"How can a man take a bowel movement with a hundred buffalo rifles a-pointin' at 'em ? "

Aaaaah, the big beast. This was Stephen Spielberg's first movie that tanked.

Big time.

In theory, he did everything right: He'd just directed Jaws and Close Encounters and had the biggest budget he could wish for. Written by Robert Zemeckis and Spielberg himself, he staffed the movie with everything that was funny and good in 1979: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Tim Matheson, Nancy Allan, Ned Beatty, Robert Stack, James Caan, Treat Williams, Christopher Lee, Toshiro Mifune, and, er, Mickey Rourke. Music was made nice and bombastically by John Williams, And still, it became one of his biggest stinkers, right alongside Empire of the Sun and the just godawful Hook. How could this be: You had the Blues Brothers, two main protagonists from Animal House and half the original Saturday Night Live collective. So how could this movie ever tank so badly?

Well, it had a crap plot. More than one, actually.

When I went to watch it for the first time in 1982 I expected two truly crappy hours, but was actually quite surprised: if you'd switch off your brain and ignore the slightly racist undertones, this was actually pretty funny. The last thirty minutes were actually positively hilarious. But it was still, well, pretty bad. So what went wrong?

Simply put, the movie didn't have a story. For the first 90 minutes it was just too fractured and uneven to be enjoyable: you would have a couple of hilarious minutes that would then again be interspersed with cringeworthy content and a lot of exploding buildings, mad editing and a very funny John Belushi. What was it about? Well, let me see whether I can remember all subplots. Ok, it is 1941, and California is in a state of hysteria, expecting to be the next Japanese target after their successful attack of Pearl Harbour. And in all this mayhem....

  • A japanese submarine crew, led by a SS Officer (Cristopher Lee), kidnaps a redneck to show them the way to Hollywood
  • A hapless homemaker (Ned Beatty) gets a flak planted in his garden to protect the coast.
  • Two juvenile kitchen hands want to win a dancing contest
  • A rogue air force pilot (Belushi) tries to find Japanese invaders
  • A smooth Air Force Officer (Matheson) tries to seduce his girlfriend to have sex with him inside a bomber.
  • A high ranking General tries to watch Dumbo in peace and quiet.
  • Two civil defenders and a dummy hold guard on a Ferris Wheel.

Confused?

So were most of us. Nevertheless, it all comes together in the end in a gorgeous destruction of miniatures, lavish sets and a couple of vintage airplanes, just to leave us bewildered and thinking: $35,000,000 for this? (In 1978 this was the most expensive film ever made. Sort of a Pluto Nash disaster, just better).

So, should you get out and rent it?

Absolutely.

As 1940 comes to a close the majority of the Americas, with the exception of Canada, are still sitting out World War II. The European powers fight on their own continent and in Africa and the Middle East, the British Commonwealth the only major force standing up to Nazi Germany. Hitler has Italy as his ally, and has convinced the Soviets not to interfere.

The Japanese control a good portion of China and are looking to expand their Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, but additional territorial gains would have to come at the expense of the colonial powers in the region.

To date the U.S. involvement in World War II has been the sale of fifty destroyers to the United Kingdom in exchange for land leases for military bases. F.D.R. tries to balance the American public’s overwhelming preference for non-intervention with the knowledge that it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. is launched headlong into war.

General Motors, U.S. Steel, Standard Oil, and I.G. Farben are among the largest companies in the world. The Dow Jones Industrial Average contains such companies as American Smelting, International Harvester, and Corn Products Refining. A new car costs around nine hundred dollars, the gas for it about 15 cents a gallon. Postage stamps are three cents, bread eight cents a loaf, and milk thirty-four cents a gallon.

Curious George and Make Way For Ducklings are first published in 1941.

January

The year opens in the States with college bowl games. Boston College defeats Tennessee 19-13 in the Sugar Bowl, while Stanford drops Nebraska in the Rose Bowl by the score of 21-13. Both teams finish undefeated, but the Gophers of Minnesota are considered to be the National Champions.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivers the now famous "Four Freedoms" speech on the 6th. These freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear, would later be incorporated into the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.

James Joyce, author of Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake, and A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, dies in Zurich on the 13th at the age of 58. Joyce underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer and did not recover.

Commonwealth forces take the strategic port city of Tobruk, Libya, from the Axis on the 22nd, leading Italy to ask for Germany’s help on the continent. Commonwealth and local forces also counterattack Italian East Africa in response to an invasion of British Somaliland.

On the 27th, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew wires information to Washington about a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The information, passed on by a Peruvian diplomat as a rumor, is ignored by U.S. intelligence.

Rashid Ali resigns as Prime Minister of Iraq on the 31st. On the same day, the Abbott and Costello comedy "Buck Privates" is released. The film, in which Abbott and Costello accidentally enlist in the army, features the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and establishes the comedic duo as bona fide movie stars. The Japanese use the movie to show how incompetent the U.S. military is.

February

Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" is awarded the first Gold record. The Academy awards Best Picture honors to "Rebecca". Jimmy Stewart is Best Actor for "The Philadelphia Story", Ginger Rogers Best Actress for "The Natural History of a Woman".

Kim Jong-Il is born in Vyatskoye, Soviet Union on the 16th. This is not important until much later.

Over three nights (February 19th through 21st), the British city of Swansea is virtually destroyed by German bombing in what would become known as the Three Nights Blitz.

Plutonium is chemically identified on the 23rd by Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg and others. Originally planning for a publication of their findings in the journal Physical Review, their research is classified by the government until the end of World War II.

March

W47NW Nashville becomes the first FM station in the United States on the 1st. Captain America makes his debut punching Adolf Hitler in the jaw. Captain America Comics become widely popular and the comic has a higher circulation than Time Magazine.

F.D.R. signs the Lend-Lease Act, taking the first step away from isolationism by providing Great Britain and China with military equipment with which to fight the Axis. The majority of Americans are still against involvement in the war.

Virginia Woolf dies on the 28th. Those who were afraid of her come out of hiding.

Wisconsin wins the Men's NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament on the 29th in Kansas City, Missouri. Finishing the season at 20-3, the Badgers defeat Dartmouth, Pitt, and Washington State en route to the title.

April

On the 3rd of April, Rashid Ali and the Golden Square stage a coup d'etat in Iraq. Ali reinstates himself as Prime Minister. Ali had been covertly meeting with German agents, but subject to the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty signed years earlier, allowed the British to move troops from India into Iraq. Ali does not immediately confront the British.

The Axis invade Greece and Yugoslavia on the 6th. Both surrender by the end of the month, with Greek PM Alexandros Koryzis committing suicide on the 18th while the remainder of the government flees.

The United States occupies Greenland on the 10th with the consent of the Danish government.

The Boston Bruins complete a 4-0 sweep of the Chicago Black Hawks on the 12th to win the Stanley Cup in the seven team NHL. Bill Cowley is the league MVP.

The Soviet Union and the Japanese Empire sign a Neutrality Pact on the 13th, pledging non-aggression for a period of five years.

May

"Citizen Kane" is released, and receives critical acclaim but not much public support, due in part to William Randolph Hearst's strong-arm attempts to keep theatres from showing it. Musicians Richie Valens (13th) and Bob Dylan (24th) are born in May 1941.

The British Operation Brevity fails in the Western Desert Campaign. The offensive is designed to seize territory in Libya quickly, but Britain is turned back after retaking the Halfaya Pass, which is lost later that month in the German offensive dubbed Operation Skorpion.

Haile Selassie returns to Addis Ababa five years after being forced to flee. May 5th becomes a national holiday in EthiopiaLiberation Day.

Rangers F.C. win Scotland’s Southern League Cup on the 10th, a competition started after the national competitions were suspended due to war. Rangers defeats Hearts F.C. 4-2 to win the first of five straight Cups.

Konrad Zuse introduces the world’s first programmable Turing-complete fully-automatic computer, the Z3, on the 12th. It runs at 5.3 Hertz and has 176 bytes of memory. It is not proven to be Turing-complete until 1998.

Joe Dimaggio's 56-game hitting streak begins on the 15th.

The Anglo-Iraqi War takes place entirely in May. The British had granted independence to Iraq in 1932 with stipulations set forth in the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, which included provisions for the continued presence of British military bases on Iraqi soil. The war is short-lived as superior British military overwhelm the Iraqi forces, including several German and Italian planes repainted with Iraqi markings. The Luftwaffe offers only token military support for Ali, who is forced to flee to Germany.

Ireland ratifies the Second Amendment to its Constitution on the 30th. The amendment establishes, among other things, the writ of habeus corpus, a method for filling Presidential vacancies, and the ability of the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of laws.

June

The United States halts all oil shipments to Japan, an act that will indirectly lead to their involvement in World War II. The Japanese cannot expand their Coprosperity Sphere without U.S. oil, which supplies 80% of their needs.

Operation Battleaxe fails in the Western Desert Campaign. Another battle between Hitler's Afrika Korps and the Commonwealth forces, the British fail to lift the siege of Tobruk, and narrowly escape an encircling movement ordered by Erwin Rommel. The battle, however, does mark the first time in the war that a significant German force was put on the defensive.

Jockeyed by the legendary Eddie Arcaro, Whirlaway wins the Belmont Stakes and captures the Triple Crown. His record Kentucky Derby time of 2:01.4 stands until 1962.

Joe Louis defends his heavyweight championship for the sixth of seven times in 1941, knocking out Billy Conn at 2:56 in the 13th round on the 18th. He will fight three more times before enlisting in the Army.

Cheerios make their debut as Cheeri-Oats on the 19th.

Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, begins on the 22nd. It will be the largest military operation in history, and a critical error in military strategy, as Hitler opens up a two-front war in Europe. The Reich knows that it doesn’t have the supplies for a prolonged war, but intelligence predicts (wrongly) that the Soviet Union can be overrun in a matter of months if not weeks. Reporter Ed Bradley is born on this day as well.

July

The first television commercial, a ten second ad for Bulova watches, is aired by NBC. Featuring nothing but the face of the watch, the commercial makes NBC seven dollars.

The United States occupies Iceland, again with consent. The Allied Powers were worried about Germany gaining a larger presence in the Atlantic.

The Howard Hawks film "Sgt. York" is released on the 2nd. It is the top grossing film of year, and results in 11 Academy Award nominations and two wins.

The murder of Jews in the Lviv Pogroms begins. Einsatzgruppen forces murder twenty-three Jewish professors and their families. Over the course of the month, about 4,000 Jews are executed. Nearly 120,000 Jews would be murdered in Lviv or sent to extermination camps over the next two years.

Not content to sit around and watch other people shoot at each other, war breaks out between Peru and Ecuador over a long-standing territorial dispute on the 5th. This short war is notable as the first time paratroopers are deployed in the Southern Hemisphere. The border between Peru and Ecuador remains disputed until 1998.

Trailing five to three in the bottom of the ninth inning, the American League defeats the National League on a three-run walk-off home run by Ted Williams to win baseball's All-Star Game on the 8th.

Joe DiMaggio's hit streak ends on July 17th.

Tom & Jerry make their second appearance on the 19th, appearing in the short "The Midnight Snack". The pair were never intended to be recurring characters, but the popularity of their first cartoon spawned The Midnight Snack and subsequent episodes.

The Republic of Užice is founded by the Partisan resistance movement in Serbia on the 28th. The republic would be short-lived, conquered by the Germans in December.

August

Rabindranath Tagore (aka Gurudev), Asia’s first Nobel laureate (winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature), dies on the 7th in the Jorasanko neighborhood of Kolkata.

Two-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells is born on the 22nd. Country singer Kenny Rogers follows two days later.

Operation Countenance, a Soviet and British invasion of Iran, begins on the 25th. The goal of the operation is to secure oil fields to provide fuel for the Soviets.

September

Zyklon B is first used in Auschwitz on September 3rd, as 600 Soviet POWs and 250 ill Polish prisoners are gassed.

Operation Countenance concludes as British and Soviet forces reach Tehran on the 17th and force the abdication of Shah Reza Shah Pahlavi. His son is placed in power by the Allies.

The Babi Yar massacre begins on the 29th. Over two days, 33,771 Jewish civilians are shot by German SS troops and local supporters and thrown into a ravine. It is the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust.

Ted Williams, batting .3995 with two games remaining in the season, goes 6-for-8 in a doubleheader on the 26th against the Philadelphia Athletics to finish the season at .406. No hitter since has finished a season above .400. On the same day, the first Superman cartoon is released in which Superman flies. Previously able only to leap tall buildings in a single bound, animators find this difficult to draw, so they give him the power of flight.

October

The Brooklyn Dodgers, manager by Leo Durocher and led by MVP Dolph Camilli, play in their first World Series since 1920, but lose 4 games to 1 to the Dimaggio-led New York Yankees.

Chubby Checker, popularizer of The Twist, is born Ernest Evans on Oct 3rd in Spring Gulley, South Carolina. Singer-songwriter Paul Simon is born one week later in Newark, New Jersey.

"The Maltese Falcon", starring Humphrey Bogart, opens on the 18th. The film, which effectively launches the film noir genre, is well-received by the both critics and the public, receiving a Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

New Zealand’s first mass murderer Stanley Graham dies of gunshot wounds inflicted by police on the 21st. Graham had become increasingly belligerent over a period of months, and when police arrived on the 8th to collect his rifles for the war effort as mandated by law, he opened fire. After a thirteen day manhunt, Graham was shot while walking out of the bush.

Walt Disney releases its fourth animated feature film, "Dumbo", on the 23rd. The sixty-four minute film, about a giant-eared elephant that flies, is Disney’s most successful film of the 1940s, despite having its run cut short by World War II.

9,200 Lithuanian Jews, over 4,000 of the children, are murdered by the SS in the Kaunas Ghetto on the 29th.

Mount Rushmore is completed on the 31st. Ansel Adams photographs the moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico on that same date.

November

Aquaman makes his debut in More Fun Comics issue number 73.

Art Garfunkel is born on the 5th.

Manuel Luis Quezon is re-elected President of the Philippines in a landslide on the 11th.

Commonwealth forces launch Operation Crusader, regaining control of Tobruk. The operation would continue until the end of the year. On the 27th, the final Italian resistance in East Africa surrenders to the British.

December

The Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons play their first game in the National Basketball League. Competing against teams like the Akron Goodyear Wingfoots and the Toledo Jim White Chevrolets, the Pistons lose in the finals to the Oshkosh All-Stars, but become the only NBL team from 1941 to survive to the present day, as the NBA's Detroit Pistons.

Judge John C. Childs is named governor of the State of Jefferson, as three counties declare independence from California and Oregon on the 4th. The secessionist movement would be short-lived, however, by events of the next few days.

The Empire of Japan attacks Pearl Harbor early in the morning on the 7th in a surprise military strike designed to destroy the Pacific Fleet of the United States. A short while later, the Japanese declare war on the United States and Britain. In addition to Pearl Harbor, the Japanese also launch simultaneous attacks on Wake Island the Phillipines.

The United States enters World War II after a 388-1 vote in the House of Representatives. Montana Republican Jeannette Rankin casts the sole nay vote.

The Chicago Bears, led by QB Sid Luckman, win their fourth NFL Championship on the 21st, a 37-9 victory over the New York Giants.

The Battle of Wake Island ends on the 23rd with the surrender of American forces to the Japanese.

 

1940

1942

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