Goldberg & 'Goldstein': Marina City and Chicago architecture play supporting role in two forgotten '60s films

June 16, 2011

The above clip is a neat piece of filmmaking.

A group of people is winding up the parking ramps of the then-new Bertrand Goldberg-designed Marina City as the director uses motion and architecture to create a disorienting prelude to an act that would have been illegal when this movie was made. This gem is Goldstein, an obscure comedy from 1964 directed by Chicago-born Philip Kaufman, who'd go on to direct the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Right Stuff and other films. The title character is a magical figure who emerges from Lake Michigan and changes the lives of people he encounters. Kaufman keeps the action on the streets showing places such as the formerly gritty sections north of the river and just west of Michigan Avenue. Even the new Dan Ryan Expressway makes an appearance (as does Nelson Algren.)

Kaufman's Marina City shot in the above clip comes from Steve Dahlman's addictive and indispensable Marina City Online website). And I first learned of Goldstein two years ago on the fantastic Forgotten Chicago website.

Goldstein belongs to a class of mid- to late- 1960s low-budget, filmed-in-Chicago movies that are now slowly resurfacing on DVD and online video streaming. The movies are noteworthy because they were made at a time movies were almost never made here, but also because they were gritty and shot-on-location, thus providing now-intriguing glimpses of the new, architecturally modern Chicago rising from the old. Movies such as Medium Cool, The Monitors, and Mickey One are among the group.

So, a question if I may: Name a late 1960s movie in which Jon Voight plays a naive character who comes to the big city, only to find trouble and disillusionment? Midnight Cowboy, 1969, perhaps? Wrong! Fearless Frank, 1967, set in Chicago. It was Voight's first movie and also directed by Kaufman.

Plot-wise, the movie virtually unwatchable--a broad comedy that wants to be zany, but doesn't seem up to the task. Voight is fun to watch, though, as is Severn Darden of Second City, playing a dual role. Ken Nordine narrates the movie and plays a part in it as well. But the glimpses of Chicago architecture steal the show, with color shots of the lake, the Mies van der Rohe-designed Commonwealth Promenade Apartments at 340 W. Diversey, the Grant Monument in Lincoln Park among other locales. Fearless Frank streams on Netflix, but here's a clip: