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1941 (1979) Poster

(1979)

Trivia

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The scene where Wild Bill Kelso slips and tumbles off of the wing of his airplane as he is about to take off was a real accident. John Belushi slipped as he was climbing into the plane. It was kept in the movie because it fit his character.
The extras cast as the Japanese submarine crew were hired because they were Asian. Most were typical laid-back Southern Californians, and none had any acting training. Toshirô Mifune (an actual Japanese WWII veteran) was so outraged at their attitudes that he asked Steven Spielberg if he could deal with them. He then started yelling at them to get in line, and slapped one of them, saying, "This is how Japanese men are trained!" Mifune worked with them from that point on.
In a deleted scene, Slim Pickens' character is threatened with a torture device that turns out to be a coat hanger. Steven Spielberg hated losing the joke, and swore he'd to put it in every one of his future movies until it stayed there. Luckily, it stayed in his very next film, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
Charlton Heston and John Wayne turned down the role of Maj. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell. Wayne phoned director Steven Spielberg, who had given him the script, and not only turned it down due to ill health, but tried to get Spielberg to drop the project. Wayne felt it was unpatriotic and a slap in the face to WWII vets. Heston is thought to have turned it down for the same reasons. The role was taken by Robert Stack who, once in costume and make-up, bore a striking resemblance to the real General Stilwell.
According to co-writer Bob Gale in the DVD documentary, many of the events in the movie are based on real incidents. The army really put an anti-aircraft gun in the yard of a homeowner on the Maine coast. A Japanese submarine shelled a refinery in Ellwood on the California coast on February 23, 1943. An air raid false alarm over Los Angeles resulted in Civil Defense and Army weapons firing into the air on the night of February 24-25, 1942, thinking they were being attacked by the Japanese. The infamous Zoot Suit Riots, between Hispanic youths and servicemen, took place in June 1943.
Steven Spielberg shot one million feet of film over 247 shooting days.
In one deleted scene, John Belushi's character meets Dan Aykroyd's character right before he boards the Japanese sub. They look at each other as if recognizing one another, a nod to their real-life friendship. It was the only scene in the film where they interacted.
It took so long to set up the final shot of the house falling down that cast and crew members actually started a betting pool on what day and time the shot would actually begin filming. Dan Aykroyd won the bet.
This was regarded as such a failure in the US that when the advance teaser trailer for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was made, it listed all of Steven Spielberg's previous films except this one.
Dan Aykroyd's American feature film debut.
Some scenes were so noisy during filming, the crew could not hear Steven Spielberg yell, "Cut." He had to fire a prop machine gun in the air to get the action to stop.
John Belushi failed to show up on a couple of occasions because his nightlife made him too tired to work.
Once Slim Pickens was signed on, the character of Hollis "Holly" Wood was greatly expanded.
Mickey Rourke's feature film debut.
Steven Spielberg has revealed that he almost made this film a musical.
Throughout the movie Sgt. Frank Tree (Dan Aykroyd) and Capt. Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi) never exchange any dialog. It is only at the very end of the movie when Wild Bill has climbed aboard the Japanese submarine that these two characters acknowledge each other with a salute.
Reese and Foley are the names used by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale for any police officers or government agents in films that they have written. Other examples include I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), Used Cars (1980) and Back to the Future Part II (1989).
Wild Bill Kelso was originally a very minor character. It was expanded once John Belushi was signed for the role.
The man eating spaghetti during one of the riot/fight scenes is also played by John Belushi.
Steven Spielberg has said that the march John Williams composed for 1941 (1979) is his favorite of all of the marches Williams has written.
In the Director's Cut, when Pops drags Wally and Dennis out of Malcomb's Diner and throws them into the street, a group of children dressed as The Little Rascals are standing in front of the restaurant.
The names of David L. Lander' and Michael McKean's characters, Willie and Joe, are a nod to cartoonist and WWII veteran Bill Mauldin's creations for the Army newspaper, "Stars and Stripes". Mauldin's Willie and Joe represented average American GIs, their viewpoints, and their daily lives outside of combat.
Steven Spielberg joked at one point that he considered converting the film into a musical halfway into production and mused that "in retrospect, that might have helped."
Often regarded as 'Steven Spielberg (I)''s first flop. It was actually a moderate box-office success, but when compared to his early hits Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), it didn't meet expectations.
The dialog between Claude and Herbie was written along the same lines as Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton's interaction in The Honeymooners (1955). Jackie Gleason and Art Carney were offered the roles, but Gleason refused, saying he would not and could not work with Carney any longer. However, Gleason and Carney re-teamed one last time for Izzy & Moe (1985).
The first advance trailer centered on John Belushi's character, who was identified as "Wild Wayne Kelso". When the movie was shot, the character's name was changed to "Wild Bill Kelso".
To create the flash of explosions in the distant background, A.D. Flowers estimated that he used between 50,000 and 75,000 flashbulbs during the production.
This was the first U.S. production to use the French-made Louma crane. It was going to be used for shooting the miniatures. The Louma proved to be so flexible that it was frequently used for the "A" camera.
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According to Jack Nicholson, Stanley Kubrick allegedly told Steven Spielberg that the film was "great, but not funny."
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During the "attack" on Hollywood scene, when Wild Bill Kelso is flying his plane through the streets of Los Angeles chasing and shooting at the trainer airplane, the soldiers move into action. Two soldiers man an anti-aircraft gun. The soldiers manning this gun, Willy and Joe, are Michael McKean and David L. Lander, who played "Lenny" and "Squiggy" in Laverne & Shirley (1976). McKean and Lander also appeared as the TV jamming duo, Eddie and Freddie in Used Cars (1980) which was also written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (and directed by Zemeckis).
Special effects legend A.D. Flowers' last project.
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The gas station that Wild Bill Kelso accidentally blows up early in the film is the same one seen in Duel (1971), with Lucille Benson appearing as the proprietor in both films.
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Before the film was released, Steven Spielberg appeared on a radio program with critic Pauline Kael. During a commercial break, Kael and Spielberg were discussing 1941 (1979), and Kael told him that he was not going to get off easy with the critics after the massive success, critically and commercially, of his last two films, Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Kael warned him that they were ready to attack him without mercy if the film fell even slightly below expectations. Ironically, Kael would be one of the few critics to give the film a positive review when it was released.
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Like real movies of the early 1940s, the director planned for a card at the end urging the audience to "Buy War Bonds at This Theater."
All told, seven directors were involved in some manner in making this movie: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote the film, John Milius helped with production of the film, and Steven Spielberg directed it. The other director involved was Brian De Palma. According to Millius in the DVD 'making of' documentary, DePalma contributed the gag of the Japanese asking Slim Pickens "Where's Hollywood?" to which Pickens, whose character name is Hollis "Holly" Wood would answer "I'm here." as a play on Abbott and Costello's "Who's on first?" routine. In addition, Samuel Fuller and John Landis have cameo roles.
According to Steven Spielberg's appearance in the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001), Stanley Kubrick suggested that the film should have been marketed as a drama rather than a comedy.
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The film takes place in a 24-hour period from 6 A.M. December 13th, 1941 (six days after Pearl Harbor) to 6 A.M. December 14, 1941. The original theatrical release was on December 14, 1979.
As he steals his motorcycle, Captain "Wild" Bill Kelso (John Belushi) says to Sgt. Mizerany (John Landis), "Aw, look. A baby wolf!" Mizerany replies, "Where?" At the time, Landis was working on An American Werewolf in London (1981).
Cinematographer William A. Fraker was reportedly fired late in shooting due to creative differences with Steven Spielberg and John Milius. The remainder of the film was shot by Frank Stanley. Fraker was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award for the cinematography of 1941.
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Ivan Reitman was first approached to direct this film, but he declined because he was busy shooting Meatballs (1979) at the same time.
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The film is dedicated to the memory of Charlsie Bryant, a longtime script supervisor at Universal Studios. She had served in that capacity on both Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and would have reprised those duties with this film had she not unexpectedly died.
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In a 1990 interview with British film pundit Barry Norman, Steven Spielberg admitted that the mixed reception to the film was one of the biggest lessons of his career citing personal arrogance that had got in the way after the runaway success of Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). He also regretted ceding control of the action and miniature sequences (such as the Ferris wheel collapse in the film's finale) to second unit directors and model units, something which he would not do in his next film, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
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The advance teaser trailer, with John Belushi as "Wild" Wayne Kelso, was an original production in its own part. Directed by John Milius with an original score by John Williams and featuring thematic materials that differed from the score of the actual motion picture. The score for the advance teaser is featured on the LaLaLand Records 1941 extended score two CD set.
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The film was initially set up at MGM, where John Milius had a production deal. It wound up at Columbia because Steven Spielberg did not want to work at MGM. Besides, he made Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) for Columbia and wanted to make another movie there. Spielberg got Universal to co-produce because he wanted to fulfill a contractual obligation with the studio.
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The ferris wheel scene was shot with fog to match with the special effects shots of the wheel rolling down into the sea. These shots used the fog effects to make the miniatures look realistic.
The advance teaser trailer for the film, directed by John Milius, featured a voice-over by Dan Aykroyd as John Belushi lands his plane and gives the audience a pep-talk to join the armed forces, else they will find one morning that "the street signs will be written in Japanese!"
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Susan Backlinie reprised her role as the first victim in Jaws (1975) by playing the young woman seen at the beginning of the film.
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Harold Ramis was first hired to write a draft of the screenplay, but was fired due to creative differences between John Milius and Steven Spielberg.
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The original script by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale was a black comedy entitled "The Night the Japs Attacked".
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Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale met while attending the University of Southern California Film School. One of USC's most famous school presidents was Rufus von Kleinschmidt, for whom the character of Captain Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt (Christopher Lee) was named. Several buildings on campus bear his name. One of von Kleinschmidt's many accomplishments was helping start the film school.
When Steven Spielberg shared the news with his close friends in Hollywood that he would make this his next film, they were supportive but privately could not believe the news. One of those friends, a top director who was quoted anonymously in an article about the rise of mega-budget films in the late 1970s, bluntly said, "Why is he doing a comedy? When has Steven ever been funny?"
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Captain Loomis Birkhead (Tim Matheson) attempts to romance Donna Stratton (Nancy Allen). Matheson previously played Eric "Otter" Stratton in Animal House (1978).
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Robert Stack (General Joseph W. Stilwell) played Lieutenant Andrei Sobinski in To Be or Not to Be (1942) while Tim Matheson (Captain Loomis Birkhead) played him in the remake To Be or Not to Be (1983).
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The M3 tank Lulu Belle (named after a race horse) and fashioned from a mocked-up tractor, paid homage to its forebear in Sahara (1943), where an authentic M3 named Lulubelle was prominently featured.
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Steven Spielberg originally wanted Roy Scheider for the role of Major General Joseph W. Stilwell.
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For a while there was going to be a scene where Wally is dancing along with a musical film behind the screen, and ends up falling through it, out of Joe E. Brown's mouth.
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Writer and director Samuel Fuller plays the role of Interceptor Commander in this movie. Two other actors in this movie (Perry Lang and Bobby Di Cicco) also star in Fuller's The Big Red One (1980).
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The fight/riot scene music set to same fight scene music as The Quiet Man (1952) starring John Wayne who turned down the role of General Stilwell.
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Dan Aykroyd (Sgt. Frank Tree) would later appear in Pearl Harbor (2001), another film concerning the attack on Pearl Harbor.
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The Party (1968) had a character named "Wyoming Bill Kelso" who was played by Denny Miller.
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John Candy would work with both Frank McRae and Dan Aykroyd again in 2 movies written by John Hughes. Candy and McRae would reunite in National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) as the Wally World security guards. Candy and Aykroyd would star together in The Great Outdoors (1988).
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After this failed to ignite the box office, John Belushi was spotted around Los Angeles wearing a T-shirt upon which was emblazoned, "Steven Spielberg 1946-1941."
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The coastal start sequence location is the same as the location in The Goonies (1985), which was co-written and executive produced by Spielberg. It's where they look through the stone and match up the rocks whilst looking for the treasure.
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In the scene in the director's cut where Wally is fired from the diner, there is a group of children dressed up like the kids in the Our Gang/Little Rascals theatrical shorts. Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment would produce The Little Rascals (1994).
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Steven Spielberg filmed the scene with John Belushi on the submarine after audience reaction to the first previews, according to producer Bob Gale.
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When "South Park" did an episode involving a gay man being banned from being a Boy Scouts troop leader, they included a scene where "Steven Spielberg" announced he would end any financial support he'd been providing to the Boy Scouts of America organization--and listed Spielberg as the director of this film and "Always" because they were two of the rare flops in his career.
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Cameo 

John Landis: plays the dirt-covered soldier Sgt. Mizerany whose motorcycle is stolen in front of the Hollywood Strand cinema by Captain "Wild" Bill Kelso (John Belushi).
James Caan: seen in the USO fight scene.

Spoilers 

The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

Captain Wolfgang von Kleinschmidt (Christopher Lee) is the only character to die in the film.
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See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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