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Bank of America Cinema: The Last Picture Show? Say It Ain't So!

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At a dire moment for the Three Stooges in Space Ship Sappy, Joe Besser wails, "I can't die, I haven't seen 'The 'Eddy Duchin Story' yet." I used to feel the same way about Hellzapoppin, the obscure Olsen and Johnson comedy I read about as a teenage movie comedy buff in Leonard Maltin's Movie Comedy Teams, but that never turned up at any of Chicago's revival houses or on late night TV. It was never given a studio release on home video. There are tantalizing clips on YouTube, but I feared my comedy education would be incomplete until I finally got my chance to see it thanks to Bank of America Cinema. Where else?

For 30 years, Chicago's venerable weekly showcase for vintage and classic films has operated out of the most unlikely of movie theatres located on the second floor of a bank on Irving Park Road in Portage Park. Week after week, packed houses of respectful and rapturous film lovers have enjoyed the singular pleasures of an old fashioned night at the movies: a cartoon, comedy short subject, or an episode of some Poverty Row serial as prelude to a feature film, some, to quote Ray Davies, that you recognized, some that you've hardly even heard of, and many which somehow never made it on to home video. The price was right: $5.

And now comes official word that the BAC is going the way of the Clark Theatre, the 3 Penny, the Biograph, and the Playboy. It's being withdrawn from the bank. Next Saturday will be its last picture show, March of the Wooden Soldiers, one of Laurel and Hardy's best. According to the Chicago Tribune, the programmers are taking their act to the 90-year-old movie palace, the Portage Theatre, which is home to the Silent Film Society of Chicago. A new series of Wednesday night screenings will launch in February under the moniker the Northwest Chicago Film Society.

BAC, of course, is not the only game in town. There are the themed weekend matinees of Hollywood classics at the glorious Music Box and the Film School and midnight Night School programs at funky Facets. But the closing of BAC is truly the end of an era.

The new home is a promising development, but without its banker benefactor, money, one suspects, will as ever be an issue. Surely there must be some cinephile philanthropist out there who can play the hero and keep this essential part of Chicago's movie exhibition legacy alive. The Northwest Chicago Film Society can't die. I haven't seen Diplomaniacs yet.