Biography by John Baxter (HarperCollins)
Spielberg: The Man, the Movies, the Mythology by Frank Sanello (Taylor Publishing Company)
Citizen Spielberg by Lester D. Friedman (University of Illinois Press)
Wendie Jo Sperber (1958-2005)
Born on September 18, 1958 in Hollywood, California, Sperber made an impression from the beginning when, at just 19 years of age, she was cast as Rosie Petrofsky, the hyperactive, dreamy-eyed Beatle fan who will stop at nothing to see them on their Ed Sullivan debut in the charming Robert Zemeckis' period comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978). The film was a surprise smash in the Spring of '78, and she proved that her comic chops were no fluke when Stephen Spielberg cast her as a lovestruck teenager in his overblown spectacle 1941 (1979); and as a naive car buyer in Zemeckis' funny Kurt Russell outing Used Cars (1980).
As hilarious as she was in those films, Sperber earned her pop culture stripes when she played Amy Cassidy in the cult comedy series Bosom Buddies (1980-82). This strange sitcom, about two pals (Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari), who dressed in drag so they could live in an all-girls residential hotel might have had a flimsy premise - but the actors played it to the hilt. Hanks and Scolari were fine, but Sperber stole the series with her incredible physical display of pratfalls, comic sprints, splits and facial mugging. Indeed, here was one comedic performer who was not afraid to go all out for a laugh. Even after the cancellation of the show, Sperber continued to work in comedies throughout the decade: Bachelor Party (1984), Moving Violations, and in Back to the Future (both 1985).
Tragically, Sperber's career was halted in 1997 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a brief remission, she played a cancer survivor in a final season episode of Murphy Brown (1997-98). The warm reception she received from her appearance influenced her decision to become an active campaigner for cancer awareness and fundraising. The culmination of her humanitarian efforts resulted in 2001, when she founded weSPARK Cancer Support Center in Sherman Oaks, a nonprofit center that provides free emotional support, research information and social activities for cancer victims and their families. Despite her altruistic causes, Sperber still found time in recent years to make guest appearances on such hit television shows like Will & Grace and 8 Simple Rules...for Dating My Teenage Daughter. She is survived by a son, Preston; a daughter, Pearl; parents, Charlene and Burt; sisters, Ellice and Michelle; and a brother, Richard.
by Michael T. Toole
Wendie Jo Sperber (1958-2005)
Robert Stack, 1919-2003
Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to a well-to-do family but his parents divorced when he was a year old. At age three, he moved with his mother to Paris, where she studied singing. They returned to Los Angeles when he was seven, by then French was his native language and was not taught English until he started schooling.
Naturally athletic, Stack was still in high school when he became a national skeet-shooting champion and top-flight polo player. He soon was giving lessons on shooting to such top Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and found himself on the polo field with some notable movie moguls like Darryl Zanuck and Walter Wanger.
Stack enrolled in the University of Southern California, where he took some drama courses, and was on the Polo team, but it wasn't long before some influential people in the film industry took notice of his classic good looks, and lithe physique. Soon, his Hollywood connections got him on a film set at Paramount, a screen test, and eventually, his first lead in a picture, opposite Deanna Durbin in First Love (1939). Although he was only 20, Stack's natural delivery and boyish charm made him a natural for the screen.
His range grew with some meatier parts in the next few years, especially noteworthy were his roles as the young Nazi sympathizer in Frank Borzage's chilling The Mortal Storm (1940), with James Stewart, and as the Polish flier who woos a married Carole Lombard in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942).
After serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II, Stack returned to the screen, and found a few interesting roles over the next ten years: giving Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Robert Thorp's A Date With Judy (1948); the leading role as an American bullfighter in Budd Boetticher's The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951); and as a pilot in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne. However, Stack saved his best dramatic performances for Douglas Sirk in two knockout films: as a self-destructive alcoholic in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor; and sympathetically portraying a fallen World War I pilot ace who is forced to do barnstorming stunts for mere survival in Tarnished Angels (1958).
Despite proving his capabilities as a solid actor in these roles, front rank stardom oddly eluded Stack at this point. That all changed when Stack gave television a try. The result was the enormously popular series, The Untouchables (1959-63). This exciting crime show about the real-life Prohibition-era crime-fighter Eliot Ness and his G-men taking on the Chicago underworld was successful in its day for several reasons: its catchy theme music, florid violence (which caused quite a sensation in its day), taut narration by Walter Winchell, and of course, Stack's trademark staccato delivery and strong presence. It all proved so popular that the series ran for four years, earned an Emmy for Stack in 1960, and made him a household name.
Stack would return to television in the late '60s, with the The Name of the Game (1968-71), and a string of made-for-television movies throughout the '70s. His career perked up again when Steven Spielberg cast him in his big budget comedy 1941 (1979) as General Joe Stillwell. The film surprised many viewers as few realized Stack was willing to spoof his granite-faced stoicism, but it won him over many new fans, and his dead-pan intensity would be used to perfect comic effect the following year as Captain Rex Kramer (who can forget the sight of him beating up Hare Krishnas at the airport?) in David and Jerry Zucker's wonderful spoof of disaster flicks, Airplane! (1980).
Stack's activity would be sporadic throughout the remainder of his career, but he returned to television, as the host of enormously popular Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), and played himself in Lawrence Kasden's comedy-drama Mumford (1999). He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rosemarie Bowe Stack, a former actress, and two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles.
by Michael T. Toole
Robert Stack, 1919-2003
We've got to figure out how to make these things smaller!- Japanese soldier
It's big. The biggest one here. You know what else? It's got a lot of range. You know what I mean by range, don't you? I mean it can stay up for a long time. A very long time. And it's built firm and solid. Because it has to be. Because of its tremendous forward thrust. And when this baby delivers its payload... devastating.- Captain Loomis Birkhead
This isn't the state of California, it's a state of insanity.- General Joseph W. Stilwell
My name's Wild Bill Kelso, and don't you forget it!- Captain Wild Bill Kelso
That's the kind of talk I like to hear, boy. That's it, lemme hear your guns.- Colonel 'Madman' Maddox
My guns?- Captain Wild Bill Kelso
Yes, I wanna hear what they sound like, let me hear 'em.- Colonel 'Madman' Maddox
You sneaky little batards aren't getting doodly shit from me, except maybe my name, rank, and Social Security number: Wood, Hollis P., Lumberjack, Social Security 106-43-2185.- Hollis P. Wood
Both 'Wayne, John' and Charlton Heston were offered the role of General Stilwell. Wayne phoned director Steven Spielberg, who had given him the script, and not only turned it down due to ill health but tried to get Spielberg to drop the project. Wayne felt it was unpatriotic and a slap in the face to WWII vets. Heston is thought to have turned it down for the same reasons.
seen in the USO fight scene.
The gas station where Captain Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi) lands to refuel was the same one used in Steven Spielberg's movie Duel (1979). Lucille Benson, who plays the gas station owner, appeared in Duel as the Snakerama owner at the same station.
The scene where Wild Bill Kelso slips and tumbles off of the wing of his airplane as he is about to take off was a real accident. John Belushi slipped as he was climbing into the plane. It was kept in the movie because it fit his character.
Reese and Foley are the names used by Zemeckis and screenwriter Bob Gale for any police officers or government agents in films they have written.
Released in United States December 1979
Released in United States Winter December 14, 1979
Re-released in United States on Video October 2, 1996
Released in USA on video.
Re-released in United States on Video October 2, 1996 (Letterboxed Special Edition)
Released in United States December 1979
Released in United States Winter December 14, 1979