The Blues Brothers | 1980
The Blues Brothers was filmed, of course, around Chicago – but there’s also a glimpse of Los Angeles – as director John Landis deploys his usual breathtaking knack of persuading the authorities to allow him to stage major set pieces in busy public places.
It’s hard to remember that this enormously overblown and expensive slapstick chase movie started out a box office disappointment, before the terrific soundtrack, the great array of soul stars on display and John Belushi’s charisma bumped it up to major cult status.
Jake (Belushi) is released from the Joliet Correctional Center in Joliet on Highway 53, itself south of Chicago. The prison is also featured in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, Stir Of Echoes and Derailed and, more recently, Michael Mann's Public Enemies – as well as TV’s Prison Break.
Opened in 1925 to hold 1,500 inmates, two of Stateville’s housing units (one of which is the longest cell house in the world) are now historical sites. It was the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham who came up with the design of the panopticon cell house, known as the round house, which is claimed to be one of the only remaining circular-style cell houses still in use in the US.
The new Bluesmobile – picked up by Elwood at a Mount Prospect City police auction – demonstrates its prowess by leaping across the East 95th Street Bridge over the Calumet River at Calumet Harbor, south Chicago, down near the Indiana border.
Heading into the city of Chicago itself, the Brothers reluctantly keep a promise to visit the Penguin (Kathleen Freeman) at the ‘Saint Helen of the Blessed Shroud’ orphanage. But it’s not in ‘Calumet City’. The Penguin’s rather rundown facility was a simply frontage built on West 18th Street at South Normal Avenue, southwest of the city (CTA: Halsted Station; Orange Line) – although it’s obviously no longer there, the warehouse buildings remain unchanged.
‘Triple Rock Baptist Church’, to which the boys are sent, is the Pilgrim Baptist Church, 9114 South Burley Avenue at East 91st Street, to the south of the city (Metra: 93rd Street (South Chicago) Station). The interior, where Jake sees the light as the Rev Cleophus James (James Brown) pumps out The Old Landmark, was – you'll not be surprised to hear – recreated on a soundstage at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.
Off to reform the Blues Brothers band, Jake and Elwood are pulled over by the cops on West Talcott Road at South Cumberland Avenue (near the Nelson Funeral Home, 820 Talcott Road – which is still in business) in South Park (no, seriously), south of Park Ridge, northwest of Chicago (Metra: Edison Park or Park Ridge; from Chicago Ogilvie Transportation Center).
The ensuing car chase finds the brothers cornered in a shopping mall car park. No problem. The mall was the Dixie Mall in Harvey, a suburb of south Chicago over the Little Calumet River. Opened in 1966, it was already closed by the time of filming. Stores were redecorated and brought back to life, only to be completely trashed. It subsequently stood derelict for many years, being scheduled for demolition in 2005. It hung on for several more years but finally disappeared for good in 2012.
The Brothers’ digs in the city , ‘Hotel For Men Only. Transients Welcome’, no longer exists. It wasn’t blown up by Carrie Fisher (that was a large photograph of the building pasted on to flyaway polystyrene blocks), but nevertheless it has since been demolished. It stood at 22 West Van Buren Street, between South Dearborn and South State Streets. It’s now a grassy plot beneath the el – though the revamped entrance to Library station has obscured the view somewhat.
The picturesque boarding house of Mrs Tarantino (now there was a prescient name), where Jake and Elwood look up ex-band members, is 1623 51st Court, between West 16th and West 18th Streets in Cicero, to the west of town (Metra: Cicero; Chicago Union Station).
Mrs Tarantino tips the brothers off to Murph and the Magic Tones, who are playing the Holiday Inn, which is now the Quality Inn O’Hare Airport, 3801 North Mannheim Road at Waveland Avenue in Schiller Park, just south of O'Hare Airport (there’s a shuttle bus to the airport). Try to contain your disappointment – there’s no music lounge.
Chez Paul, the snooty restaurant where horn player Mr Fabulous is maitre d’, closed down several years ago, but you can still see the exterior on the Near North’s lively Rush Street, 660 North Rush Street at East Erie Street (CTA: Grand Station; Red Line). That’s a young Paul Pee-Wee Herman Reubens in a bit part as a camp waiter.
Meanwhile, the Nazis are rallying in Jackson Park, on the Lake Michigan shore, south of the city. The bridge, from which the dorkishly ineffectual Stormtroopers are dumped into the East Lagoon, is off Columbia Drive, alongside the harbor just south of the Museum of Science and Industry (Metra: 55th-56th-57th Streets Station; Chicago Millennium Station).
The 'Soul Food Restaurant', with Aretha Franklin as waitress and John Lee Hooker playing outside, where Matt Murphy and Lou Marini are recruited, was Nate's Deli, originally Lyon's Deli, 807 West Maxwell Street, centre of the bustling Maxwell Street flea market at the junction with South Halstead Street, just southeast of the University of Illinois campus. Maxwell Street has since been totally redeveloped.
You can, however, still see ‘Ray’s Music Store’, where the band buys equipment from Ray Charles. Still not ‘Calumet City’ as claimed, though. It’s Shelly’s Loan Company, 300 East 47th Street at South Prairie Avenue (CTA: 47th Street Station; Green Line). Dance in the street or jive on the station’s elevated platform over 47th Street. The music stars mural still exists, on the Prairie Avenue face of the store.
The band of none-too-bright Nazis turns up at the brothers’ official address, 1060 West Addison Street – which just happens to be the home of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field. How could there be a Chicago movie without this landmark – also seen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, About Last Night and – masquerading as ‘Harvey Field’ – A League Of Their Own.
Don't go looking for a good ol’ night out at ‘Bob’s Country Bunker’ – that was a set on the Universal lot (also on the lot is the lake into which the Good Ole Boys finally plunge).
The Bluesmobile, with the giant horn roped to its roof to publicise the Brothers' first official gig, is driven south along North Main Street, Wauconda, about 25 miles northwest of Chicago on Route 12, past what is now Slyce Pizza Company at Slocum Lake Road.
It turns off the main road to trundle between revellers on the sandy western shore of Bangs Lake. Phil’s Beach, 336 North Main Street, with its water slide, remains pretty much as it’s seen in the film (though it’s no longer open to the public), but rival Sunny Hill Beach alongside, which is also seen, has been redeveloped as housing on Honey Hill Drive.
The empty gas station, at which Jake and Elwood are stuck waiting for a delivery, Gary’s Mill, 28W725 Gary’s Mill Road, off Roosevelt Road between West Chicago and Winfield. Nearby is the motel outside which Twiggy is left waiting, which is the West Wind Motel, 28W721 Roosevelt Road. If you’re thinking of visiting, you should know that West Chicago is not simply a western suburb. It’s way west, on the Union Pacific West Line (Metra: West Chicago; from Chicago Ogilvie Transportation Center).
The ‘Palace Hotel Ballroom’, “up north on Lake Wazzapamani,” where the Blues Brothers get their first major gig, is neither “up north”, nor “106 miles from Chicago”. it was the South Shore Country Club, now the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 South Shore Drive at East 71st Street alongside South Shore Station. The 1916 Mediterranean-style building, on the coast toward Calumet Harbor, was recently renovated (Metra: South Shore; from Chicago Millennium Park Station).
You can see the Center’s interior as the charm school in Penny Marshall’s A League Of Their Own. You’ll notice it looks nothing like the ‘Palace Hotel Ballroom’. That’s because the interior was filmed back in Hollywood.
The ‘Ballroom’ itself is the Hollywood Palladium, 6215 Sunset Boulevard, at El Centro Avenue, seen also in the cheeky Star Trek spoof Galaxy Quest, Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby and John Schlesinger's Day Of The Locust.
The climactic chase through central Chicago, under the ‘el’, ends up at the prestigious Richard J Daley Center building (named for Mayor Daley, who died in office in 1976). The building stands on Daley Plaza, the block bounded by Randolph, Dearborn and Clark Streets and Washington Boulevard. In the centre of the Plaza, 50 feet tall and weighing over 160 tons, the strange mask-like structure is the cor-ten steel Picasso Sculpture, commissioned in the early Sixties and given to the city by Pablo Picasso in 1967.
On the open plaza south of the Center on Washington Boulevard is the Chicago Picasso Sculpture, the cubist head Jake and Elwood use for a landmark. 50 feet tall and weighing over 160 tons, the mask-like structure was commissioned in the early Sixties and given to the city by Pablo Picasso in 1967.
Amazingly, John Landis not only lands a ’copter in the Plaza, but got permission for the Bluesmobile to crash through the Daley Center windows. The Center recently achieved big-screen fame again as the HQ of ‘Wayne Enterprises’ in The Dark Knight.
The brothers’ ultimate destination, City Hall-County Building, is west of the Daley Center across Clark Street. It’s outside the Clark Street entrance that the Bluesmobile finally gives up the ghost and dies, while the brothers barricade themselves in as the National Guard abseil down the side of the building.
The ‘Cook County’ clerk, who receives their payment, is that other expert in vast and expensive behemoths, Steven Spielberg. City Hall ends up the focus of unwanted attention again in Transformers: Age Of Extinction.
• Many thanks to Darin Kronner for updates to this section.