Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. There are many reasons for me to love the new Steven Spielberg Director's Collection that just came out on Blu-Ray. There are the old favorites like Jaws, ET and Jurassic Park repackaged in a nifty box set and then there are the four new to Blu Spielberg films, which include Always, Duel, Sugarland Express and the much maligned bit of insanity called 1941.
Historically 1941 is a fascinating movie. Spielberg made it right after his big passion project, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and he went big. That might be an understatement. He went massive. It's a huge, sloppy wet kiss of a movie that allowed Spielberg to indulge in all his cinematic fetishes at once while at the same time commenting on his own career (the movie opens with a lovingly recreated Jaws parody that gives us a hint at just how stage bound the movie might have looked like if he hadn't decided to shoot almost all of it on location).
The movie is a madcap throwback to zany epic comedies, but it broke Spielberg's winning streak, if only in appearance. The movie might have been critically panned, but when all is said and done the film earned triple its production budget back theatrically. Still, it was labeled a stinker and Spielberg himself took a lot of the criticism to heart, committing then and there that his next project would be done at a reasonable budget, on a quick time frame and be completed without going over either. That exercise in creative focus resulted in one of the best commercially released films ever made: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
So, love it or hate it, all you Dr. Jones owe 1941 a big hug... or at least a rewatch. The new Blu has the theatrical cut and the extended cut, so no excuses!
Just when I thought I'd run out of reasons to love this box set, an interesting interview opportunity came up. Bob Gale might not be as well known as his regular partner in crime, Robert Zemeckis, but the man helped guide much of our childhoods. He helped write and produce Back to the Future, Used Cars, Tales From the Crypt and I Wanna Hold Your Hand... oh, and that little 1941 picture I've been talking about.
The only problem with the interview was they were only allowing 8 minute phoner slots, but I took it anyway and hoped for the best. Luckily for me I was the last interview of the day and Bob was happy to talk, so I got more than double the time and we used it to talk about working with Spielberg, pissing off John Wayne, how awesome John Milius is, that status of the Back to the Future Musical and a few other bits and pieces.
Here. We. Go.
Quint: Hi, how's it going, Bob?
Bob Gale: Fine, Eric. Or should I call you Quint? (laughs)
Quint: Quint has kind of become a nickname. I go by both, so whichever you're more comfortable with.
Bob Gale: I just wanted to say that so you knew I knew who you were, that I was paying attention and that I read your stuff.
Quint: Well, I watch your stuff so I guess we're even.
Bob Gale: (laughs)
Quint: Quick funny story: The folks at Paramount were very kind and let me visit the set of War of the Worlds. That was where I met Steven for the first time and they asked me if I wanted to be introduced as Quint or Eric. I said, “Please, God, don't introduce me as a character from one of his movies!” Of course, I was introduced as “Quint,” but he said he was a reader of the site as well, so it wasn't as awkward as it could have been.
Bob Gale: (laughs) Cool!
Quint: Anyway, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about 1941. I've always had a soft spot for this movie and was kind of sad that got relegated to cinephile only discussions. I'm glad there seems to be a lot of people coming out with their appreciation of this crazy movie now...
Bob Gale: And respecting what Steven pulled off with that, yeah.
Quint: I just revisited it again with this new Blu-Ray. I've seen it at least a half-dozen times, but this is the first time I watched it actively thinking about its place in Spielberg's filmography. It's fascinating that Steven chose that film to play around with his cinematic fetishes as well as poke fun at his own work. I mean, there's a legitimate Jaws spoof in the movie! And there's a callback to Duel as well. Do you remember when he started bringing in that element to the project to the script that you and Bob Zemeckis wrote?
Bob Gale: When Steven decided to make the movie he had not decided to make Close Encounters yet, but he loved the script so much he said “I gotta make this movie, but I got to make Close Encounters first because I promised Columbia I'd make it.” So, while Steven was shooting Close Encounters down in Mobile, Alabama he had Bob and me fly down to work with him on revisions. One of the first ideas that he came up with was to start the movie with a Jaws spoof. The original script had always started with the Japanese lost, but Bob and I were delighted with the idea that Steven was willing to make fun of his own movie. It was really kind of the perfect way to set the insane tone of what the thing was going to be.
Quint: There's very much an anything goes feel throughout the whole movie and when you start with a guy making fun of his own career-making movie everybody should know what they're in for. That's pretty unique, when you think about it. What's great about that scene isn't that it's a spoof of a big movie, but it's acknowledging that the audience knows it's the director spoofing his own work.
Bob Gale: With Susan Backlinie!
Quint: Yeah, he has the same actress, he repeats shots... It's fascinating because his career was still so young at that point and there he is looking back and saying to the audience “nothing is sacred, this is all silly.” Like you said, it's a great way to set up the audience for the to come. “Either get onboard now or you'll hate it.”
Bob Gale: Right.
Quint: I'd like to talk to you a little about the casting of the movie as well. This movie has one of the most ridiculously great casts ever put together. It's not only that you have these iconic cinematic legends... Toshiro Mifune shares scenes with Slim Pickins and Christopher Lee! But you also have up and coming icons, like John Belushi. How involved were you in suggesting or advising on the cast?
Bob Gale: First of all remember Steven was coming off of Close Encounters and had two of the biggest hits in the world. Everybody wanted to be in his next movie. He had that going for him. How involved were we in the casting? It was Bob and I that suggested Robert Stack for Stilwell. Steven had offered it to John Wayne and, I think, Charlton Heston as well. John Wayne was livid after he read the script and told Steven he was making an anti-American movie. That got back to us and went “What?!? What's anti-American about it? It's just a comedy.”
Quint: That's got to be a point of pride for you, though. You got to piss off The Duke!
Bob Gale: I guess, but it would have been a point of pride if he had done it, too. (laughs) It's hard to say what you should be more proud of. But Steven wasn't so sure about Robert Stack, but we thought he had the gravitas and we also sensed he had the right sense of humor for it. I think it's on the Blu-Ray... I haven't actually looked at all the galleries, but there's a great production still showing Robert Stack holding an issue of Life Magazine with Joe Stilwell on the cover and you could see how much they looked like each other. It was really neat.
Then we got four alumni from I Wanna Hold Your Hand, our first movie. Of course, Steven executive produced I Wanna Hold Your Hand, so he knew those kids from that. It was a great testament that he loved them so much that he put them in 1941.
The original conceit of how we saw the two guys on the ferris wheel... in the early drafts of the script we envisioned Jackie Gleason and Art Carney being those two guys. We actually wrote in the script that one of them looks like a bus driver and the other one looks like he might work in a sewer. The casting director, Sally Dennison, submitted it to Jackie Gleeson and Gleeson said, “If Art Carney's going to do this, I won't work with him.” We were really sad to hear that. We just thought it'd be a great way to bring those two guys back together.
I don't know who it was that said, “Let's team up Eddie Deezen with Murray Hamilton.”
Here again, Steven is using alumni from his own films, too. He's got Murray Hamilton, he's got Lorraine Gary, he's got Lucille Benson.
Quint: The feeling one gets from watching the movie is that everybody who made it just wanted to have a blast and put some of that up on the screen. I don't know if that was the actual feeling while making it, but that's the tone I sense while watching.
Bob Gale: People were having fun, no question about it. Also think about it... all these people are in the movie and most of them don't have any scenes together!
Quint: Yeah, I don't think Belushi and Aykroyd ever speak to one another in the film.
Bob Gale: No, they don't! Aykroyd looks at Belushi as he's climbing aboard the sub at the very end. There's just a look that passes between them and that's it.
Quint: I'm a sucker for character actors, too, and I love watching Frank McRae, who you used great in 1941 and in Used Cars, by the way. I don't know where I'm going with that other than to say thank you so much for Used Cars! I love that movie!
Bob Gale: I hope you got that Blu-Ray.
Quint: I actually didn't. I know it was limited...
Bob Gale: It was from Twilight Time. It's pricey, but it's a beautiful transfer. It looks and sounds great. It's definitely worth having.
Quint: That commentary track that you guys did with Kurt Russell is one of my favorite commentary tracks ever.
Bob Gale: They ported that over, too. Thank you. That was critical mass that day, the three of us together.
Quint: So, thank you for that movie and while I'm at it I might as well thank you for Back to the Future as well.
Bob Gale: It's neat how those movies have continued into the next generation. It's great. I hear from people who saw the movie when they were kids and are now showing it to their kids. It's really neat.
Quint: The big anniversary is coming up next year. Do you guys have any special plans for that?
Bob Gale: There's a couple of books in the works, there's going to be another “We're Going Back” celebration... there's going to be some crazy local stuff happening. The theatrical musical is in development. It was announced that it was going to be out next year, but it is not going to be out next year. It's not going to come out until Zemeckis and I think it's great. We won't release anything called Back to the Future that isn't great.
Quint: We'd rather wait and have it be right.
Bob Gale: Absolutely. There's an old saying from the video game business: A game that's late is only late until the day it ships, but a game that's shit is shit forever.
Quint: Thank you for talking a bit with me, man. I know we're over time, so I'll let you go.
Bob Gale: It's alright. You're the last guy, so if you have another question or two then go ahead and ask.
Quint: I will definitely take you up on that because we haven't gotten to talk about John Milius yet. He's one of my favorite creative personalities. I've never met the man, but everybody that I know who has spent time with him has a story with him. There's a friend who found himself in a cigar club in LA and happened to see Milius there and said he ended up smoking a stogie with him, listening to Milius tell a million different stories.
Bob Gale: Yeah, John was a consummate storyteller. You saw that documentary, Milius, right?
Quint: I did. I loved it. How's he doing? The end of the doc shows him improving after his stroke. Have you seen him recently? I hope he's recovering...
Bob Gale: I know his Genghis Khan script is making the rounds around town, so that's a good thing. I have not been in contact with him in a while. Actually, I haven't seen him since January or February, whenever they premiered the documentary.
Quint: I hope he's doing well. I definitely miss his voice, in terms of his writing and filmmaking and listening to him give interviews.
Bob Gale: Everything, yeah.
Quint: Is there anything that jumps to mind for you when you think about your working relationship with John on 1941?
Bob Gale: There were a lot of interesting things that would go on because back then John had a condominium out near Zuma Beach. He'd go out there to “write,” but he was really just surfing a lot. He'd tell us to come out there at night and we'd brainstorm about 1941. Sometimes John would go off on tangents. That's when we first heard him spinning a yarn about this idea about a movie about used car salesmen on the outskirts of Las Vegas who would sell a guy a car on the way in and buy the car back from him to get their last couple of bucks when they lost everything in Vegas. Obviously that certainly stuck with us.
The idea of putting Stilwell in as a character in 1941, that was pure John. He'd written a script about Stilwell, so when we told him we wanted to do a movie about the false alarm air raid, he said “let's move the setting to a week after Pearl Harbor and then we can put Stilwell in it because he was stationed in LA.” Believe it or not, truth being stranger than fiction, Stilwell actually did go see Dumbo. It's in his diaries! We read his diaries while researching this and there's an entry in his diary about him going to see Dumbo and it said he sat through it twice!
Quint: I don't know what it is about that moment in the movie, but when Steven holds that shot on Stack's face...
Bob Gale: When he's crying!
Bob Gale: It breaks me up every time!
Quint: I can totally relate to it because that scene always bummed me out, too.
Bob Gale: Right, right. Bob and I weren't sure if that was going to work or not. Steven came up with that on his own. We said “we have to see Stilwell laughing at When I See An Elephant Fly,” and Steven said, “Yeah, and we got to have him crying for this (moment).” We said, “Do you think that will work?” and Steven said, “It's going to work” and goddamn it if it didn't work!
Quint: And that's a great place to leave off! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, man. I appreciate it.
Bob Gale: Sure, thank you very much, Eric. It was good talking to you. Keep tellin' it like it is! When I read your reviews I say “Okay, that probably resembles what the movie is actually like.”
Aaaaaand cue head exploding to three times its usual (already large) size.
So that was that. Hope you guys dug the chat!