Play it Again Sam: Romantic comedy-Woody Allen style

Here’s laughing at you, kid.

 

By Don Harward, Special to the Star

 

A perfect tag line for Woody Allen’s 1972 film, Play it again, Sam a quixotic combination of

romance, comedy and a little bit of Humphrey Bogart thrown in for good measure. Featuring

several clips from the 1942 classic motion picture Casablanca, Bogart is also a character; cast as

a posthumous relationship advisor/love coach to the newly divorced and romantically-challenged

Allen. This movie is the perfect choice to watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon as it is guaranteed

to elicit a chuckle or two out of almost anyone.

Play it again, Sam is a Woody Allen film adaptation of the 1969 Broadway hit of the same name,

which was also written by Allen. As is typical of the acclaimed writer/director/actor, he plays a

starring role; this time as the main character, Alan Felix, a neurotic film critic who has a fixation

on the movie Casablanca. What makes his movie stand out from the rest of Allen’s body of

work from this era is that here; he atypically allows someone other than himself to fill the role of

director. In a March 1972 interview for Cinema magazine he said that he hoped that the director,

Herbert Ross, “would garner a nice, solid, funny commercial picture, and hopefully entice a

broader audience for me than I get with my own films.”

Released on May 4 1972, the movie’s four main characters are portrayed by the same actors who

played them on stage; Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Jerry Lacey and Woody Allen. As the movie

opens we find ourselves watching classic monochrome footage of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid

Berman saying farewell to each other in the final sequence of Casablanca. As the screening

concludes, Alan Felix leaves the cinema and we become privy to an internal dialogue which is

self-depreciating, insightful and oftentimes funny. The recently divorced Alan has an odd

penchant for talking to himself which extends into conversations with his ex-wife and with

Bogart. The arrival of his best friend, Dick (T. Roberts) and wife, Linda (D. Keaton) kicks off an

odyssey of disastrous blind dates, all arranged by the couple, that are fabulously fouled-up by

Alan. At the climax of the story, Alan awkwardly declares his love for Linda who then bolts out

of the door, returning a few moments later to spend a passion-filled night with him. The story is

expertly maneuvered to end with a quasi-reenactment of the final scene in Casablanca with

Linda in Lauren Bacall’s role and Alan in Bogart’s. The final moments tug at the heart-strings as

Alan reveals a brilliant insight as he walks off, into the mist with Bogart by his side.

Popularly categorized as a romantic comedy, I found it to be thoroughly entertaining, although at

times it incorporates certain stereotypical perceptions of the sexes into its humor — which may be

distasteful, or even offensive to some. Infrequent yet regular references to suicide, rape and other

violent acts would make this movie off-limits for my pre-teen daughter, for many of the same

reasons that Eddie Murphy’s Delirious is also off-limits.

For the movie buff, the genius of this film lies in its subtle nuances of meaning which are

effortlessly portrayed by this ensemble of actors, veterans of over 450 on-stage performances of

this same material. The under-current of sexual tension between former real-life couple, Woody

Allen and Diane Keaton, adds a dimension of affection and believability to the on-screen tryst

they eventually find themselves in.

Overall an excellent candidate for the Retro-Review Approved list, earning a four out of five

stars.

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