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Second City’s name is synonymous with improvisation and satirical sketch comedy. Alumni of Second City’s stages go on to do huge things in TV and film because of their ability to write, act, improvise and work well/play nice with others. (Quadruple threats are a thing, right?)
That being said, this article could be about Second City’s long cinematic tradition with the likes of SC alumni Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Adam McKay, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, etc., who went on to make notable contributions to the movies… but that’s boring.
So instead, we’re going for some deep cuts– sharing cool behind-the-scenes facts and revealing how some great films have secret Second City movie ties.
Trivia night, get ready!
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Right, so I said I wasn’t going to be obvious, and what’s more obvious than the seminal film The Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi (with killer cameos by Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Princess Leia and Steven Spielberg)?
The interesting thing about this one is that it was Dan Aykroyd’s first screenplay. In fact, he had never even read one before, so he consequently turned in a 324-page tome titled Return of the Blues Brothers. Usually scripts are between 90-120 pages, with the loose understanding that 1 page equals 1 minute. If they had shot what he wrote, that film would have been five and half hours –the Infinite Jest of film scripts.
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (2006)
This movie was kind of a sleeper when it came out in 2007. It seems like either people have seen it and liked… or totally missed it. It follows Writer/director/star Jeff Garlin through the most terribly depressing episodes in anyone’s life. You probably know it’s got Second City connections, but the amount of Second City alumni in this movie is insane. By my count… (drumroll) fourteen! Including, but not limited to:
- David Pasquesi
- Amy Sedaris
- Bonnie Hunt
- Dan Castellaneta
- Richard Kind
- And many, many more!!!
The Graduate (1967)
Before there was The Second City, there was The Compass Players out of University of Chicago. Borrowing on Italian Commedia dell’Arte, their goal was the outrageous idea (at the time) to create a new play each week. It’s easy to lose sight now on how radical that actually was, considering that now you can see a trillion and three improvised shows every night of the week.
One of the players in this group was Mike Nichols, who went on to direct The Graduate, as well as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Angels in America. What became of The Compass Players? A couple of their members, Paul Sills and Howard Alk, went on to co-found The Second City with Bernie Sahlins.
You’ve probably never seen or heard of Goldstein, so this is the entry on the list where when someone asks, “Have you heard of Goldstein?” You can now proudly reply, “Yes.”
Made in 1964 by Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Goldstein played at Cannes and was considered a great micro-budget, independent film of its time, but is now incredibly hard to find.
The film is highly improvisational in its approach and stars Second City Mainstage alum Jack Burns, with appearances from improv legends Del Close, Viola Spolin and a cameo from Chicago writer Nelson Algren. If you ever have a chance to catch it, you should go, or else…
Donald Sutherland will do that to you.
The Razor’s Edge (1984)
In 1984, one of the greatest events in the history of the world happened: Ghostbusters came out.
We all know that the film’s success is due in part to Bill Murray’s improvisational additions as “Peter Venkman.” What’s less well-known is the other 1984 movie Bill Murray starred in, The Razor’s Edge. The film tells the story of a soldier’s (Bill Murray) struggle acclimating to suburban life after seeing the horrors of World War I. Sounds like a laugh riot, right?
The Razor’s Edge was a passion project for Murray– and he didn’t really want to do Ghostbusters (!!??)– so they made a deal: The Razor’s Edge would be greenlit if he did Ghostbusters. So, if you think about it, without The Razor’s Edge, there is no Ghostbusters, and no Ghostbusters means Egon Spangler never earns that Crunch bar.
If you’re totally nerding out reading this, then you’re a prime candidate for a new class we’re offering at The Second City Training Center Chicago: History of Comedy on Film, taught by Lee Ferdinand (who is a huge film nerd). Class starts June 24th, and you can find sign-up info right here.