The one and only time I saw Steven Spielberg‘s 1941 was inside a small Manhattan screening room about a month before it opened, or sometime in mid-November of ’79. When it began with a parody of the opening Jaws beach scene with a pretty blonde taking a nude swim in the sea, complete with John Williams‘ Jaws theme music, I wanted to say out loud, “Holy crap, Spielberg is paying tribute to himself!?…he’s starting this film with an homage to his own Hollywood success to get a laugh!? My God!” Stanley Kubrick gave it to Spielberg straight when the latter visited the Elstree set of The Shining. “I saw your last movie, 1941,” Kubrick said. “It was great. It wasn’t funny but it was expertly made. You should have sold it as a drama.” I liked one scene — i.e., when Robert Stack‘s General Stillwell is chuckling happily and then choking up during a Hollywood Boulevard screening of Walt Disney‘s Dumbo.
A special extended version of 1941 running 146 minutes — 28 minutes longer than the original 118-minute cut — will screen at the American Cinematheque on Sunday afternoon at 5 pm, and I must say there’s a perverse part of me that wants to attend and endure this calamity all over again, just so I can say (a) “I saw the nearly two-and-a-half hour version!” and (b) “Let no one say I’m not willing to reconsider an opinion.”
Was 1941 a “cocaine movie”? Spielberg was never a druggie but the hyper comic attitude certainly suggests the presence of something alien in the bloodstream. In certain ways 1941 feels a lot like one of the biggest budget-busting cocaine movies of all time — John Landis‘s The Blues Brothers, which was filmed right after 1941 and came out in June 1980.