‘The Blues Brothers’: A Musical You Didn’t Know You Were Watching

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It’s hard to believe there is a movie Dan Aykroyd or John Belushi starred in where they were not the main attraction, let alone two. To be fair, most are first drawn to the “The Blues Brothers” and “Blues Brothers 2000” because of these actors. However, the reason these films are cult classics has more to do with the music than even the comedians’ winning brand of comedy.

Set in Chicago, the first movie opens with Elwood Blues (Aykroyd) picking up his brother “Joliet” Jake Blues (Belushi) from the Joliet Correctional Center.

After visiting the nun that raised them (“the penguin”) and discovering the orphanage was in dire need of $5,000 to remain open, the Blues brothers try to think up a plan. After an enlightening sermon sung by the one and only James Brown, the brothers decide to re-form their band to raise the money as a “mission from God.” Along the way, they dodge police, enrage neo-Nazis and bump into plenty of big names in blues.

It becomes very apparent when watching these movies that they were built from the music up. The movie really shines with how flawlessly they integrate superstars of blues into the story.

We don’t just see Ray Charles pop out of nowhere to sing “Shake A Tail Feather.” Instead, he is given the roll of a music storeowner. He only performs when the band visits him and inquires about a keyboard he has for sale. To prove the keyboard still has “action left in its keys,” he performs his song along with the Blues Brothers Band. Of course there is a flash mob dance sequence and choreographed band moves. However, how flawlessly these stars are integrated into the plot of each movie prevents you from even registering it as a musical.

What other stars contributed their pipes to “The Blues Brothers” you ask?

John Lee Hooker plays the part of a street performer as he jams his hit “Boom Boom.”

Aretha Franklin plays the role of tough-as-nails diner owner and fictional wife of Matt “Guitar” Murphy. Franklin delivers an explosive performance of “Think” to voice her feelings about her husband leaving her for the band.

And there are too many more to list all here.

In the sequel “The Blues Brothers 2000,” Elwood is again trying to get the band back together. However, this time it’s without Jake. (Belushi died before the sequel could be filmed.) To help fill the void Jake left, Elwood brings in Mighty Mack (John Goodman), an orphan named Buster (J. Evan Bonifant) and Police Chief Cabel Chambers (Joe Morton).

This time, the band is still dodging police and convincing Aretha Franklin to let Matt Murphy join the band, but is headed for Louisiana. In the swamps of New Orleans awaits a high-paying musical contest hosted by witch Queen Mousette.

Gracing movie theaters and television sets everywhere in 1998, “Blues Brothers 2000” updated its star-studded cast with blues rocker (and Fargo native) Jonny Lang and band Blues Traveler.

Old blues standbys are still included, with such big names as B.B. King, Junior Wells, Wilson Pickett and Koko Taylor making appearances.

“The Blues Brothers” and “Blues Brothers 2000” are full of great music that create a memorable soundtrack. Beyond that, director John Landis managed to create a film full of flawlessly integrated characters and memorable laughs. If it isn’t currently on your watchlist, it should be.

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