Oftentimes, we think of criminals as the stereotypical rough guy. Scars, tattoos, muscles, baldness. Any combination of these attributes would generally result in an image of what we would believe to be a criminal. And yet, just like the diverse world we live in has many types of people, these same people can be criminals. While sometimes people’s upbringing and childhood can set them toward a life of crime, occasionally the crimes of passion will overtake people who would otherwise be very civil. Still, most people do not think of criminals as being musical. However, in a big city like Chicago, a lot of crime can create a lot of criminals, some of which can sing. This week’s two films look at musical criminals.
The Blues Brothers
Length: 133 minutes / 2.21 hours
Life can be hard as an orphan. Aside from perhaps the most famous musical orphan (Oliver!), The Blues Brothers used their upbringing to their advantage, at least in terms of their music. Most of the blues is based in sadness and remorse, which fits in nicely with orphans and criminals alike. Perhaps the lack of parental guidance and love is what leads these orphans so often toward the life of crime. With no understanding of rules, the law will often have to get involved. And yet, (as was the case with Aladdin) sometimes crime is resorted to by orphans in order to survive the harsh conditions that life has handed them. Needless to say, music is a window into the soul, so when the soul of a criminal cries out, the easiest way to emote would be to do so through song. Just think how well the inmates at Folsom Prison reacted to a Johnny Cash concert.
Our story begins with Jake “Joliet” Blues (Jim Belushi) getting out of prison after serving a three-year sentence based off of a charge of armed robbery. After re-visiting the orphanage where he grew up with his brother, Ellwood (Dan Aykroyd), they decide that their mission from God is to save the orphanage from being foreclosed. Of course, when they go out to rebuild their band to raise the money, they lead some state troopers on a high-speed chase through a shopping mall, make some country music fans angry, and get on the bad side of the Illinois Nazi party. Even though their endgame is ultimately one of charity, The Blues Brothers commit many crimes along the way which leads to another high speed chase by police through the midst of downtown Chicago. And yet, once again in prison, Jake and Ellwood can’t help but sing.
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours
Another demographic that is not often thought of as criminal is women. In fact, since women are often seen to be more musical than men, it would stand to reason that if a woman were to become a criminal, she would be a musical one. Of course, the film Chicago is based off of the musical of the same name, so it’s no wonder that there’s a lot of singing in this prison drama. And yet, since most of the crimes committed by the women in this film are crimes of passion, it would make sense that their songs would be full of that same passion that led them to off their lovers. Furthermore, since some of the inmates came from acting backgrounds (or would like to), with nothing but time on their hands in the slammer, they can work on new routines to wow audiences when they are finally released.
Drama on-stage can oftentimes be translated to drama off-stage. When Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) finds her sister and husband in bed together, she kills them despite the fact that they are two-thirds of their act. Meanwhile, Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) is trying to get to Vaudeville through a man she believes has connections there. When she finds out that he’s just been using her, she kills him and tries to pin it on her husband, Amos (John C. Reilly). Now that both women are in prison, they try to get out through the court of appeals before their time runs out and they’re executed for murder. Fortunately, the shrewd lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) tweaks some evidence to help both of them get out of jail by questioning the District Attorney’s integrity. Now out in the real world, both women have to team up if they want to make the big-time again.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 crooning convicts