Susan Backlinie, who played the first victim in Spielberg’s Jaws, plays a character who goes for a midnight swim, alone and naked. But instead of a shark, a Japanese submarine surfaces under her. She holds on to the periscope as it rises. A Japanese crew member looks up at the naked girl clinging to the submarine, and yells: “Hollywood! Hollywood!” At this point, the submarine crew realizes they have arrived where they intended to be, Hollywood, and the vessel submerges once again while the girl swims to safety. The Japanese submarine crew, led by Commander Mitamuru (Toshiro Mifune in a near-parody of other, more serious roles as Japanese officers in American films) are joined by a hard-line German naval captain (Christopher Lee), and have crossed the Pacific Ocean to destroy something “honorable.”

Back on land, dishwasher Wally Stephens (Bobby Di Cicco) makes plans to enter a dance contest with Betty Douglas (Dianne Kay), against her father’s wishes. Tank crew Sgt. Frank Tree (Dan Aykroyd), Private Foley (John Candy) and Corporal Sitarski (Treat Williams) are also at Wally’s restaurant.

Meanwhile, Captain Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi) lands his Curtiss P-40 fighter to refuel but accidentally blows up the gasoline station.

Just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in Los Angeles, Major General Joseph Stilwell (Robert Stack) attempts to bring order, but Colonel Mad Man Maddox (Warren Oates), the General’s new secretary Donna Stratten (Nancy Allen) and the General’s assistant Captain Loomis Birkhead (Tim Matheson) all have other ideas.

At the Douglas family home on the coast, Wally is confronted by Mr. Douglas (Ned Beatty) and his wife Joan (Lorraine Gary), still angry that he previously destroyed their car. Soon after, the tank crew arrive to deliver a large gun; Corporal Sitarski spots Betty.

The Japanese submarine becomes lost trying to find Los Angeles when the ship’s compass is broken. A landing party captures a local timber merchant, Hollis Wood (Slim Pickens); on board the sub, they see he has a small Cracker Jack compass that he swallows. Wood escapes, while in Los Angeles, Major General Stilwell goes to see the feature film Dumbo. Captain Birkhead and Donna Stratten decide to go the local airfield where Colonel Madman Maddox has both aircraft and a belief the Japanese are about to attack.

At the USO dance, Sitarski and Betty are inside as Wally sneaks in with a stolen Shore Patrol’s uniform, steals Betty away but ignites a massive brawl involving all the servicemen. Sgt Tree arrives in his tank just as Los Angeles goes to Red Alert with an unknown aircraft in the air. Ward Douglas spots the Japanese submarine lurking near his home. As Birkhead and Stratten fly over Los Angeles in the back of a purloined aircraft, civil defense batteries blast away. Chaos continues as Wild Bill joins the fight and crashes.

Wally commanders Sgt Tree’s tank, Wild Bill follows on motorbike, crashing through a paint factory and then a turpentine factory. Meanwhile Ward Douglas begins firing at the Japanese submarine, destroying his house in the process. The submarine returns fire (Mitamuru: “Fire at that industrial structure!”), hitting an amusement park Ferris wheel which careens into the ocean. The tank sinks when the pier collapses as Wild Bill drives his motorbike into the ocean and swims to the submarine, where he is captured by the Japanese, who, believing their honorable mission accomplished, now return home. The German captain is thrown overboard by the Japanese and is later captured—the only U.S. “victory” of the movie.

The following morning, General Stilwell arrives at the Douglas home where Ward Douglas goes to hang a Christmas wreath, only to accidentally push his damaged home into the Pacific Ocean. The movie ends with all the characters in front of the foundations of the destroyed home.


I remember playing the arcade game 1941 and seeing this on the shelves of the video rental store when I was young, thinking they were the same. Finally, I get the chance to check this film out. I’ll admit that I didn’t think it was a comedy, but was pleasantly surprised when I found out it was.

Steven Spielberg is not known for being a comedy director. That being said, this is an excellent comedic film. The comedy is in the dialogue and a few  sight gags, but that formula works for this film and with this cast.

John Williams provides another masterpiece for a score, highlighted by the piece “Swing, Swing, Swing.” I’m not sure there is another composer that could have handled the task of putting spic music to a screwball comedy.

At a little under 2 1/2 hours, one would think this film would drag on a bit long, and it does lag in parts, but the last hour is non-stop action. I will admit, though, that if you don’t pay attention throughout the entire film you may get lost.

The cast really sell their indiviual roles. The script and story are well executed, except for the whole Japaneese submarine with German captain thing.

This film is not meant to be a documentary biopic, like Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbor, or any of those other war movies. Spielberg chose to tell things from a lighthearted point of view, but the events of the film are loosely based in fact. I seriously hope that the military wasn’t as incompetent and paranoid s they appear in this picture back then.

If I have any real criticism of this film, its that they spend too much time developing Wally’s character, that the rest of the cast gets short changed a bit, especially Jim Belushi’s Wild Bill Kelso. When we first meet Wally, it seems as if he’s going to become the hero of the picture, but instead he just ends up being a one of those guys who ends up in the right place at the right time in order to lend a hand.

As far as war movies go, this isn’t the greatest, but it is one of the most entertaining. As a fan of this era and its music, I’m in love with the soundtrack. There are few things not to like about this film for those of you that don’t appreciate anything that isn’t modern and dark, but for the rest of us open minded people, sit back and take in all the old school goodness.

4 out of 5 stars


One Response to “1941”

  1. […] I have been on a serious WWII kick this summer, especially since my trip to WWII museum down in New Orleans where I felt like a kid making his first trip to Toys ‘R’ Us. I think a project is in the works, so there may be more war films on the way, possibly even the elusive Saving Private Ryan, but first we must discuss 1941. […]

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