I’m totally cool with any fan of The Blues Brothers, so if Osservatore Romano wants to claim it as a “Catholic classic,” who am I to cavil?
No question, Elrod’s and Jake’s encounter with the Penguin (Sr. Mary Stigmata) is one of the great scenes of Hollywood Catholicism. The premise–how to save the orphanage–is an homage to the The Bells of Saint Mary’s. (And the scene with Curtis (Cab Calloway) in the basement is an homage to the basement scene in Elmer Gantry, where Burt Lancaster gets a meal from a black pastor.)
That said, it’s not the spiritually dessicated, guilt-based Catholicism but the ecstatic black church that provides the movie’s spiritual oomph:
Curtis: Well, the Sister was right. You boys could use a little
churching up. Slide on down to the Triple Rock, and catch Rev. Cleophus.
You boys listen to what he’s got to say!
Jake: Curtis, I don’t want to listen to no jive-ass preacher talking
to me about Heaven and Hell!
Curtis: Jake, you get wise! You get to church!
Rev. Cleophus is, of course, James Brown, and what follows is the all-time send-up of movieland African-American worship. Jake does see the light–“The Band…The Band.” He’ll save the orphanage by reconstituting their blues band.
If The Blues Brothers is a Catholic classic, it’s by way of celebrating an ethno-religious urban culture peculiar to mid-20th-century Chicago, in which white Catholic immigrants from Europe met black Protestant immigrants from Mississippi. In no other city in America is it possible to imagine a couple of white kids raised in a Catholic orphanage becoming enchanted with the blues the African Americans brought north, and sallying forth to save the orphanage by playing it themselves.