7 November 2009 | richard-1787
If you liked "Good Night and Good Luck" you will really like this movie
If you liked "Good Night and Good Luck," one of the most under-appreciated movies of the last few years, you will also enjoy this movie, which is being marketed the wrong way and will probably miss its most potentially appreciative audience.
Unlike GNAGL, this is a documentary. It raises a lot of fascinating questions that it does not pursue, and that can get frustrating at times. Why, since it had been such a hit - and it was - on radio in the 1930s was the radio show canceled in 1946? What reasons did CBS give for not wanting to pick up the TV program that Gertrude Berg developed out of it, when so many early TV programs were in fact continuations of popular radio programs?
A lot of the 50+ year old recollections of people who heard the radio program or saw the TV program don't ring true, and are really a misleading waste of time. Several of those people remark, for example, that "no one saw the Goldbergs as Jewish, but just as a family," yet Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who I believe is one of those who says something to that effect, also recounts that on her first day on the Surpreme Court, Thurgood Marshall addressed her as Mrs. Goldberg. Obviously, American audiences viewed the Goldbergs as not just any American family, but as a Jewish family.
On the other hand, a fair amount is made of the originality of portraying a Jewish family on the radio (and then TV). This is completely out of context, and again very misleading. Most of the big figures in 1930s radio and early television were Jewish - Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen, etc. - and on radio there was Fanny Brice. How was "The Goldbergs" different from those programs?
At one point the issue is raised of whether the program presented Jews as negative stereotypes. This is hastily dismissed with a remark that unlike Amos and Andy, who on radio had originally been acted by two white men, Berg chose only Jewish (the exact word is Yiddish) actors to take roles in her show. But that doesn't prove that the characters weren't negative stereotypes, as Amos and Andy continued to be when it moved to TV and was played by Black comedians. That line also gets forgotten when it is explained that for TV Berg picked a gentile to play the part of her son, a fascinating issue that gets no development.
There are also simple factual errors. When the narrative gets to the beginning of "The Goldbergs" on radio, it is stated that there were two radio networks: ABC and CBS. There were, in fact, two radio networks then, but they were CBS and NBC. ABC was not sprung off NBC until World War II. There are other historical errors as well.
All of the foregoing is negative commentary, I realize. Please do not read it as saying that I did not enjoy the movie, however. Quite to the contrary, I was fascinated by every moment of it. Berg turns out to have been a very intelligent, fascinating workaholic, and is presented as interesting enough by this movie that you want to know a LOT more about her and how she was viewed during her time.
Anyone with an interest in the blacklisting of the McCarthy era and the beginnings of network radio and television will find this movie fascinating, as I did, and I heartily recommend it. But it leaves you, or at least me, wanting to know so much more. I can only hope this leads to a new interest in Gertrude Berg and the shows she created, so that we can get answers to some of those questions.