Blog Directory CineVerse: May 2010

Take Pride in your love of movies

Sunday, May 30, 2010

With the Blackhawks demanding the attention of most of the men and sports enthusiasts in our group this Wednesday, it only makes sense to give the ladies what they want--and when it comes to movies, most ladies like a good romance. So that's what we have on tap for June 2, one of the best love stories of all time, Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." This is the highly acclaimed 2005 version starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen and directed by Joe Knight that runs 127 minutes (visit for more details on this film.)

Thanks to all who emailed me suggestions on substitute movies, by the way. In the end, I had to choose one from my own collection to ensure that I had the film in hand by Wednesday.

And just a reminder that "Psycho" has been rescheduled for July 7, the date we'll also officially celebrate our group's 5th anniversary. It's shaping up to be a hot season for CineVerse, so make your plans to join us this summer!


Blast from the podcast past

Friday, May 28, 2010

Two years ago today, our CineVerse group dissected David Lean's early 1960s crown jewel "Lawrence of Arabia."

If you'd to relive this fascinating discussion and hear a recorded podcast of our meeting that night, click here.


A tribute to the puppetmaster

Thursday, May 27, 2010

by Erik J. Martin

If you got a kick out of Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo," I highly recommend another 1980s gem of his, "Radio Days, his brilliant 1987 film homage to radio’s golden age.

In one of the best lines in the movie, Allen says, responding in utter disbelief to his co-star’s praise of a fictional show starring a vaudevillian ventriloquist and his nee-high dummy, “He’s a ventriloquist on radio. How do you know his lips aren’t moving?”

Yet, for millions of Americans, the illusion was real enough to keep Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy at or near the top of the radio ratings over many years, and to keep the program going for two decades.

Bergen got his start--quite literally, in Chicago, where he was born into a Swedish immigrant family in 1903. His parents took him on a visit to their native Sweden when Bergen was only four, and the child quickly learned the language. When his father was struck ill and retired from his job as an architect and dairyman, the family relocated to a quaint dairy farm in Michigan. There, young Edgar got his first job at age 11 working the basement furnace at a local movie theater. He worked his way up the film projector, and it wasn’t long before he was also manning the theater’s player piano.

The movies sparked Bergen’s interest in show business. As a teen, Bergen enjoyed traveling vaudeville shows that would come into town, and fostered a special affinity for ventriloquists. Soon, he began practicing voice throwing and investing in books about magic acts and ventriloquism. The youngster loved to entertain family and friends, and, as he perfected his ventriloquist techniques, had a penchant for playing practical jokes on the unsuspecting.

When Bergen was only 14, his father died, and Mrs. Bergen again picked up the family and returned to Chicago. The boy took odd jobs to help make ends meet, and continued to exercise his ventriloquist skills.

Bergen’s first dummy was a homemade paper mache little boy named Rastus, which he crafted himself. The ambitious adolescent took Rastus with him to entertain fellow students at Lane Tech and Lakeview High Schools, lady attendees at the Elks Club, and at Saturday night church suppers.

But Bergen yearned for a more concrete act and a more substantial, authentic sidekick. He saved up his meager allowance earnings and paid a Chicago wood carver named Theodore Mack $35 dollars to craft out of pine what was to become Charlie McCarthy. Half the inspiration for Charlie’s character and appearance came from a little smiling Irish street corner newsboy in Bergen’s neighborhood named Charlie, whom Bergen had caricatured in his prototype sketches given to Mack. The other half came from Mack himself, who had breathed life into a piece of wood. In tribute, Bergen christened his puppet “Mc” Carthy after “Mack.”
Over the three months it took Mack to carve Charlie, Bergen began making plans to perform on the small, traveling Chautauqua vaudeville show circuit after graduating high school. The only problem was that his grades began to suffer as he devoted less time to books and more time to daydreaming about Charlie and his future. But his ventriloquist act so impressed the teacher who was ready to flunk him that she agreed to tutor him and help him graduate on time.

During his summer breaks while attending Northwestern University, Bergen and McCarthy toured the Chautauqua circuits in Northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. He landed his first major circuit booking at age 21 for the Western Circuit, an old vaudeville mainstay touring troupe. Two years later, Bergen traveled the big RKO Circuit, and, over the next ten years, he and his dummy began earning a reputation as masters of hilarity.

During this period from the mid 1920s to 1930s, Bergen would often get telegraph requests and perform on a moment’s notice in places as far-off as South America and Europe, often declining lucrative offers in the States just for the chance to travel and perform abroad. Tours of England, Russia, and even Sweden--where Bergen and McCarthy literally spoke the vernacular--followed, which included regular routines like “The Doctor’s Office,” and “Cocktails at Five.” The duo even did a brief stint with the Ziegfield Follies in 1934.

By 1935, with vaudeville dying, Bergen took his wooden creation out to the nightclub scene. A more sophisticated audience called for a more spruced up dummy. Soon, the bow-tie wearing, tuxedoed and monocled Charlie with a slight British accent--an image Bergen borrowed by permission from Esquire Magazine’s Esky mascot--was born.

Bergen’s next frontier--radio--wasn’t so easy to conquer, at first. The hardest working ventriloquist in show biz auditioned for WMAQ Chicago while in town to perform at the Chez Paree club. Station manager Clarence Menzer was blunt: Your act just won’t work on radio, he told Bergen.

In 1936, however, Bergen & McCarthy’s shtick at the Rainbow Room nightclub in Manhattan caught the attention of Noel Coward, who invited the duo to entertain at his private party. The exposure garnered from this performance was noticed by Chicago’s J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which booked talent for the Rudy Vallee radio program. The duo was invited to perform on Vallee’s show, and captured the ears of audiences immediately.

By mid-December of that year, Bergen and McCarthy were regulars on Vallee’s program. In May of 1937, Bergen’s years of struggling and persistence finally paid off--he and Charlie had landed their very own show: NBC’s Chase and Sanborn Hour, sponsored by the famous coffeemaker. In a move that was almost unprecedented at the time, Bergen--a virtual unknown to national radio audiences until a few months earlier--was given the lion’s share time slot on radio, Sunday nights at seven. The gamble paid off when the program became number one in the listener ratings only weeks after its debut, and remained at the top from 1937 to 1940, and from 1942-43. It also stayed in the top 7 for 15 straight years.

Bergen’s show helped launch the career of Don Ameche, who emceed the program and played Pasquale, as well as the character John Bickerson opposite Frances Langford in the classic “Bickersons” sketch that soon became its own spinoff show. Abbot & Costello even got a jump start in show business by appearing weekly for one season in 1940 on The Chase & Sanborn Hour.

The show also benefited from a great arsenal of radio pros, including, throughout its long run, British orchestra leader Ray Noble, announcers Ken Carpenter, Ben Alexander and Bill Goodwin, vocalists Anita Ellis and Dale Evans, and regular side players like Pat Patrick (Ersel Twing), Norman Field (Charlie’s principal), Barbara Jo Allen (Vera Vague), Richard Haydn (Professor Lemuel Carp) and Jim Backus.

Next week: The magic behind Bergen & McCarthy


The color purple, a la Woody Allen

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Few films smell as sweet as "The Purple Rose of Cairo," Woody Allen's hilarious feature from 1985. Join us on May 26 for this funnybone treat, which will be preceded by a movie trivia contest for DVD prizes, which will run from 7 to 8 p.m.

For the 411 on "Cairo," visit here.


Why do we love movies? "It's Complicated"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Oak Lawn Library will be showing "It's Complicated" (2009) ‑‑ Wednesday, May 26 at 2 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. -- NOTE EARLIER EVENING START -- A hilarious look at marriage, divorce and everything in between. When attending their son's college graduation, a couple reignite the spark in their relationship... but the complicated fact is they're divorced and he's remarried. Starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Rated: R. 120 min. Location: the library's lower level meeting room.


Crucial Capra

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part article on Frank Capra. Part 1 published last week.

Here are the essential must-see films in Frank Capra’s filmography (all are available on home video or DVD):

  • It Happened One Night (1934): Screwball comedy starring Hollywood big guns Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, who, along with the picture, won top Oscars
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936): Gary Cooper stars as a philanthropist who inherits $20 million and gives it away to the needy; co-starring Jean Arthur
  • Lost Horizon (1937): A socially redeeming film about living in the mythical paradise of Shangri La, starring Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt
  • You Can’t Take it With You (1938): Another delightful screwball comedy (and Best Picture winner) that helped make Jimmy Stewart a star; also co-starring Jean Arthur
  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939): Moving story of an everyman (Stewart) who bucks the political system and triumphs 
  • Meet John Doe (1941): Uplifting tearjerker about a hobo (Gary Cooper) plucked by politicians to inspire the discouraged masses; co-starring Barbara Stanwyck 
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): Life-affirming classic that demonstrates how one man’s (Stewart) would-be unimportant life touches so many other lives; Donna Reed co-stars

  • State of the Union (1948): Lovable comedy depicting Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as a couple who will do anything for the Republican presidential nomination.


Parallax to the max

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ever wonder what life would be like through the eyes of Warren Beatty? Take a gander at "The Parallax View," a tense political thriller from 1974, set for CineVerse viewing on May 19.

To learn more about this movie, click here.


Capra = classic

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

by Erik J. Martin

You can’t take it with you, but legendary Hollywood director Frank Capra certainly proved that you can leave it behind—to be cherished forever by new generation after generation of film lovers.

Infusing his films with populist themes, humanitarian motifs, and socially redeeming lessons about the value of family, love of country and the triumph of the little man over the big man, Capra made lasting movies for the masses.

Capra’s family emigrated from Sicily, Italy, to Los Angeles when he was six. As an immigrant child, Capra was impressed by common, everyday people whose lives he so grew to appreciate that his ambition was to someday project them onto the screen.

After a stint as an army engineering instructor, the 24-year old began doing odd jobs in Hollywood as a director of short films, a property man, a film cutter, and a writer of film titles and gags. He got his chance to direct his first feature film in 1926 with "Strong Man." It wasn’t long before Capra’s name became synonymous with comedies, and with box office successes.

Capra’s greatest talent rested in his power to represent the ordinary man's strength to face apparently insurmountable evil, thereby benefitting his fellow man. Capra realized this power early in his career, when he decided to create films that would exhilarate the depressed spirits of the American public, inspired personally by his dramatic recovery from a serious illness.

A hot commodity among movie moguls, Capra was blessed to work with Hollywood’s best talents: actors like James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Katherine Hepburn; writers like James Hilton and Robert Riskin; and collaborators such as Mack Sennett, Harry Langdon and William Wyler.

His crowning achievement is considered to be “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), starring Stewart in the ultimate Christmas classic that has become the all-time favorite film of many viewers, including Stewart and Capra themselves.

From the beginning, Capra conceived IAWL as his masterwork. "I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made," Capra stated in his autobiography. "It wasn't made for the oh-so bored critics or the oh-so jaded literati. It was my kind of film for my kind of people.”

The director was also well-known for his groundbreaking documentaries, including “Why We Fight,” which features daring live action WWII battles filmed during his stint with the U.S. Army, and his last effort, a self-titled autobiographical book.

Capra passed away in 1991, but not before earning three Academy Awards for best director and a lifetime achievement Oscar, and assembling one of the richest bodies of work ever by a filmmaker--more than 21 feature films in all.

Next week: Crucial Capra: The must-see films


Find film salvation in "Lost Horizon"

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Frank Capra was known for more than sentimental tearjerkers like "It's a Wonderful Life" and screwball comedies such as "It Happened One Night." He also helmed a big-budget, epic dramatization of James Hilton's novel about the lost city of Shangri-La: "Lost Horizon". That's the CineVerse flick slated for May 12.

For more info on Lost Horizon, click here.


A Night to Remember

The Oak Lawn Library will be showing "A Night to Remember" (1958) ‑‑ Thursday, May 13 at 10 a.m. -- The true story of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912. This film focuses on the accounts of real people who sailed on the ship. Based on the book by Walter Lord. Rated: PG. 123 min. Location: the library's lower level meeting room.


Free movie at the Beverly Arts Center

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Beverly Arts Center will host a free movie on Sunday, May 9 at 3 p.m.: "I Know A Woman Like That" (2009)

This is a free screening - call to reserve your tickets in advance.
Reception at 3pm. Screening at 4pm.

RT: 1:43.

In this enlightening documentary, Elaine Madsen talks intimately with 16 women age 70+, who continue to live their lives with spirit. Among the women are former model Lauren Hutton, feminist Gloria Steinem and novelist/poet Maxine Hong Kingston. Film screening will be followed by Q&A with Elaine Madsen.


Vote for the quote

A new month brings a new CineVerse poll. For May, CineVerse asks the question, What is the greatest movie quote of all time? The line forms on the left of our home page to vote for your favorite film line. Poll closes May 31, so get to work!

By the way, here are the results from April’s poll, which asked, What was the greatest decade for movies? The 1940s topped the list at 45%, followed by the 1930s and 1960s (each tied for 18%), and lastly the 1970s and 1990s (each tied for 9%).


A taste of Australia

Sunday, May 2, 2010

CineVerse kicks off May with a film from the land down under: "Breaker Morant", the 1980 movie directed by Bruce Beresford that depicts South Africa's bloody Boer War and a gripping courtroom drama that follows it. Breaker Morant is scheduled for May 5.

For more details on this movie, visit here.


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