June 20: The Blues Brothers

Blues_Brothers_Band_Poster“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” -Elwood Blues

The Blues Brothers was released today in 1980. One of the biggest, funniest comedies of all time, it’s hard to believe that The Blues Brothers began life as a forgettable comedy sketch.

The Blues Brothers’ origin goes back to a very dumb 1976 Saturday Night Live sketch called “Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band”. The sketch was fairly straightforward: A few cast members and SNL band leader Howard Shore, all dressed in bee costumes,  performed Slim Harpo’s classic blues song “I’m a King Bee” with Belushi singing and Aykroyd playing harmonica. Aykroyd had long been a blues aficionado, and got Belushi hooked on the blues. As the duo became more vocal in their love for the blues, Shore gave them the nickname “The Blues Brothers”. Soon enough the Blues Brothers began performing together on SNL and eventually even released an album. All the while, Aykroyd began working on a origin story for Jake and Elwood Blues. This origin tale soon grew into a 324 page script (three times longer than a standard screenplay).

So, how could a two hour movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch and a surprisingly popular album be one of the funniest comedies of all time? How could a film that combines a cliched “put on a show to save the orphanage” plot with a cliched “getting the band back together” plot be so original? Well, I don’t know the answers to those questions, but somehow Aykroyd,  Belushi and director John Landis turned the thin premise into an absolute musical comic masterpiece. In my opinion, The Blues Brothers’ unique blend of Looney Tunes-esque absurdist comedy, hot performances from R&B and blues greats including Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway, ridiculous car chases and unexpected cameos makes it one of the most entertaining motion pictures ever made.

Late in the movie, a police detective played by John Candy and a platoon of state troopers have finally caught up to the Blueses and their band just as they’re about to perform at a fundraising concert to save the orphanage the two boys grew up in. Candy decides to let the band perform and orders a round of Orange Whips from the bar. Apparently, this was a reference to the movie’s costumer, Sue Dugan, who was the daughter of the Director of Sales for the corporation that produced the old non-alcoholic drink Orange Whip. However, there is a delicious and creamy cocktail called the Orange Whip, which I think we can safely assume is what Candy was ordering.

Orange Whip

  • 4 ounces orange juice
  • 1 ounce Rum
  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 2 ounces cream

Pour all ingredients in to a blender without ice. Blend briefly and pour in to a tall Collins glass, filled with ice and stir.

Tomorrow: The longest day.

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