Monday, December 29, 2014

PLAY IT AGAIN SAM (1972) – Woody Allen and Bogart

Woody Allen wrote the play and screenplay for Play It Again Sam.  Despite it being directed by Herbert Ross, this is Woody Allen’s film.  It contains similar plot and subplots that we already had seen in Take the Money and Run and that we are going to see again in Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and a number of other Allen films. If I give it a bit more leeway, it’s only because this movie came so early in Woody Allen’s career.

Woody Allen plays a character named Allan, a neurotic writer who only seems to make a favorable impression on one particular woman – Linda (Diane Keaton), his best friend’s wife.  Allan bungles every other relationship he has including his own marriage.  Allan, by the way, is a Bogart fanatic and wishes above everything else to be like his idol.  He has imaginary discussions with Bogart who tries to advise Allan on how to approach relationships.  Nine times out of ten, due to his own personal clumsiness, Allan cannot heed Bogart’s advice.

Perhaps because Linda is almost as neurotic as Allan, somehow the two end up having a one-night stand.  Linda and the guilt-ridden Allan are now in love while Linda’s husband, Dick (Tony Robert’s), suspects that something is truly wrong in his marriage.  Like Bogart does at the end of the Casablanca, Allan goes to the airport and convinces Dick and Linda that they belong together.

I agree with Roger Ebert’s assessment that Play It Again Sam may seem too predictable.  Ebert forgives Allen because Ebert feels the movie is so ultimately funny.  If I forgive Allen, it’s only because no other talent has been able to come upon the scene that can duplicate what Allen has done.  
Even at this late date, Woody Allen is one of the most original of talents in the movie industry.  While his approach to film is due to his experience in Broadway rather than Hollywood, anything creative in the movies is a step above what we are mostly presented.  Allen good naturedly makes fun of himself. When the rest of the movie industry takes itself all too seriously, what Woody Allen has provided is extremely refreshing.

Unfortunately, when you do the same thing over and over, even with the kind of talent Woody Allen has, it begins to grow old.  Woody Allen will never be Bogart.  His movies will never demand of his viewers to do the impossible.  It’s only possible to see so many of his films.  Allen still is capable of making good movies as evidenced by Midnight In Paris, which came out in 2011.  If that film had been made at the same time as Play It Again Sam instead of in recent years, the critics may have rated it much higher.

December 29, 2014

© Robert S. Miller 2014