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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Jerry Lacy
Director:  Herbert Ross
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  None
Length:  85 Minutes
Release Date:  October 23, 2001

“What are you doing Saturday night?”

“Committing suicide.”

“What about Friday night?”

Film ***

I’ve often wondered if Woody Allen ever regretted not directing Play it Again, Sam himself.  Not that Herbert Ross did such a bad job, mind you, only that Allen’s screenplay, based on his successful play, would have fit comfortably into the comedy-fantasy style he would become famous for a few years later with Annie Hall and The Purple Rose of Cairo.

This 1972 picture marked his first screen pairing with Diane Keaton, who, like Allen, reprised her role from the original New York play.  Their blossoming chemistry is apparent, as is Keaton’s talent as “a natural comedienne”, as Allen would later describe her.

Allen plays Allan, arguably the most neurotic character he’s ever portrayed in a career full of them.  He’s a 29 year old writer for a film magazine who’s quite unlucky in love.  His wife of two years has just divorced him.  “I don’t find you fun.  I feel you suffocate me.  I don’t feel any rapport with you, and I don’t dig you physically,” she tells him.  “Don’t take it personal.”

Allan does his best to fight off his depression.  “I’ll get broads up here like you wouldn’t believe,” he declares.  “Swingers, freaks, nymphomaniacs, dental hygienists…”  But he clearly needs a little outside help, which comes in two forms:  his best friend Dick (Roberts) with his wife Linda (Keaton), who begin arranging an unsuccessful series of blind dates for him, and none other than Humphrey Bogart (Lacy) himself, who occasionally shows up in Allen’s mind (and apartment) with trenchcoat, cigarette, and advice.  “Dames are simple,” he intones.  “I never met one who didn’t understand a good slap in the mouth or a slug from a .45.”  (His words, not mine.)

His problem relaxing and just being himself around new women is something he doesn’t have in front of Linda, who starts spending more and more time with him as Dick becomes mired down in business.  Eventually, to Allan’s surprise, he realize he’s falling in love with his best friend’s wife.  Bogey approves, but he doesn’t, leading to one of the funniest fantastic seduction scenes of all time.

Director Ross keeps the fantasy elements to a minimum here…clearly, the parts with Bogart have to stay what they are, but he re-arranged Woody’s original script to alter other scenes.  On stage, characters from Allan’s past or imagination would just stroll out, talk to him, and exit.  Here, Ross feels the need to keep a literal sense, using actual flashbacks or taking imagined scenes to actual locations.  I’m not sure such choices were necessary, but at least they give the picture more of a film-like sense, rather than the restricted sense of a simple play.

As far as writing goes, this is one of the Woodman’s funniest offerings.  The script is filled with memorable lines and exchanges and an ultimately sweet spirit about a love triangle and sacrifice…kind of the lighter side of Casablanca, whose classic ending scene is actually the beginning (and to a certain degree, the ending) of the film.

Play it Again, Sam is simply a modest comic charmer with plenty of laughs and some terrifically whimsical ideas.  Here’s looking at you, Woody!

BONUS TRIVIA:  The title is taken from the most famous non-existent line in movie history, one always attributed to Bogart in Casablanca, but in reality, never once spoken by him!

Video ***

This is a quality anamorphic offering from Paramount, especially for an older film.  The print itself is quite clean, and colors render quite well, with rich, natural tones and no bleeding.  Images are generally sharp and detailed throughout, and quality from darker to lighter settings doesn’t differ much.  I noticed no undue grain or break-up, and no digital artifacts of any kind.  A good effort.

Audio **

This is standard fare for a mono soundtrack…perfectly good, but not exceptionally praiseworthy.  Dialogue is clearly presented throughout, and given the nature of the film, that’s the only mark from which to judge it by.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

When the macho Humphrey Bogart gives love advice to the nebbish Woody Allen, how could the results be anything but fun?  Play it Again, Sam may not be listed among Allen’s most noted offerings (probably only because he didn’t direct it himself), but it’s still a funny, disarming charmer of a comedy.