Sunday 20 January 2008

Play It Again, Sam (1972)

One thing I've always wondered about is whether Woody Allen could act/be funny/whatever if he isn't talking. A good indication is that he can comes as the opening credits roll. He's watching Casablanca and gazes gape jawed at his idol, Humphrey Bogart through the whole of the ending sequence. He's Allan Felix, a film critic, and his wife has just left him, so he's trying to work out how to deal with life and move forward. He ends up getting most of his advice from Bogart's ghost, as a sort of alter ego. Given that we're talking about Woody Allen, you can imagine how well that goes. Is there much of a more polar opposite to Bogart's persona than Woody Allen?

He also gets help from a couple who try to set him up with whoever they can find. Given that they're played by Tony Roberts and Diane Keaton, it's hardly surprising that he ends up spending most of his time with Keaton's character, Linda Christie, while her husband Dick works all hours God sends. Before long they're into an extramarital affair, with the angel and devil on Felix's shoulders effectively played by his ex-wife and Humphrey Bogart. That makes for an interesting play on things, and play is the key word.

While Woody Allen didn't direct this one, he wrote the screenplay from his own original play and it's immediately obvious that it's his material. How much director Herbert Ross really put into it is open for question but my guess is probably not much. It's easy to see this on stage and that it still works on screen says much for the material. What the film version adds is the ability for Woody Allen and others, especially Tony Roberts, to act out imaginary scenes in various movie styles: not just the Bogart film noir style but Italian melodrama, high English class material, European spy thriller, you name it. It's not surprising they would become regular collaborators.

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