[box cover]

Play It Again, Sam

Play It Again, Sam, a light and witty 1972 comedy, is a fine representative of Woody Allen's "early, funny movies." It's only incidental that he didn't direct it. That role was taken up by Herbert Ross (The Turning Point, The Goodbye Girl), who took Allen's Broadway play and fashioned it into a pleasant commercial picture that broadened Allen's audience by providing a more mainstream, less "wacky" Woody than moviegoers had seen in Take the Money and Run (1969) and Bananas (1971). This was also the movie that first introduced two young actors who would become familiar repertory players in Allen's movies: Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts, both of whom had co-starred with Allen in the stage version. Allen had no interest in directing a movie of a work he had written for the stage, and it's to Ross' credit that he was able to open up Allen's one-set play, enlarge it gently to big-screen proportions, direct the screenplay's author, and end up with an affable situation comedy focused on its characters and an extramarital romance that's no more tawdry than white wine served in a red-wine glass.

Allen again plays his recognizably neurotic persona, this time named Allan Felix, a movie buff and writer for film magazines. Despondent after his wife (Susan Anspach) leaves him for a life of doing rather than merely watching, Allan lets his best friends, the married couple Linda and Dick (Keaton and Roberts), attempt to fix him up with various women — creating, of course, disastrous results. Coaching him in the fine art of seduction is Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy), who appears like the Ghost of Lovemaking Past to boost Allan's self-confidence and dispense tough-guy wisdom about women ("I never saw a dame yet that didn't understand a good slap in the mouth or a slug from a .45"). The only woman Allan doesn't go into an "act" with is Linda, whose marriage to workaholic, phone-addicted Dick is on thin ice. So naturally Linda and Allan realize that they have fallen in love.

The result is a blend of that Casablanca mystique, 1972 sexual hipness, and a verbally Allenesque homage to Hollywood romanticism. It's the Woody Allen movie that's (a) set in San Francisco rather than Manhattan and (b) ends with a sweetly optimistic fade-out. Play It Again, Sam feels like a working-through of elements later expanded in Annie Hall and other Allen masterstrokes. It's certainly more conventional than any "Woody Allen film" before or since, and nowadays it plays as a reflective period piece. Above all, it's still early Woody, and therefore it's damn funny.

*          *          *

Paramount's DVD release hands us a very good transfer from a clean print in its original 1.85:1 (anamorphic) aspect ratio. Audio is clean and free of distortion in DD 2.0 monaural. No extras beyond a French language track (DD 2.0 mono) and English subtitles. Keep-case.

—Mark Bourne

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