Review: 1941: Hellcats Over Hollywood (1979)

Composer: John Williams

Label: Varese Sarabande

Catalogue Nr.: 65832 2 9 


Everybody has dreams that he follows and some of us are doing unbelievably stupid things to make these dreams come true. Successful Hollywood directors like Steven Spielberg are no exception. One thing that Spielberg always dreamed of was to create a musical and he tried to execute that on several of his films. 1941: Hellcats Over Hollywood came right after his classic science fiction epic Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) and was originally envisioned by Spielberg as a musical to make his dream come true. Unfortunately, it did not work out as planned and instead of a musical we now have one of the silliest movies ever which was a huge failure on almost every level and stands as the director's worst movie to date. It is not even funny at all which is probably the biggest insult to a film advertised as "a comedy spectacular".

The score:

Despite the gigantic failure of the film, there is always an important 'special feature' which all Spielberg films have in common... which never fails to be successful and that is John Williams' music. A Spielberg film can be the biggest crapfest ever (very much like 1941) but you can be sure that John Williams will score it professionally with the highest possible enthusiasm and make it a classic (at least musically speaking). While the score for 1941 is certainly not a classic, Williams still cranked out another good work which is arguably his craziest work ever. He perfectly translated the madness on the screen into his mickey-mousing and over the top music. Unfortunately, his score for 1941 has long been the 'bastard child' in Williams' filmography mostly due to the poor movie it accompanies. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for this score.

The CD opens with the catchy "March from 1941" which is a genius composition and yet completely crazy and over the top which made it Spielberg's favourite march by Williams. The tune is overly patriotic with a slightly 'swinging' touch. The other cues of the CD consists of various pieces from the score edited into lengthier cues or album arrangements as it is the case with many OST albums of Williams' music. "The Invasion" starts with the prologue music which is basically a suspenseful variation of the main theme from the march before it goes into the music that is heard when the Japanese submarine appears. The film version of this cue is different because it incorporates Williams' theme from Jaws (1975) which gives the scene its necessary spoof character. When the sub appears, a three note fanfare is played which is a direct spoof of the Japanese motif from another Williams score for a war movie called Midway (1976). The last third of this lengthy 8-minute cue contains a full-blown performance of the march as the introduction of John Belushi's crazy character.

"The Sentries" starts with some sneaky music for low clarinet and goes into frenetic music for strings and sudden brass outbursts during its second half with a statement of a love theme at the end. It sounds like a hint to Williams' excellent flying theme from E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) which would follow three years later. "Riot At The U.S.O." is a fun cue which makes excellent use of the irish drinking song "The Rakes of Mellow" with Williams' trademark orchestration. "To Hollywood and Glory" is merging the march and the love theme together into one absolutely crazy and over the top piece of music. A gentle variation on the love theme starts "The Battle of Hollywood" before another statement of "The Rakes of Mellow" brings back the frenetic action music. The second half of the cue brings back memories of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), especially of "Lightshow" which carries some comparable twists and turns.

Carousel music based on can be heard in "The Ferris Wheel Sequence" with a short statement of the Japanese motif at the end. "The Finale" represents the full-blown end credits version of the march and is literally closing the score with a bang and some words from Belushi's Wild 'Bill' Kelso. One thing that really bothers me about this release is the inclusion of cannons. That seems to be a homage to Tchaikowsky but they don't really add to the music.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg



Score as heard in the film: 76%

Score as heard on CD: 80%

TOTAL: 78%


The presentation:

Varese Sarabande re-issued the OST CD of 1941 which is still widely available. If you remove the instrumental adaption of  "Sing, Sing, Sing" then the original score material comes close to 34 minutes which is a little bit short but probably more than enough for many people. A big minus is the inclusion of cannon sounds throughout the score. The collector's edition DVD of the movie contains the complete isolated score as a special feature and a complete promo of the score is floating around as well... without cannons!

Presentation by the Label: 40%



Forget Home Alone... forget The Witches of Eastwick... 1941: Hellcats over Hollywood is a completely insane fun of a score which does not take itself too serious and it is probably the craziest comedy music ever composed by John Williams. Yes, it's the kind of score that the composer simply is not doing anymore. It may not be as deep or involving as his other comedy scores but a nice listen if you need some orchestral madness spiced with some 70's Williams orchestration and a nice march. Truly a unique little gem in Williams' body of work.



1.  The March From 1941 (04:09)
2.  The Invasion (08:18)
3.  The Sentries (03:29)
4.  Riot At The U.S.O. (01:18)
5.  To Hollywood And Glory (03:12)
6.  Swing, Swing, Swing (04:04)
7.  The Battle Of Hollywood (05:38)
8.  The Ferris Wheel Sequence (01:29)
9.  The Finale (06:13)