Do They Know It’s Christmas? — Day Two
Christmas Connection: The film takes place right in the heart of the Christmas season, about a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Right when everyone was in the mood for wacky hijinks, apparently.
1941 will forever be known as the film that made Steven Spielberg mortal, that proved he couldn’t simply turn anything into gold just by pointing a camera at it. It’s a bit of a mess, a comedy that thinks bigger equals funnier, and its story is really nothing more than a series of vignettes featuring characters trying to scream louder than the others, something the filmmakers seemed to have recognized: the curtain-call end credits feature almost nothing but clips of the characters yelling.
I also love every sloppy minute of it. Maybe it’s nostalgia, seeing as how this was one of the first films I ever saw on HBO and so therefore saw it about a billion times that year, or maybe it’s because whatever the film lacks in polish, it more than makes up for in enthusiasm. It’s sort of like that one friend who has horrible taste in music, movies and television but whom you keep around because he’s a blast when he’s drunk.
Beyond the level of guilty pleasure, there are a few things to recommend here. The FX work is top-notch, with some really great, detailed model work, especially during the dogfight over Hollywood Blvd. Spielberg actually nails the opening Jaws parody, and the jitterbug contest is one of the moments I point to when I claim that he has the chops to take on a musical. And John Williams bats the score right out of the park with music that is every bit as raggedly enthusiastic as the film tries to be. Wouldn’t be the last time Williams gave a Spielberg film a better score than it deserved (hi there, Hook).
But then again, you’ve got Slim Pickens feigning constipation, which is a pretty apt metaphor for the whole production: something that strained to get out, with pretty crappy results.
Do They Know It’s Christmas?: Definitely. Christmas decorations are all over the place, and even feature heavily in several gags. Pickens’ character sells Christmas trees when he’s not dealing in covert constipation attacks, and Dan Aykroyd invokes the spirit of Christmas when convincing everyone it’s better to be beating up Huns and Japs than each other. The final joke of the film is the nailing up of a Christmas wreath causing a near-demolished house to finally collapse into the Pacific. Even better, at one point, an errant anti-aircraft gun inadvertently turns a Coca-Cola Santa billboard into an instrument of destruction, kicking off the cola wars a full forty years early. Kind of fitting that most of the Christmas references have some form of destruction attached to them, seeing as how this film probably ruined a lot of Christmases for those involved.