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'Blues Brothers' on cult classic mission

The Blues Brothers, from left, Jim Belushi and

The Blues Brothers, from left, Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Credit: Tom Donoghue

One of the funniest things about "The Blues Brothers," John Landis' whacked-out 1980 comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Jake and Elwood Blues, is imagining the faces of the Universal Pictures executives who first saw it.

Based on the two stars' characters from a "Saturday Night Live" musical act, the film was a famously expensive and problematic production. The freewheeling, unformatted script from first-time writer Aykroyd required major revisions from Landis. Belushi's partying caused many a delay. And Landis didn't exactly cut corners: The film's finale included dozens of police cruisers, three helicopters and 200 National Guardsmen. "The Blues Brothers" eventually cost nearly $30 million, a sky-high figure compared to, say, the $3 million budget of Landis' "Animal House."

The result could have been a disaster -- a thinly plotted road-musical-comedy in which Jake and Elwood reunite the band to raise money for their old orphanage. Chasing them are the police, a country-western band, neo-Nazis and a heavily armed mystery woman (Carrie Fisher). Pee-wee Herman and Twiggy make random cameos. And the film's two comedic leads remain relentlessly deadpan in their trademark suits, hats and sunglasses (Belushi removes the latter precisely once).

Inauspiciously, "The Blues Brothers" opened at fewer than 600 theaters. But audiences loved it. Music fans warmed to the performances (from James Brown, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, even Cab Calloway) and to the Blues Brothers' very real band, which included legends such as bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and drummer Willie "Too Big" Hall. The film's oddball humor also struck a chord: Elwood's oft-repeated line, "We're on a mission from God," has become one of cinema's most recognizable catchphrases.

Elwood, it turns out, wasn't kidding. Against all odds, "The Blues Brothers" became a $115 million hit and remains a bona fide cult classic.

You can catch "The Blues Brothers" on TV this week, airing Friday (8 a.m., 5Max); Saturday (5:15 p.m., ThrillrMax) and Sunday (7:15 a.m., OMAX). It's also available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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