A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Play it Again, Sam

December 1, 2010

Play it Again, Sam

Yes, we do not own Casablanca. I just wanted to get that off my chest right at the start of this review. This movie is about a neurotic goofball who has an obsession with Humphrey Bogart and particularly Casablanca so it highlights the fact that we don’t own the movie. Or any Bogart at all. Oh, sure, we’ve seen Casablanca plenty of times, we just don’t own it.

Back when I was living with my sister in Somerville this was one of the few movies we owned. As a result I’ve seen it many, many times. I haven’t seen it in about fifteen years though, and it’s odd to see it again tonight. There are parts that I still love as much as ever, but much of the movie is just painful to watch now. I don’t know why I can’t simply enjoy watching Woody Allen making a fool of himself, but now his antics make me wince more than they make me laugh.

In this adaptation of his own play Woody Allen plays the creatively names Allan. His wife has just left him because he is a complete bore and he is a neurotic wreck as a result. His best friend Dick and his wife Linda try their best to comfort him, and for most of the movie attempt to find him some girl he can hook up with. Every time Allan gets near a girl, however, he gets to nervous that he’s incapable of anything but nervous blundering. There’s a lot of broad slapstick humor as Allan knocks things over, stumbles about and stutters incoherently. He is so desperate to impress that he makes a complete fool of himself.

The only woman Allan is even able to have a conversation with is Linda, because he’s comfortable with her and they can share stories of their various neuroses and panic attacks. There actually is a chemistry between Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, in a nerdish kind of way, and I enjoy that part of the movie. Except when their conversation somehow diverts into jokes about women’s rape fantasies. That’s a pretty uncomfortable scene. Ultimately their friendship leads to an illicit one-night affair which makes both of them more neurotic than ever before. It’s all an excuse to reprise the final scene from Casablanca, which is played in its entirety during the opening credits.

You see, Allan has an obsession with Humphrey Bogart. His job is writing articles for a magazine about film, and he watches movies all the time. (I definitely sympathise with him on that front.) Bogie visits him in his fantasies and provides him with misogynistic romantic advice. It’s a fun contrast to have the calm, cool hard-boiled character that Bogie played giving advice to the spastic and insecure character that Woody always plays.

This is every inch a Woody Allen film. Aside from the fact that it’s set in San Francisco rather than New York. It explores themes that Woody likes to explore about infidelity and the complexity of relationships. The character that Woody Allen plays is very much the iconic character that he based his entire career on. You have to wonder as you watch it just how much he’s playing a character, and how much he’s playing himself. And then you have to wonder just how hard it must be to be Woody Allen.

There are a few things I love about this movie. There’s the running gag about how the workaholic Dick calls his office all the time and leaves the phone number of wherever he is going to be so they can get in touch with him. I also really like Allan’s fantasies. Bogie shows up a lot of course, but there’s also his ex-wife Nancy and a bunch of imagined outcomes to his affair with Linda. Those are the high points of the movie.

There’s also a fun technique that director Herbert Ross uses to adapt some of the scenes from the play. He has conversations between Allan and Nancy done as sort of montages, so that although their dialog is all from one scene they deliver it in a bunch of different locations, just cut together into a single conversation. It’s a clever way to show that they have meaningful talks which span several days – a nice way to build their friendship.

This movie came out in the year that I was born. As such there are bits that haven’t aged too well. It’s not just the clothes either. You expect the costumes from a film made in the seventies to be laughable. The attitudes towards women, as I’m sure Amanda is saying in her review, are almost painful to watch, though, and that takes a lot of the fun out of the movie. I’m kind of curious now to review Sleeper, which was my favorite Woody Allen movie when I was growing up because it was almost entirely crazy slapstick. I wonder how that movie will look now to my jaded adult eyes.

December 1, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,


  1. Recommended Woody Allen: Zelig.

    Comment by Doc Wheat | December 4, 2010 | Reply

    • Yeah, I like that one. I also want to get Broadway Danny Rose for our collection.

      Comment by tanatoes | December 4, 2010 | Reply

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