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Why The Blues Brothers Is The Greatest American Car Movie

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While I love the zen simplicity of Le Mans and the pure vehicular ballet of Ronin, the car film I most enjoy watching is The Blues Brothers. How does the worst era of American cars produce the best American car movie to date? Through destruction, of course.

(In advance of the Jalopnik Film Festival we're doing a week of posts focused on cars and films. Remember, you can still buy tickets here.)


The '70s was largely a terrible time in this grand old country for cars, politics, fashion, the environment, industry, the economy, sex, drugs, television, and pretty much every thing else. The '70s was just a screwed up time.


What we get out of the John Landis-directed, Dan Aykroyd-penned musical action road trip comedy is a farewell to all of it. A giant flaming middle finger to the gilded decadence of a decade not worth remembering, backed by Carrie Fisher with an actual flamethrower.

The film's anti-heroes can scarcely see the point in continuing a normal, humdrum existence when they could just put together a band to make real music as opposed to the shitty disco and faux tropicana crap rotting the brains of too many polyester-clad fakers.

They may be singing American rhythm-and-blues music, but "Joliet" Jake and Elwood Blues are punk.

If the movie wasn't already great for the comedy, the music, and the countless historic cameos (John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles… the entire band!) it would be worth it for the ceaseless assault on mediocre American cars.


While a Bentley does show up and, of course, Twiggy drives a Jaguar XK-E, there are really only two cars in the film: the Bluesmobile and every other piece of Detroit-built shit.

The Bluesmobile is, in theory, a single retired 1974 Dodge Monaco Mount Prospect, Illinois patrol car (in reality they say they used a dozen cars). A simple, workingman's vehicle that's the last model made before the OPEC oil crisis ruined American muscle cars. Just listen to, arguably, the most famous speech of the film

It's got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it's got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on regular gas.


Pre-catalytic converts. PRE! Get it?

It's this nostalgia that fuels the Bluesmobile and allows it to beat back all the Malaise Era-restricted cars that attempt to thwart it. Whether it's an Illinois Nazi (I hate them) in a Ford Pinto Station Wagon or hundreds of later model Dodge Polaras and Ford LTDs, nothing can stop this humble American iron on its Mission From God.

There are so many throw-away car references in the film, including when Elwood crashes the Bluesmobile into a car dealership exclaiming "the new Oldsmobiles are in early this year!" because who really gives a shit?


Perhaps this is why the second film is so unsatisfying. The original held the world record for most cars destroyed in a film, only to be usurped by the unfortunate Blues Brothers 2000. America was on the upswing and those Panther police cars are enormously better than an old Royal Monaco.


In any other this kind of destruction would be gratuitous, but in 1979 this is doing God's bidding.

When the world around you is terrible the best you can do is to venerate it with a rocket-propelled grenade and a 50-car pileup.


*RUSH isn't technically out yet, and it's about Europeans anyways.