Jaws, 1941, E.T., Always

Movies watched:  Jaws (home – 124 minutes), 1941 (home – 146 minutes), E.T. (home – 114 minutes), Always (home – 123 minutes).

Total cumulative time:  3 days, 16 hours, 36 minutes


What is there to say about Jaws at this point?  So much hyperbole has been heaped upon it, (and deservedly so) over the last 35 years.  One of the most impactful movies of the 20th century.  The movie that gave birth to the “summer blockbuster”.  The first movie to gross over $100 million.   The movie tells the story of a great white shark terrorizing the beaches of Amity Island, a summer vacation retreat.  Roy Scheider is Police Chief Brody, who puts safety above all concerns.  Murray Hamilton is Mayor Vaughn, who is more concerned with the loss of revenue if the beaches are closed.  The movie also features a young and terrific Richard Dreyfuss as shark expert Matt Hooper, and the incomparable Robert Shaw as Captain Quint, a man who has a very personal reason to dislike sharks.


Everything about this movie is iconic, from John Williams’ often imitated musical score, to Spielberg’s sure-handed directing.  Spielberg’s camera work on this movie owes a lot to Alfred Hitchcock.  Not only does Spielberg borrow the “Vertigo” camera move in this movie, but many of the shots and angles are inspired by Hitchcock.

I was fortunate to see this movie on the big screen for the first time last year, with my son Kevin, when TCM brought it back into theaters.  I had seen it on the small screen at least 4 times, and I was blown away by how great it appeared on the big screen.  I noticed so much detail that I had never seen before.  If you ever have an opportunity to see a classic movie on the big screen, I highly recommend it.  You just might be amazed.


When I was a kid, 1941 used to air on cable a lot.  It was a movie I wanted to like.  It has a fantastic cast, and a decent premise.  The idea is that the Los Angeles is on edge after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  People are worried that the Japanese might attack the west coast of the US.  And the movie does feature one crazed Japanese submarine commander who is intent on attacking.  Unfortunately the movie is a big, jumbled mess.  I watched the extended version, and I can’t say that adding twenty-odd minutes did anything for the film, other than make it longer.

There are some good moments in this movie, and a lot of bad ones.  For the only all-out comedy that Steven Spielberg has ever directed, its just not very funny.  There is a dance-hall sequence that is ok, but feels like a dry-run for the opening sequence of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  The last 30 minutes of the movie, which adopts an increasingly manic pace, is the best part of the film.  But the amount of movie that one has to slog through to get to this point is virtually insufferable.  And what a squandering of great talent!  John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are wasted.  Not to mention Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee.

I want to like this movie, I really do, but it just doesn’t work.  I heard someone describe 1941 on a podcast recently as an entertaining mess.  I think he was half right.


Next up in the Spielberg Universal box set is E.T.  Again, this is a hard movie to talk about, because it transcends film, and has become a cultural icon.  This movie was one of the first “event films” of my youth.  I remember standing in line for hours, waiting to get in.  That phenomenon was essentially created by Spielberg and George Lucas.


Just as with Jaws this movie is full of iconic images and sounds.  I am grateful that this box set contains the original theatrical version of the movie, not the revisionist version that Spielberg re-released to theaters ten or so years ago.  In that version, he decided to replace the government agent’s guns with flashlights.  He also got rid of the awesome brotherly put down “penis breath.”  Thankfully, these two scenes are presented in their original theatrical format.

One of the most interesting things about this movie is the subtext.  This is not just a movie about an alien visiting earth, and befriending a family.   This is a movie about broken families.   Spielberg was a child of divorce, and this had a strong impact on him as a person, and a filmmaker.  I remember seeing this movie as a twelve year old, and watching the scene in the garage, when the two brothers smell their father’s shirt.  My twelve-year old mind realized that I wouldn’t even know what my father smelled like, because he left my life when I was only 2.


The other scene I loved as a kid, and still love very much, is the freeing of the frogs, and the kiss, which mirrors the kiss between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man.    Everybody has their own special moment in this movie, and I have to say, it does hold up pretty well.  Of course, part of that is the 12 year old in me, watching nostalgically.  I would love to know what a 12-year old today thought of this movie.


Audrey Hepburn, Always (1989, Steven Spielberg) starring Holly Hunter, Richard Dreyfuss and John Goodman

Always is a very different film in Spielberg’s body of work.  It is a sweet film, but ultimately pretty lightweight.   This movie came about because Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss were both fans of an old movie called A Guy Named Joe.  They talked about it while filming Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and joked that they would remake it one day.  Well, their joke became a reality in 1989.

The movie tells the story of a pilot named Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss) who puts out fires.  His closest friend is fellow pilot Al Yackey (played by John Goodman) and the love of his life is Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter).  But Dreyfuss dies in a plane crash, after saving Goodman’s life. The rest of the movie involves Dreyfuss becoming the “guardian angel” of another pilot, a man who takes a shine to Holly Hunter.

One of the best parts of the movie features a cameo with Audrey Hepburn, in her last film role.  Dear sweet Audrey was sick with cancer at this point, but she is still absolutely sublime in the role of Hap, who explains to Dreyfuss what is happening to him in the afterlife.   A strong case could be made for Audrey Hepburn as the greatest film actress of all time, and this short role is a nice bookend to a great life in film.

Ultimately, however, this film is kind of forgettable.  I felt good while watching it, I enjoyed it, but very little of it resonates.   I still say it is worth watching, at least once.  And in any other director’s ouvre, this would be a minor masterpiece.  But because of the caliber of Spielberg’s catalogue, this becomes a minor entry at best.





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