A good car chase is a staple of any decent action movie. Those classic cheek-clenching, noisy, high-octane cat and mouse battles between, usually, the guys for which we’re rooting and the fuzz. Now, we would say that around 99.9997% of such chases occur on the road because, well, that’s where cars belong. However, one unforgettable gem of a movie bucked this trend and decided to take the chase indoors - and where better to let the V8’s rip than through a packed Shopping Mall? Oh, and in said gem, we also get to see Carrie Fisher blow stuff up with a bazooka. So there’s that.
From the late seventies to the mid nineties, American TV show ‘Saturday Night Live’ was a mill which produced some of the greatest characters to hit the small screens, many of whom have subsequently entered the collective cultural consciousness. And of those characters, some have even made it into the cinema - the likes of Wayne and Garth, the Coneheads and Steve and Doug Butabi all have their own hilarious feature films. However, none of these classic SNL characters come close to the mighty ‘Joliet’ Jake and Elwood Blues, otherwise known as the Blues Brothers.
The Blues Brothers first appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1978 as the musical guest, where Jake and Elwood would support some of the biggest blues, R&B and soul artists around in a single performance. The characters were an instant success, with the pair even releasing an album in the same year they first hit screens. In 1980, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) Blues made the transition to the big screen in hit film ‘The Blues Brothers’. Written by Aykroyd and John Landis (Beverly Hills Cop, Animal House, Coming to America), the film was full of comedy, action and, most importantly, incredible soul and blues music (plus a touch of country!).
The story begins with Jake getting out of prison and being met by his brother at the gates. Upon revisiting the old Catholic orphanage (in which they were raised) for moral guidance, they discover that the orphanage is in financial trouble. Their mission (from Gudd) becomes clear: reform ‘the band’, put on a show and raise the money the orphanage so desperately needs to prevent closure. Unfortunately, there are a number of people wanting to see the Blues Brothers fail: the police, Illinois neo-nazis, a country western band they screwed over and an insane, heavily armed mystery hair-dresser to name but a few all want their pound of flesh.
After tracking the various band members down, and having procured instruments from Ray’s music store (the owner of which is played by none other than Ray Charles), they can finally start gigging to raise cash. In the mean time, the hundreds of traffic fines and moving violations the duo have procured have finally caught up on the pair and the police track them down in their ‘Bluesmobile’ - a decommissioned 1974 Dodge Monaco police car bought by Elgar while Jake was incarcerated. The police get sight of souped up American classic driving down the road and the police begin their pursuit after Elwood fails to stop.
The chase starts out innocuously enough, with the police hunting Jake and Elwood around the streets of Chicago, Illinois. It doesn’t even seem out of place when they all of a sudden end up driving around a busy Mall parking lot. However, as the Mall become ever closer, we begin to think ‘they’re not going IN, are they?’. All the while, the brothers are squabbling about who got them stuck in their current predicament. Eventually Elwood has enough after Jake reiterates for the tenth time that they need to get out of the parking lot, so he decides on a route which takes him right through a wall and straight into the Shopping Mall’s ‘Toys R Us’ store.
The brothers and the police tear through the Shopping Mall, causing shoppers to dive out of the way and smashing every storefront and Mall kiosk in sight. Not an inch of the Centre is spared, and by the end of the chase, Jake and Elwood have vanished and police vehicles are left strewn across the demolished Shopping Centre, some of them on their roof. One of the best bits of the scene is how Jake and Elwood continue a casual conversation while ripping up the Mall, noticing how you can find anything you need at the Mall and spotting various store sales.
It would be easy to think that the Mall is a constructed set on some lot in Hollywood given the degree to which they wreck it and the fact that it seems to have been built to accommodate a car chase, but the Mall is (or was) very much a real Shopping Centre, albeit a derelict Mall which had been sitting empty for two years before Jake and Elwood even got there.
The car chase was filmed in the Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois. The Mall was opened in 1966 on the site of an old golf course and closed twelve short years later. This is due to the fact that Harvey itself, a small town just outside of Chicago, became run-down and crime was beginning to spike dramatically, keeping people away from the Mall. It shut its doors in 1978, opening only one last time as a Mall in January 1979 in a liquidation sale event which was dubbed ‘Dixie’s last gasp’, and then stood empty for over 32 years - making it the perfect shooting location for the Blues Brothers. Various attempts were made to repurpose or refurbish the Mall, it was even a temporary school for a brief period, but after any long-term prospects fell through, the whole thing was sadly razed in February, 2012. It remains a huge hole in the ground to this day.
The owners of the Dixie Square Mall handed it over to the Harvey Dixmoor School District and the people of Harvey, who used it as a school while a more permanent building was being constructed for students. After two years of being used as a school, Harvey Dixmoor no longer required the Mall and allowed director John Landis and his crew to film the car chase inside the Mall. All of the storefronts were changed because none of the Mall stores gave permission for their brands to be used in the film, so all fronts had to be changed to fictional names - all but the J.C. Penney anchor department store, which was changed into a Toys R Us with permission, hence the reason why it is the only brand you’ll recognise in the scene.
Unfortunately, the crew of The Blues Brothers were less than delicate with the Shopping Mall - a place which we believe should be revered - and left it in an awful state. Debris was left strewn across the giant, single-level Centre and the hole they created when they drove the Bluesmobile into the Mall was not even patched up, allowing all sorts of miscreants and vandals into Dixie Square, who soon went to work on the already sad Centre. The Harvey Dixmoor School District was not at all pleased, and even tried to sue Universal, the company which distributed the film, for nearly $100,000.
Unlike the Mall, the film was a huge success - a lot of buzz came from the fact that John Belushi was at the height of his tragically short comedic career, having just released the classic ‘Animal House’. The film quadrupled its budget at the box office, after a brief scare where opening figures were not that great, and it continues to sell in great numbers for home viewing. Like so many other films featuring Shopping Malls, today the Blues Brothers remains an absolute cult classic, and was the crowning glory in the career of both Aykroyd (OK, maybe Ghostbusters just pips it. Aykroyd even utters the famous words 'who you gonna call' in the Blues Brothers!) and Belushi - Belushi in particular as he died of a drug overdose in the prime of his career; sadly an event many people foresaw from his over-indulgent lifestyle.
The Dixie Square Mall during its heyday in the late sixties
The Blues Brothers is just a great film. It is utterly hilarious and jammed so full of legendary music and artists such as James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and John Lee Hooker. With the likes of Carrie Fisher and John Candy backing the leading pair up, it was always going to be a great movie. Even Peewee Herman turns up - look out for him! Belushi and Aykroyd themselves are just the perfect mix of cool, bad, good-hearted and dopey - their chemistry is undeniable as they strut their stuff, all cool suits and shades, across the celluloid. If you haven’t seen it yet, we highly recommend it - the incredibly choreographed car chase through the Mall is worth it alone. This don't look like no expressway to me!
All images: Universal Pictures
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