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Your January Random Movie Club Result Are In!

Tagline: Crime Lives



Flashback to when I was so much younger than today. My parents took me to a double feature the night before I was to set off for sleepaway camp for the summer. We saw CARRY ON DOCTOR and TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN. I remember liking DOCTOR a little, but it was MONEY that I'd revisit throughout my life. In fact, my love of Woody can be traced to this very movie, and more specifically, to a scene involving the unlikeliest of comic items:

shirt folding machine
A shirt-folding machine! While Woody was losing a war with an automatic shirt-folding machine in the prison laundry, Young Richie was in the theater having an episode of the giggles. That scene has since lost some of its shine for me, having seen it so many times. Hell, I'm not sure it was all that funny in the first place. But you know how it can be when something hits you at the right time. Oh lawdy, that shirt machine killed me. (Shhhh. Don't tell Old Richard, but it was really more to do with Woody's performance as a helpless dweeb and his losing battle to operate the stubborn contraption.) So when the Random Movie Generator selected TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, it's safe to say I was thrilled. Still, I kept my face in poker mode so as not to tip anyone in attendance off about how pleased I was with the selection. It wasn't easy.

TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (This here's the story of Virgil and Louise...) is a fake documentary (hey film geeks, is this the first mockumentary?) featuring talking head interviews and "actual" footage (here's where we suspend disbelief, as it's narrative footage). It tells the story of small-time (and inept) crook Virgil Starkwell (guess who). A loser since childhood, he was an easy target for neighborhood bullies, kids whose favorite hobby was stomping on Virgil's glasses. Older, Virgil became a cellist...in a marching band. His music teacher tells us that "he had no conception of the instrument. He was blowing into it." Virgil's wannabe street life begins at an early age, first trying pool hustling (when his ball sails off the table - VIRGIL: "Ball please?"). Even the Navy won't take him - he just may be the only person who failed his Rorschach test. He soon resorts to purse snatching, and that's how he meets the girl.

Louise-Janet Margolin
Janet Margolin plays Louise (perhaps named after Woody's latest ex-girlfriend, Louise Lasser, who has a cameo here), a laundress, and it's love at first sight. VIRGIL: "After 15 minutes I wanted to marry her, and after a half hour I completely gave up the idea of snatching her purse." It's these romantic scenes when MONEY becomes less schticky and more of the Woody to come (awkward boy meets out-of-his-league girl). He tries to flatter her by saying he likes her hat, only to tell her he sees them all over town, on sale, in big bins. The mockumentary, narrated by ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN announcer Jackson Beck, follows him though their courtship, marriage, new crime-free life (under the alias John Q. Public), and child. But after a co-worker blackmails him, he tries to kill her by running her over (in her living room), and thus, he's back into his life of crime.

There's funny all over MONEY (co-written by Allen and Mickey Rose). His jailbreak attempts include calling for the guard while moaning, feigning sickness - GUARD: "What's wrong?" VIRGIL: "Don't ask" (you might have to be Jewish to get that one), and a plan that involves stealing the guards' underwear even though they already have their uniforms. Why? "I'm known for my detailed work," says one of the gang's leaders. In a scene played out like a normal couple stressing out while dressing in the morning to go to work (in this case, to rob a bank), Virgil learns Louise is washing the shirt he wanted to wear. She tells him to wear the beige one. VIRGIL: "Who wears beige to a bank robbery??" She counters: "What are the other guys wearing?"

Woody's nebbish-as-macho man character is in high gear and so is his ineptitude, especially when it comes to weaponry. There's a gag here that he repeats, using different weapons, in his upcoming movies BANANAS, SLEEPER and LOVE AND DEATH; we move down a row of people, one at a time, each opening up a switchblade. When we get to Virgil, his blade goes flying off screen, leaving him holding the handle. Another time has him in a shootout with cops, only to learn the gun he's using is really a cigarette lighter. Another gun, which he carved from a bar of soap in prison, ends up lathering up in the rain. Hell, he doesn't even need the actual gun to have problems. In perhaps the most memorable scene, Virgil's bad handwriting makes the bank teller mistake "gun" for "gub," therefore ruining Virgil's robbery. This bit is brilliantly milked to the last drop, as every bank employee gets in on the action, arguing with Virgil over what the note says. BANKER: "What is abt?" VIRGIL: "No, that's "
act." Act natural.

The last third of the movie is a parody of southern chain gangs as depicted in movies like COOL HAND LUKE, only here when you behave badly, instead of spending a night in "the box," you spend a night in the box with an insurance salesman. Some of my favorite laughs come from these chain gang scenes, particularly the sequence that has the inmates working their sledgehammers on the rockpile. To keep the rhythm, an inmate sings a spiritual - "Gonna see Miss Liza...Gonna go to Mississippi." After a few repeats of this, Virgil joins in with his soulless, off-key and clumsy version, finally stopping when he realizes everyone is looking at him. Some may call this a lazy joke, but I'd contend that sometimes jokes are successful because it's the singer, not the song. It's the way the joke is performed, and the character that is doing so. It's the rhythm, the nuances, the package, not merely the construct. But since comedy is subjective (and I hear that subjectivity is objective), here's the scene so you can judge for yourself: http://tinyurl.com/7b9lunh

Again, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN is the movie that made me a Woody Allen freak. In fact, while I was making a slapstick student film at N-Y-You-Can-Stop-Sending-Me-Donation-Requests, I had the poster for TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN on my bedroom door, which makes sense (though I only realize this now), since MONEY was also kind of Woody's "student" film. I mean, he wasn't really a student at a school, but this was his practice film, if you know what I mean. It's erratic and slapdash (you know, like a student film), and unapologetically silly with a vaudeville tone. Many of his jokes mimicked the ones from his very recent stand-up comedy abt...I mean, act, where his persona was that of the maladroit loser who fancies himself a hero; a persona that would pop up again throughout his career. In fact, the very first joke in MONEY could have easily been lifted from his earlier New Yorker ramblings.


Woody's next few movies got funnier and smarter. You can see the transition before your eyes if you watch them in order. And while pre-ANNIE HALL slapstick movies BANANAS, EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX, SLEEPER and LOVE AND DEATH are better movies, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN is the more important one. And it's really, really funny.

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