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Reunion at the American Cinematheque March 22, 2015
Savant Article

By Glenn Erickson

This first appeared as a column on the DVD Savant website, March 24, 2015


It's time for my promised full report on the gala 're-premiere' of the extended, tweaked, re-mixed version of Steven Spielberg's 1941, last Sunday at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd. Organizer Mike Matessino promoted the screening as a culmination of his five-year effort reconstituting the film's music tracks for a soundtrack CD, and reconstructing the film's preview cut with all the music cues back in the correct scenes. The impressive event sold out quite a bit before show time. Gary Teetzel brought his camera to help me figure out how best to cover the event. We found quite a crowd gathering at the door, where commemorative posters were being sold. Little dog tag-like pendants got us into the VIP section, where, as usual, the real VIPs were vipping merrily away in a small group. Not the best place to seek out handshakes or photos or 'remember me?'s. Then I ran into my old boss, effects miniatures specialst Greg Jein  (above)  and had a good talk.

Gary had overheard that actress Dianne Kay  (right)  was on her way in, and suddenly there she was. She responded to my greeting like a delighted old friend, giving me a chance to renew introductions. Just a complete doll, as ever. We had talked back in 1979 for maybe ten minutes total, if that much; and then again at a laserdisc signing in 1995, but it felt like meeting a member of the family. Unless she wondered who that guy always hanging around the set was, it would be impossible for her to remember me... but who knows. Maybe because of the making-of book?

Steven Spielberg, Sally Dennison sell John Belushi on Wild Bill Kelso.
Photo © Copyright Glenn Erickson

Matessino preceded the show with a half-hour prologue consisting of a slide show of photos of Hollywood Blvd, and headlines about the fear-generated 'air raid' panic from 1942. Appropriate music played, accompanied by vintage radio recordings of radio announcements from the false air raid. Then came a rare teaser with John Belushi and his P-40 fighter plane, narrated by Dan Aykroyd.

The feature screening was big and loud, and 1941 comes off best big and loud. Every time a big star or favorite player came on screen there was applause. Did Elisha Cook Jr. ever get applause in a screening? He did on Sunday. I have never seen the long version on a screen, which is why the Egyptian was packed with avid fans. When there are just one or two name guests at these things the atmosphere can get weird. Matessino had lined up over a dozen veterans of the production. Most of the guests were on the movie for six months, while Greg Jein's miniatures unit was busy for almost two years.

After the screening Matessino brought all the name celebs up front and the questions started. Most responded with humorous anecdotes. If each guest talked for just ten minutes we'd have been there for two additional hours. As it was the entire audience listened in rapt attention for seventy minutes or so. Verbal tributes were given to the late Wendie Jo Sperber, the powerhouse spirit of the movie. Matessino explained that executive producer John Milius couldn't make it. Writer Bob Gale  (left)  contributed several stories about Milius, most involving guns. He also recounted the terrific bit of timing that brought the 1941 screenplay to Milius' attention.

Both of 1941's romantic 'couples' made the screening and panel. Bobby Di Cicco  (above)  flew in for the show (I'm pretty sure), looking very different but sounding much the same. He praised the film's Jitterbug Dancers, two of whom were in attendance. Dianne Kay remembered the dance riot scene, when she was desperately hoping that she'd be able to hit a difficult action cue for Spielberg in one of the Rube Goldberg gags.

Steven Spielberg, Gregory Jein.
Photo © Copyright Glenn Erickson

Nancy Allen  (below)  described what it was like doing a sex scene in a cramped airplane cockpit, with only the drone-like Louma camera crane poking in her face and Spielberg's voice on a microphone saying, "No that looks terrible, do it the other way." Tim Matheson  (below)  recalled that he was forming a crush on Nancy by the second of what must have been a dozen days of make-out scenes. On the third day she came to work and breathlessly told him that Brian De Palma had just proposed to her.

Twice Oscar-nominated Greg Jein explained how his crew got a second take of the giant (twelve foot diameter) Ferris Wheel model rolling down the model pier and into the Pacific, with just a few hours' turnaround time to repair broken lights and re-plank the entire forty-foot pier. The Wheel rolled many times, but I believe off the end only twice, falling into MGM's giant Esther Williams water tank. 'Polar Bear' girl and former shark-bait swimming stunt artiste Susan Backlinie asked why Steven always waited 'til the dead of winter to send her into the water. Leslie Hoffman talked about stunt-doubling for Wendie Jo Sperber, but added that Wendie did all of her own stunt work in the USO dance riot scene. 'Macey Douglas' Jordan (Brian) Cohen said he still can't believe he got out of school for half a year to be in the film. Producer Buzz Feitshans  (below)  recalled John Belushi and some 'rock stars' destroying a motor home dressing room, while Second Assistant Director Chris Soldo provided accurate details about the kind of unpredictable script changes that occurred during filming. Bob Gale chimed in on that, explaining that the fairly thin script had so many day-to-day changes that they ran out of alternate colors for the replacement pages. (They didn't mention that Gale and his partner Bob Zemeckis also eliminated standard margins to cram more words on each page!)

When Spielberg suddenly decided that the Beach House should fall off a cliff, Bob remembers running to his typewriter and hammering out the entire last daytime scene in just one hour. I was there on set when Spielberg received the instant revision. He took two minutes to check it out, gave a big laugh, and it was officially part of the movie. Who knows how much the budget leapt upward?

I'm glad I was able to be there and pleased that Mike Matessino acknowledged everyone in the audience who worked on the movie in lesser capacities. That old book has given me a bigger association with 1941 than logic merits. The night's only disappointment was that Eddie Deezen came to the pre-film mixer but didn't stay for the screening or the panel. He would have enjoyed the hoots and applause for him when his character Herbie made his entrance: "Safety bar? We don't need no safety bar!"

I think I'm a bit burnt out on 1941 for a few weeks ... but I will try a longer review if a screener for the single-disc Blu-ray release shows up in April.

Thanks for reading! --- Glenn Erickson

(reunion photos © Copyright Gary Teetzel)

Ocean Park miniature under construction, MGM Stage 30.
Photo © Copyright Glenn Erickson

1. Don't miss Savant's 1999 behind-the-scenes article 1941 - A Giant Comedy, Only with Guns!

Text and Images © Copyright 2015 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
The version of this review on the Savant main site has additional images, footnotes and credits information, and may be updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.

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