The Blues Brothers a Catholic classic?

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Tuesday 22, June 2010 | Category:  

While Catholicism plays only a supporting role in John Landis’ 1980 film The Blues Brothers, starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Jake and Elwood Blues, it still qualifies as a “Catholic classic”, at least according to the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the movie's release, the paper put it on a list of recommended films which also includes Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, Jesus of Nazareth from Franco Zeffirelli, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Victor Flemming's Joan of Arc, and It's a Wonderful Life from Frank Capra.

But, besides providing the reason for the wild road trip the brothers make—to raise money for the church-run orphanage where they grew up—there isn’t that much church in the movie. In fact, the scene where Sister Mary Stigmata—also known as “The Penguin”—sends them on their “mission from God” is dotted with obscenities, and beatings from Sister.

Nonetheless, the editor of L’Osservatore, Gian Maria Van, said the film’s “Catholic and spiritual heft were not lacking” and was “rich with ideas.” Heck, one scene even had a photo of the young Pope John Paul II hanging on a wall. Of the brothers’ effort to save the orphanage, Van wrote: “For them, this Catholic institution is their only family—and they decide to save it at any cost.” The movie is a “memorable film and, judging by the facts, a Catholic one” (emphasis added).

Official church opinion of the film, however, was not always so positive. When The Blues Brothers first appeared, the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offered this review: “The plot is interspersed with scenes of wholesale destruction and frenzied chases which are spectacularly unfunny and uninvolving . . . . Some good musical portions from Cab Calloway and Ray Charles, but not enough depth from director John Landis to save this zany comedy from milking cheap laughs from rough language and crude situations.” The bishops’ gave office the movie an A-III rating: “For Adults Only.”

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