Billed as a comedy spectacle, Steven Spielberg’s 1941 is long on spectacle, but short on comedy. The Universal-Columbia Pictures co-production is an exceedingly entertaining, fast-moving revision of 1940s war hysteria in Los Angeles spawned by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and boasts Hollywood’s finest miniature and special effects work seen to date.
Fact that 82 cast members are specifically credited, along with more than 160 crew and tech personnel in a six minute end credits crawl, should be ultimate validation that film is a collaborative work. However, the vision on the screen is director Steven Spielberg’s, who moves his actors, sets, props and cameras with the efficiency of a creative field marshal.
Screenwriters, who concocted the outlandish storyline with exec producer John Milius, are also daring in their attempt to intertwine five or six different distinct storylines into one coherent tale.
Dan Aykroyd is very impressive in his feature debut as the serious army sergeant, but his former Saturday Night Live cohort John Belushi turns in a snarling, obnoxious performance.
Real cast standouts are Bobby DiCicco, who spends the pic wrestling pretty Dianne Kay away from horny soldier Treat Williams; Robert Stack as a bemused general; Nancy Allen as the airborne inamorata of Tim Matheson; Wendie Jo Sperber as a frustrated femme; and Joseph P. Flaherty as a croony ’40s emcee.
Christopher Lee and Toshiro Mifune also excel as the bickering Axis powers determined to destroy the only thing of value in Los Angeles, Hollywood.
It hardly matters that the actual Great Los Angeles Air Raid took place on Feb. 26, 1942, and not Dec. 13, 1941, nor that some of the racist consequences of that are given short shrift.
[In 1996 a 146-min. de facto director’s cut was released on homevideo.]
1979: Nominations: Best Cinematography, Sound, Visual Effects