| Dir: Herbert Ross
“You have the most eyes I’ve ever seen on any person.”
Although Allen didn’t direct this adaptation of his stage play (he had to make some time with this, Bananas and Everything... coming out with 15 months of one another), I’ve included it here as it’s an important part in his trajectory as a filmmaker. That he chose not to direct this in favour of the other two speaks to his sensibilities at the time. Allen claims that he never wished to make the play into a film and when his agents pushed the button, it was old to him (the Broadway production debuted over 3 years prior). But perhaps he had a humble awareness of his limitations in helming this more mature and full bodied piece? Herbert Ross certainly directs this in an atypical fashion to the rest of Allen’s early canon; it’s accessible, breezy and elicits pathos. He also pushes the comic as an actor into challenging places that he wouldn’t revisit until briefly in Sleeper, fully in Annie Hall and accomplish in Broadway Danny Rose. Yet nobody considers this a ‘Herbert Ross film’, just as his direction of many Neil Simon comedies don’t belong to him in the public eye.
This would be Allen’s first foray into his recurring themes of fantasy, escapism, illusion and appeasing the harsh realities of life. The overt homages to Casablanca and Bogart get a lot of mileage in fun ways, but unlike his previous three films this isn’t solely reliant on slapstick and satire. Its brightest moments are the physical comedy gags but here they actually feel a coherent part of the film’s core, opposed to haphazardly sellotaped together. It also has a somewhat meaningful narrative of a hapless and klutzy divorcee re-entering the dating world with inevitably poor results. Less of a sensitive, cursed and desperate romantic than one of female sexualisation and neurosis, mind you. But it develops into a fulfilling, if gimmicky, story of sacrifice in the ways in which we unintentionally fall for those we shouldn’t. Two lonely people with a tremendous amount in common trying to become more than platonic under inopportune circumstances; it’s not only handled compassionately, but written with a genuine undertone that elevates it above a mere prop designed for Allen to get a laugh.
This isn’t polished and is demonstrable of an artist finding his voice as a screenwriter. But it foreshadowed what Allen would eventually be capable of beginning with Annie Hall; crafting intellectual, well observed romantic comedies of ‘uncommon beauty’, as well as showcasing the fashion sense of Diane Keaton. Hubba hubba.
Part of Woody Wednesday. Third viewing.