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Direct out of jail, Jake Blues and his Brother Elwood are off on a “mission from God” to raise funds for the orphanage in which they grew up. The only thing they can do is do what they do best: play music. So they get their old band together and they're on their way yet not without getting in a bit of trouble here and there.

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The Blues Brothers movie full length review - Genius Loves Company

This movie merits classic status because it showcases five giants of American popular music -- Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin.

But by 1980, America's musical taste had been so pasteurized by disco and country (Bee Gees vs. Kenny Rogers) that these blues and R&B legends might have been relegated to a PBS documentary if it weren't for the admirable efforts of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi to present their brilliance to a wider audience. To do that, however, they had to stitch together a knockabout comedy with a threadbare plot and loads of car chases which stops every 15 minutes or so for an awesome musical number. If that makes "The Blues Brothers" sound like an extended, excessive, extremely expensive episode of late-70s "Saturday Night Live," well, surprise, surprise, that's exactly what it is. But between the sketchy schtick and the fantastic musical guests, "The Blues Brothers" is as loaded with entertainment value as a stuffed Chicago pizza is with calories, and both are equally satisfying.

The plot, so to speak, centers on "Joliet" Jake (John Belushi) & Elwood Blues' (Dan Aykroyd) attempts to raise $5,000 for back taxes on the orphanage where they were raised. (Warning: the orphanage is run by the Catholic church. If you stop to wonder why a religious institution has to pay property taxes, you're really not going to get into the spirit of this thing.) They reassemble their old band, which fell apart after Jake went to prison, and embark on a lunatic journey across the greater Chicago area, destroying malls, alienating law enforcement and enraging Nazis along the way. You're distracted from the improbable storyline by director John Landis' gift for piling overkill on top of overkill, which in this movie even includes firebombs, machine gun fire and other pyrotechnics, most of it launched by a mysteriously enraged Carrie Fisher, who sleepwalks through this cameo like she's prescription-drugged into near catatonia (which she probably was). The comedy is broad but funny, and the Blues Brothers' numbers featuring Aykroyd and Belushi are surprisingly gritty considering the routine was always more about attitude that authenticity. But what elevates "The Blues Brothers" above the level of a well-made dumb comedy is its guest stars.

Big kudos to scriptwriters Aykroyd & Landis for naming Jake & Elwood's backing ensemble the "Blues Brothers Rhythm & Blues Band," a subtle acknowledgment that the Jake & Elwood characters always parodied more R&B (or, in the case of their "Gimme Some Lovin'" cover, phony R&B) than actual blues. They pay an even greater homage to bona fide electric Chicago blues with a scene featuring John Lee Hooker, performing his classic "Boom Boom," that has absolutely no connection to the rest of the movie (but is, nonetheless, excellent). As for the rest of the musical guests, none of them are famous for blues -- Cab Calloway was a jazz singer, and Ray Charles invented the kind of gritty soul which James Brown and Aretha Franklin perfected. But if you're the kind of purist who lets these kind of distinctions ruin your fun, you should probably skip this movie and go hang out at Buddy Guy's Legends. The rest of us can enjoy Calloway as the Blues Brothers' mentor, Brown as a charismatic preacher, Charles as a blind, gun-toting music store owner and Franklin as a soul food restaurateur. As actors, Cab and Aretha do pretty well, Ray is commendable and the filmmakers were wise enough not to give JB any dialogue (his control-freak tendencies might have prompted him to rewrite the entire movie). But that's all just a bonus, since their musical numbers are the great highlights of "The Blues Brothers," beautifully sung and enlivened by choreography that manages to look both polished and spontaneous. Aretha's version of "Think" is especially moving, since she's trying to convince her no-good husband, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, to stay on the straight and narrow and not take off with the Blues Brothers on their ridiculous adventure. She looks good, moves well and sounds just fine, even if she doesn't quite reach the high notes she hits in the recorded version. (But I'm going to assume that was her choice -- watch the credits and listen to what Aretha does with her throwaway line in the "Jailhouse Rock" number. Damn.) ReRe was in a career slump at the time and "The Blues Brothers" primed her for a return to superstardom. Nice work, Aykroyd & Belush.

By the way . . . skip "Blues Brothers 2000." It's pretty lame.