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Take the Money and Run

Those who long for Woody Allen's "earlier, funnier" films (which the director mocked through a very thin veil in Stardust Memories) often will turn to such pre-Annie Hall titles as Bananas or Sleeper for the sort of single-serving gags that originally made Allen a popular star. But Allen's first movie as writer/director, 1969's Take the Money and Run, can be seen as the purest example of the young comedian's appeal. True fans need look no further than the double-vinyl Stand-Up Comic, a 1978 compilation of Allen's live act featuring shows from 1964-68. Each cut on the record (and now on CD) is about as perfect as joke-writing, and joke-telling, gets. Among the most legendary is "The Moose," an entirely absurdist tale about Allen taking a live moose to a costume party, where it becomes confused with a Jewish couple in a moose costume. Other bits mock celebrity ("The Vodka Ad") as well as his own personal life and recent divorce, but the gag is always the same, more or less — nebbish, red-headed, bespectacled schlemiel Allen Konigsberg is in fact a fabulous comedy star and a real ladies' man. Young Woody always had a gift for playing off his own physiognomy, and he could deliver a non sequitur with the lethal patience of an ace Yankees southpaw. Hence, Take the Money and Run — an essentially plot-free 85 minutes that takes the gag one concept beyond: Instead of being a swinging stud, Woody is an arch-criminal wanted across America for a string of jailbreaks, robberies, and bank heists. Essentially told as a mockumentary (with brilliantly deadpan narration by Jackson Beck), Woody plays Virgil Starkwell, who finds his string of crimes interrupted by an unexpected romance with pretty girl Louise (Janet Margolin). But even love doesn't quench his thirst for danger and ill-gotten profit, and along the way Allen adorns his patchwork script with such oddball moments as being stuck on a chain gang, escaping from prison with a bar of soap, being chased by a gorilla, becoming a rabbi after a medical experiment, and trying to hold up a bank with a "gub." It looks like it all was shot for about $200 with enough film equipment to fill the back of a station wagon, but like Allen's stand-up act, the jokes are so perfectly timed, with barely a break in between, that the whole thing seems to rush by in a flash. Allen would actually start to dabble in character and plot after this early effort, but even if Take the Money and Run has little do with Allen's storytelling, it has everything to do with his inimitable style, which can be found in everything since from Airplane! to Austin Powers. MGM's DVD release of Take the Money and Run features a solid open-matte transfer (1.33:1) from a good source-print that faithfully delivers Allen's low-budget cinematography, while the monaural soundtrack (DD 2.0) handles the film's variable-quality audio with ease. No extras, keep-case.

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