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Case Number 10315: Small Claims Court

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They All Laughed

HBO // 1981 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // November 9th, 2006

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All Rise...

They all laughed, but Judge Brett Cullum wonders why he feels so damn sad.

The Charge

The last movie for Audrey Hepburn and Dorothy Stratten…

The Case

They All Laughed isn't a movie as much as it is an obsession for filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (Paper Moon, The Last Picture Show). It stars the women he loved, running around the city he adored, doing his take on a romantic comedy. It's the last feature film for Playmate Dorothy Stratten (Galaxina), and also ended up being the last starring role for Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany's). Stratten was murdered mere months after filming They All Laughed, and the studio decided not to distribute the film so soon after the tragedy. Unfortunately, the director had been romantically involved with his star before she was killed by her ex-boyfriend, so he was determined to get the film out no matter what. Bogdanovich spent over five million dollars of his own money to get the film released. It completely bombed. He was ruined financially and professionally, but his Valentine to Stratten and Hepburn is out for the world to see.

File They All Laughed into the collection of "DVDs where the extras are better than the movie." The film is a mess of a romantic comedy that never has the right touch to make it funny or moving. It concerns private eyes following women; they fall in love with their targets instead. Ben Gazzara (Dogville) plays the detective trailing Audrey Hepburn, while John Ritter (Three's Company's legendary leading man) is hot on the trail of Dorothy Stratten. Assisting both of them at random times is the long-haired, always on skates, stoner presence of Blaine Nokak (who helped produce this film). Sounds intriguing, but it's nowhere near what it could be. It reeks of New York sophistication in the '80s—which includes country music, huge glasses, metallic stretch pants, and roller skating. Long stretches of the movie have no dialogue as the detectives trail their marks; meanwhile, when a conversation is struck up it moves at 180 mph, with tons of pretentious, inconsequential banter. The story is stuck in first gear, and there's no tension or amusement in any of the situations. The performers do what they do best: Stratten looks pretty, Ritter falls down a lot, Gazzara and Hepburn moon over each other (they were in an ill-fated romance at the time). None of it adds up to much more than quirky vignettes showcasing them, a capable supporting cast, and New York City in 1981.

Though the movie itself doesn't offer much, the extras on this disc make it worth the investment. There is a casual interview by Wes Anderson (Rushmore) sitting down with Bogdanovich at a New York restaurant and discussing this project. Bogdanovich names They All Laughed his favorite film (much to Anderson's surprise), and he reveals how personal the affair was at the time. The director commentary is not quite as engaging, but offers insights into the cast and the production.

The DVD transfer is clear and precise. I'm not sure about the original aspect ratio, because at times it looks clipped (people's heads get cut out now and then). But you couldn't ask for more clarity or a finer looking presentation. The stereo soundtrack works fine since we're mainly dealing with music and dialogue. All in all HBO has done an outstanding job with the title, and it's certainly a collector's dream for fans of the actors or the director.

There's a melancholy haze over this picture that has only grown with time. Hepburn, Stratten, and Ritter have all passed away under sad circumstances. They All Laughed has them romping through a New York that often revolves around the World Trade Center towers in 1981. Back in the '80s there was concern that the film would feel too mournful with Stratten's murder hanging over a romantic comedy, and now the heavy clouds have only grown larger around the subjects. It never works as a comedy, but it's a nice way to remember several of our favorite actors and a beloved city at a time when they were intact and thriving. They All Laughed is a worthy title for any collection, but it's a rough ride when you consider it. I'd recommend this for Bogdanovich fans. His is the most unmistakable voice; that of a renegade film maker who always fell for the tragic, and tried to mine comedy out of it.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 81

Perp Profile

Studio: HBO
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Comedy
• Independent
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary by Director Peter Bogdanovich
• Director to Director: A Conversation Between Peter Bogdanovich and Wes Anderson


• IMDb

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