1941 – Thoughts of a UK Script Doctor

As a leading UK Script Doctor and script consultant I watch films and ‘good’ TV all the time, always evaluating and reassessing what works and what doesn’t.

To a large extent Steven Spielberg’s 1941 doesn’t really work, but is it the disaster that everyone makes out it is? No, in actual fact, it’s a film that’s ripe for reappraisal.

I haven’t written a lot about Spielberg, he looms so heavily over American films from the last 30 years.  He’s super successful, as a director, as a cultural figure and as a businessman.

So much so, that I’m still not sure what to make of him? Of course, I grew up with Raiders of The Lost Ark, Jaws, Close Encounters and many others. Of his work in the last few years I really liked War of The Worlds – because it took me by surprise. I’m not so sure about anything else…

1941 was a big (very big at the time) budget flop, one of the few stains on Spielberg’s career, an example of where the wonderkid got it wrong. Like Hook, it’s been swept under the carpet a little bit, something of a forgotten film from a major director.

The film is actually a bit of a lark, using cast members from Saturday Night Live and John Landis’ Animal House. Indeed, the film is kind of Animal House 1941 – it’s saucy, cheeky and full of anarchy.

I watched the film as kid, and it wasn’t funny or engaging. Watching it now as an adult, it’s actually (once it gets going from an awkward start) pretty funny and features some great actors (alongside the Saturday Night Live crew).

I saw a review somewhere that mentioned all the LA in jokes in the film – it seems that bits of this have some sort of basis in what really happened in LA in 1941 – I’ve got no knowledge of this, but I still enjoyed the film.

John Belushi is a treat; Christopher Lee is great, Slim Pickens and Ned Beatty show the SNL crew how it’s done.  Nancy Allen is at her prettiest and Spielberg pulls out the stops on some sequences (particularly around the dance competition). I still think the script (which is often very clever) might have been better served by a director like the late Robert Altman but this is still a decent film that somehow fell between the cracks. I’m not sure what Spielberg learned from it – but he’s stayed away from all out comedy pretty much ever since – that might be our loss, but I’m not sure that Spielberg’s that bothered…

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on matcoop23@yahoo.co.uk or hire him on Peopleperhour