"This could be the beginning of a beautiful affair…"
In 1972 Woody Allen adapted his stage play "Play It Again, Sam" into a feature length motion picture. Surprisingly, Allen didn't direct, instead handing the reigns over to Herbert Ross (Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl, Footloose). Teaming up for the first time with Diane Keaton (the two would eventually go on to win Oscars for 1977's Annie Hall), Allen goofed and gagged his way through a story involving love, dating, and the film Casablanca. Also starring Allen-alumni Tony Roberts (Annie Hall), Play It Again, Sam comes to DVD for the first time care of Paramount.
Facts of the Case
Allen (Allen) is a complete klutz when it comes to women and relationships. His wife of two years has divorced him and Allen is now left on his own in the shark infested waters of the dating pool. His best friend Dick (Roberts) and his wife Linda (Keaton) are trying to console him while simultaneously getting him back on his feet when it comes to relationships. The trouble is that Allen acts like a complete idiot when he's around the opposite sex.
Since Allen is a film reviewer and all around movie nut, he uses the image of Humphrey Bogart from Casablanca as his guide to scoring with women. Bogie often shows up to give Allen some pointers on how to act cool and play it smooth with the ladies. With the help of Dick and Linda, Allen is hoping to get back into the swing of things. However, trouble arises when Allen realizes that the love of his life may be right in front of his very own nose: the beautiful Linda!
Just a day ago, I watched the Kevin Bacon/Elizabeth Perkins romantic comedy He Said, She Said. The gist of my review was that it was mild romance filled with bland comedy. I also pointed out that I am not a huge fan of romantic comedies. How odd that the next film I watched after He Said, She Said was Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam. While the two movies don't have a lot in common, they are both technically romantic comedies. Whereas He Said, She Said was humdrum at best, Play It Again, Sam ends up being a lot more enjoyable.
Part of the reason I enjoyed Play It Again, Sam more than He Said, She Said has to do with the fact that I'm a Woody Allen fan (so I'm a little biased. Sue me). Some people might enjoy the more straightforward aspect of "normal" romantic comedies like He Said, She Said or Runaway Bride. I, on the other hand, prefer a much more slanted look when it comes to love and relationships. Allen has a very perceptive eye for comedy, as well as witty dialogue when it comes to discussing relationships. Allen's character in Play It Again, Sam is no hero, nor is he a tough guy or masculine lover (this point is driven home hard when he's stuck in a bar drinking 7-Up while two bikers harass Allen and his date). However, they guy is likable, and that hopefully counts for something.
I'm not exactly sure how Play It Again, Sam played on the stage. As it stands, the film is a breezy comedy that ranks as one of Allen's lighter works. In this film, Allen doesn't seem to be trying to intellectualize about God or morality, nor does he attempt to do anything overly comedic or complex. Many of the laughs here come from gentle moments and funny dialogue, though not the way most Allen fans would expect. In Play It Again, Sam Woody's dialogue is not as bust-a-gut funny as in his other films, but for a smaller story like this that's almost okay. During many of the scenes, Allen wrings laughs out of some zany physical comedy, usually happening when he's attempting to impress a new date or a pretty girl. There is one scene where Allen has his first date after his divorce that is absolutely hysterical (attempting to put his coat away he knocks over an entire endtable full of knick-knacks).
As usual, Woody the actor just plays a variation on Woody the character. Neurotic, self absorbed and freakish, the character of Allen is funny and exactly what we've come to know and love from Woody Allen. Diane Keaton's first pairing with Allen also is funny, and you can instantly recognize why the two would work together in so many subsequent films. Here Keaton is somewhat naïve and cute, also a variation on many of her early characters in Woody's films. Tony Roberts is his usual dry self, sounding pompous and intelligent while still retaining a certain charm.
Play It Again, Sam will not go down as one of Woody Allen's most complicated films. It's also not his funniest, though it does have its fair share of laughs. Instead, Play It Again, Sam feels as if it were maybe made for TV, a small comedy with light (yet sustained) laughs. It's enjoyable, it's entertaining, and it's got a fake Bogie in it. Come to think of it, this may be the perfect companion for a Casablanca double feature.
Play It Again, Sam is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has done a fair job on this transfer, making sure that the colors and black levels are all even and bright. While I did spot a bit of edge enhancement during the film, overall it was kept to a minimum. One problem was that there seemed to be an excessive amount of grain during the film, though this may be due in part to the age of the film more than Paramount's transfer.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital Mono and sounds fine in the confines of the film. Dialogue, effects and music were all clear with only the slightest distortion present in a few scenes. Seeing as this is a dialogue driven comedy a new remix wasn't needed (though certainly would have been welcome). Also included on this disc are English subtitles and a French Dolby Mono soundtrack.
Much like the MGM Woody Allen discs, Play It Again, Sam is very, very low on supplements. So low that I couldn't find any. Maybe Paramount has hidden them somewhere in one of the menus…
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Not even a theatrical trailer? Aww…come on, Paramount. Even MGM was able to scrape THOSE up…
This movie is worth seeing just to watch Woody attempt to drink a shot of bourbon at a bar. I had to actually stop the movie because I was laughing so hard. Paramount has done decent work on this title, though the exclusion of even a theatrical trailer is pretty disappointing. I can recommend this as a purchase for Woody Allen fans, but for every one else a rental will suffice.
Play It Again, Sam is free to go. Paramount is out on bail with a pending court date for a missing theatrical trailer…
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