L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, has praised—wait for it--“The Blues Brothers,” the 1980 comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd as a classic Catholic film.
As moviegoers of a certain age will remember, the film focuses on Jake and Elwood Blues, two blues musicians “on a mission from God” to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised from financial ruin. Gian Maria Van, the paper’s chief editor, in a front-page story on Wednesday, noted that the film’s “Catholic and spiritual heft were not lacking,” and found the film “rich with ideas.” He also pointed to a photo of the young Pope John Paul II hanging on a wall in one scene from the movie as evidence of its Catholic underpinnings. After the duo has decided to help Sister Mary Stigmata’s orphanage, the brothers let nothing get in the way of their salvation of the orphanage. This too earned L’Osservatore’s praise. “For them, this Catholic institution is their only family--and they decide to save it at any cost.” “The Blues Brothers” is therefore, “a memorable film and, judging by the facts, a Catholic one.”
All I can say is: Really? Really?
As The New York Post pointed out, this effectively reverses the original review of the Office for Film and Broadcasting at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (then the National Conference of Catholic Bishops), who reviewed it thusly:
The plot is interspersed with scenes of wholesale destruction and frenzied chases which are spectacularly unfunny and uninvolving….Some good musical portions from Cab Calloway and Ray Charles, but not enough depth from director John Landis to save this zany comedy from milking cheap laughs from rough language and crude situations.'
The Bishops Conference dismissed the film with an A-III label, “For Adults Only.”
In probably the most overtly “Catholic” scene in the movie Jake and Elwood meet with “The Penguin,” the sister-in-charge at the orphanage, in a scene liberally sprinkled with obscenities from the boys and, also, liberal beatings from the nun. These days I can easily imagine this scene being seen by some commentators not as a celebration of Catholicism but an indictment of it. L'Ossservatore, however, terms the sister “mean but affectionate in her own way.” Check out the scene above (obscenity alert) and see what you think.
One man’s anti-Catholic screed is another man’s Catholic classic.
James Martin, SJ