Jake Blues is released from Joliet Correctional Center after serving three years, and is picked up by his brother Elwood in his Bluesmobile, a battered, decommissioned police car. Elwood demonstrates its capabilities by jumping an open drawbridge. The brothers visit the Roman Catholic orphanage where they were raised, and learn from Sister Mary “the Penguin” Stigmata that it will be closed unless $5,000 in property taxes is collected. During a sermon by the Reverend Cleophus James at the Triple Rock Baptist Church, Jake has an epiphany: they can re-form their band, “The Blues Brothers” – which disbanded while Jake was in prison – and raise the money to save the orphanage.
That night, state troopers attempt to arrest Elwood for driving with a suspended license due to 116 parking tickets and 56 moving violations. After a high-speed chase through the Dixie Square Mall, the brothers escape. The next morning, as the police arrive at the flophouse where Elwood lives, a mysterious woman detonates a bomb that demolishes the building, but miraculously leaves Jake and Elwood unharmed, and saves them from being arrested.
Jake and Elwood begin tracking down members of the band. Five of them are playing a Holiday Inn lounge, and quickly agree to rejoin. Another turns them down as he is the maître d’ at an expensive restaurant, but the brothers refuse to leave the restaurant until he relents. On their way to meet the final two band members, the brothers find the road through Jackson Park blocked by an “American Socialist White People’s Party” – “the Illinois Nazis” – demonstration on a bridge; Elwood runs them off the bridge into the East Lagoon. The last two band members, who now run a soul food restaurant, rejoin the band against the advice of one’s wife. The reunited group obtain instruments and equipment from Ray’s Music Exchange in Calumet City, and Ray, as usual, takes an IOU.
As Jake attempts to book a gig, the mystery woman blows up the phone booth he is using; once again, he is miraculously unhurt. The band stumbles into a gig at Bob’s Country Bunker, a local honky-tonk. They win over the rowdy crowd, but run up a bar tab higher than their pay, and infuriate the country band that was actually booked for the gig, the Good Ol’ Boys.
Copy of the “Bluesmobile”, the car the Blues Brothers use in the film
Realizing that they need one big show to raise the necessary money, the brothers persuade their old agent to book the Palace Hotel Ballroom, north of Chicago. They mount a loudspeaker atop the Bluesmobile and drive the Chicago area promoting the concert—and alerting the police, the Nazis, and the Good Ol’ Boys of their whereabouts. The ballroom is packed with blues fans, police officers, and the Good Ol’ Boys. Jake and Elwood perform two songs, then sneak offstage, as the tax deadline is rapidly approaching. A record company executive offers them a $10,000 cash advance on a recording contract—more than enough to pay off the orphanage’s taxes and Ray’s IOU—and then shows the brothers how to slip out of the building unnoticed. As they make their escape via a service tunnel, they are confronted by the mystery woman: Jake’s vengeful ex-fiancée. After her volley of M16 rifle bullets leaves them miraculously unharmed, Jake offers a series of ridiculous excuses that she accepts, allowing the brothers to escape to the Bluesmobile.
Jake and Elwood race back toward Chicago with dozens of state/local police and the Good Ol’ Boys in pursuit. They eventually elude them all with a series of improbable maneuvers, including a miraculous gravity-defying escape from the Illinois Nazis. At the Richard J. Daley Center, they rush inside the adjacent Chicago City Hall building, soon followed by hundreds of police, state troopers, SWAT teams, firefighters, Illinois National Guardsmen, and the Military Police. Finding the office of the Cook County Assessor, the brothers pay the tax bill. Just as their receipt is stamped, they are arrested by the mob of law officers. In prison, the band plays “Jailhouse Rock” for the inmates.
The Blues Brothers is a 1980 American musical comedy film directed by John Landis. It stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as “Joliet” Jake and Elwood Blues, characters developed from “The Blues Brothers” recurring musical sketch on the NBC variety series Saturday Night Live. The film’s screenplay was written by Aykroyd and Landis. It features musical numbers by rhythm and blues (R&B), soul, and blues singers James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker. The film is set in and around Chicago, Illinois, where it was filmed. It features non-musical supporting performances by Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson, Charles Napier and John Candy.
The story is a tale of redemption for paroled convict Jake and his brother Elwood, who set out on “a mission from God” to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised from foreclosure. To do so, they must reunite their R&B band and organize a performance to earn $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. Along the way, they are targeted by a homicidal “mystery woman”, Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band—all while being relentlessly pursued by the police.
Universal Studios, which had won the bidding war for the film, was hoping to take advantage of Belushi’s popularity in the wake of Saturday Night Live, Animal House, and the Blues Brothers’ musical success; it soon found itself unable to control production costs. The start of filming was delayed when Aykroyd, new to film screenwriting, took six months to deliver a long and unconventional script that Landis had to rewrite before production, which began without a final budget. On location in Chicago, Belushi’s partying and drug use caused lengthy and costly delays that, along with the destructive car chases depicted onscreen, made the final film one of the most expensive comedies ever produced.
Concerns that the film would fail limited its initial bookings to less than half those a film of its magnitude normally received. Released in the United States on June 20, 1980, it received mostly positive reviews. It earned just under $5 million in its opening weekend and went on to gross over $115 million in theaters worldwide before its release on home video. It has become a cult classic, spawning the sequel, Blues Brothers 2000, 18 years later, which was a critical and commercial failure.