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The storyline follows the panic that ensues when, in the days after Pearl Harbor, paranoid Californians believe another attack is imminent. It's very loosely based on actual events (which, for one thing, actually occurred in 1942).
Spielberg spared no expense on this film. It has special effects rivaling those of "serious" World War II epics and the cast reads like a who's who list of comedy in the 1970s. All in the service of Slapstick. Unfortunately, it was a critical bomb and received disappointing box office numbers (though it wasn't the complete flop it's usually remembered as), and stands as the one black mark in Spielberg's outstanding career between 1975 and 1982.
Not to be confused with Nineteen Eighty-Four.
- Acme Products: Acme Turpentine.
- All-Star Cast: Featuring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Slim Pickens, and even Christopher Lee as the Nazi officer and Toshiro Mifune as the Japanese officer!
- Bar Brawl: An epic one ensues right after the Jitterbug tournament.
- The Cameo: John Landis plays the dust-covered soldier who delivers a message to Stilwell
- Combat Pragmatist
Wally Stephens: I know I can't beat you in a fair fight.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The opening scene where a skinnydipping woman finds herself clutching the upthrusting periscope of a surfacing Japanese submarine (also serves as a hilarious Jaws take-off — it's even the same actress who was in the corresponding scene).
Lucky Japanese Lookout: Horrywood! Horrywood!.
- Doing It for the Art: An actual, functioning, replica of an M3 Lee medium tank was built for filming. Part of the reason the movie went over budget.
- Drives Like Crazy: The aerial variant, namely the dogfight between Donna Stratton and Wild Bill Kelso in the streets of L.A. That is, just simply Wild Bill Kelso.
- Eat the Evidence: Hollis P. Wood eats his toy compass when he sees the Japs are interested in it. So they force-feed him prune juice to make him give it up again. Or down.
- Epic Movie: A rare comedy that can qualify as this.
- Ferris Wheel of Doom
- Firing in the Air a Lot: Well, Maddox wants to hear Wild Bill Kelso's machine guns. So he fires them while still on ground. Maddox' troops follow suit when Kelso takes off.
- General Ripper: Colonel 'Mad Man' Maddox.
- Golden Age of Hollywood
- Historical In-Joke
- We learn how the "HOLLYWOODLAND" sign really lost the last four letters.
- Also the Japanese sailor trying to fit an enormous radio down the submarine hatch.
"We've got to figure out how to make these things smaller!"
- Robert Stack plays the actual commander of the U.S. coastal defense so accurately that pictures of Stack in costume have been mistaken for ones of the real Stilwell.
- It's a Long Story: Averted by General Stillwell.
"Is this a long story?"
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Mile-High Club: Ice Queen Donna Stratton turns into a raging nymphomaniac whenever she gets into the air. Knowing this, Handsome Lech Captain Loomis Birkhead is willing to risk death (he flunked flying school) to get her up in an aircraft. Just as he's finally mastered the plane (and her) they're interrupted in the act by a machine-gunning John Belushi who thinks they're Japanese.
- Night Swim Equals Death: Parodied. Apparently night swims lead to Japanese submarines.
- Only Sane Man: General Stilwell, incidentally a real person, played by Robert Stack in the film.
- Panty Shot: The Jitterbug tournament alone has quite a number, but the girl in yellow underwear (and yellow is considered bad in post-Pearl Harbor America) takes the cake.
- Roofless Renovation
- Rousing Speech: Sergeant Tree's (Dan Aykroyd) Crowning Moment of Awesome.
Sergeant Tree: Do you want to see Mickey Mouse blitzkrieging across Poland?
- Shout-Out: Opening scene Spielberg pays homage to Jaws.
- Tanks, But No Tanks: Averted when they built an accurate full-scale replica of an M3 tank which reportedly caused yet another budget overrun.
- Trash the Set: Just imagine this trope applied to the whole of Los Angeles.
- Vehicle Vanish: Got the usual 1941 treatment. Why have one if you can also have a whole string of Vehicle Vanishes, partly even seen from behind?
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Battle of Los Angeles
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Hollis Wood is apparently just left to drown in the middle of the ocean after his heroic escape from the sub.
- Who's on First?:
Cmdr. Mitamura: Where's Hollywood?
- World of Ham: And even then, John Belushi's eccentric, overly patriotic Air Force pilot is a standout. Tellingly, each of the primary and supporting characters is represented in the end credits with a clip of them as their actor's name comes up — and in most of the clips, they are screaming.