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Play It Again Sam Movie Poster
Your May 2007 Unrandom Movie Club Results Are In! *

Tagline: If you're going to take advice - take it from the best.

A Cowardly Nebbish Would Never Fall For His Best Friend's Wife. Or Woody?

The Preshow Entertainment was a documentary that aired on PBS called GREAT OLD AMUSEMENT PARKS. It's about the parks that still exist today, not the old ones that closed. And not Six Flags. These are more like One Flag. They have old train rides and carousels with brass rings, and classic rides like The Caterpillar and The Paratrooper. Unfortunately, we didn't get to watch much more than a few minutes of it before the pizza arrived.

Way back before you were born, I owned (still do, actually) a 16mm sound projector and two 16mm movies. That was big. It was not only before DVDs, but before the Home Video boom. I had PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM and CASABLANCA (talk about a cool double feature, eh?), and I'd invite friends over all the time to watch them. We actually painted a screen on the wall, and nailed up four pieces of wood around it to make a frame.

Why do you need to know this? Well, just so you know how well I know every detail of PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM. Because I indeed would play it again. And again and again. I could tell you how Tony Roberts is standing in the doorway when he asks for a Coke.

So imagine my excitement when it became available in HD. That's right, the future is here, for we can now get our neuroses in High Definition.

Woody Allen plays film magazine writer Allan Felix, a man who, since his wife left him, has been an amalgam of devastation and cowardice. Allan is a disheveled mess. An uber-schlemiel.

Keaton, Allen, Casablanca Poster
Helping him get back into the dating world is his apparition of Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy). He's Allan's hidden, tough-guy interior longing to come out, but Allan's too scared to let him take the leap. Allan's no Bogart, but will he be by the end of the movie?

Also assisting Allan on his Dates from Hell is married couple Dick and Linda Christie (Tony Roberts and Diane Keaton). They needle him into a string of blind dates that are simultaneously uncomfortable and hysterical. With perfect timing, Allan fumbles each date as we cringe and laugh at the same time.

Allan (Allen) on a date
You see, Allan is resistant because he is insecure and doesn't know how to be himself around women. On the dates, he demands sympathy, telling one that his wife is dead (he asks Dick to tell his prospective date that his wife died in a mine shaft explosion). To impress the girl, he "casually" holds up his high school track medal. To impress another, he demonstrates how Chinese people use a shovelling movement when eating rice (yup, that didn't go well either). He also creates havoc; in one uncomfortable date moment he all but destroys his living room. But he's not Clouseau. All his tics are on story and come from a very real place. He's a nervous wreck, and that's how nervous wrecks act.

Allan's failed attempts at getting the girl are pure comedy. When he asks a girl what she's doing on Saturday night, and she responds, "Committing suicide," Allan waits a beat and asks, "How about Friday night?" One of his dates asks Dick and Linda "Is he on something?"

But not all the dates are his fault. One tells him she believes "in having sex as often, as freely, and as intensely as possible," and when he moves to kiss her, she pushes him away and screams, "What do you take me for???" And on his way out, in voiceover - "How did I misread those signs?"

So let's hear it for Allan's dates; Susan Anspach (who in 1965 appeared on THE PATTY DUKE SHOW, and is still working today), Viva (whose daughter, Gaby Hoffman, would appear 24 years later in Woody's EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU), Jennifer Salt (whose daddy was talented screenwriter Waldo Salt), and Joy Bang (who for decades now has been a nurse in Minnesota).

And then there's Bogart. The interplay between the tough guy and the coward is priceless. Allan wants to listen to Bogart. He wants to be Bogart. But can a nebbish learn to be a macho leading man? Here's your answer, in the form of a question: Can I be the next Brad Pitt?

Allen & Keaton

Besides Bob Hope, who Woody admittedly lifted his "faux nervous guy" from, PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM marks one of the first appearances of Hero Neuroticus. There doesn't seem to be a wasted sweat bead, grunt, or record toss (more on this later). It's also the first pairing of Woody and the magnificent Diane Keaton.

SAM is also a great movie to watch if you've never seen a Woody Allen movie, or if you have and aren't impressed. This is because it was made before Woody wanted to make serious movies. This was one of his "early funny ones." It's a nice mixture of smart jokes and sight gags, one such being when he is at a loss for words after his date asked him about his ex-wife. He is holding a record, and when he casually tosses his arms up to nervously shrug off the question, the record goes sailing out of its jacket and crashes off screen. Perhaps one of the funniest sight gags I've ever seen. I've heard secondhand (the son of SAM's A.D.) that Woody didn't tell the crew he was going to do that, so when they broke up laughing, they ruined the shot.

PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM, adapted by Woody Allen from his Broadway play, was directed by Herbert Ross and photographed by Owen Roizman, both of whom have laundry lists of commercial successes. It's an adeptly structured romantic comedy, for love eventually does find Allan Felix in the end. And like Bogey, he handles it with class. Here's looking at you, Woody.

* This review is also featured at MovieBuffs.com.

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