[box cover]

Hannah and Her Sisters

MGM Home Video

Starring Mia Farrow, Dianne Weist, Barbara Hershey,
Max Von Sydow, Michael Caine, and Woody Allen

Written and directed by Woody Allen

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

Annie Hall. Manhattan. Crimes and Misdemeanors. Husbands and Wives.

When Woody Allen is at his very best, the comedian-turned-director shows an uncanny knack for dissecting relationships, exposing contradictions and lasering in on the conflicts and insecurities that threaten our hopes of happiness. His filter of comic neuroses candy-coats the devastating analysis, but you rarely leave one of Woody Allen's five great films without feeling that some new element of truth has been contributed to your own struggle to figure it all out.

In four of his masterpieces, however, Allen had tricks up his sleeve. His transitional film from funnyman to filmmaker, Annie Hall was cloaked in wild comic invention. Black and white Manhattan was soaked in romantic cynicism. Crimes and Misdemeanors took a sharp turn into dark moral ambiguities. Husbands and Wives was jarringly immediate, angry, and unforgiving.

This makes Hannah and Her Sisters, his 1985 masterpiece, sort of an anomaly. It is Allen Unplugged. It is everything we associate with him, free of decoration. It has the simple white on black titles, the popular jazz song score, the Manhattan settings, the affluent white people standing around talking. It is the only Allen film that is all and only what we commonly think of as being "A Woody Allen Film." In some ways this makes Hannah and Her Sisters seems small and unambitious, but even so it is a small and unambitious classic, well worthy of its place amongst the most effective of his canon.

Mia Farrow stars as Hannah, a successful stage actress-turned-homemaker and the oldest of three sisters, who, as her embittered show-biz parents withdraw into their autumn years, assumes the mantle as family matriarch. Her husband Elliot (Michael Caine) is a seemingly stable accountant, unlike her ex-husband, Mickey (Allen), a TV producer in the grip of a debilitating hypochondria.

Dianne Weist stars as Holly, the middle sister, and a mess. Her unsuccessful attempts to emulate Hannah's acting career leave her a bundle of nerves with a mild coke habit. She depends on her older sister for financial support, but must take with it Hannah's withering lack of moral support. She is the classic middle child in the shadow of the dominant senior, desperate for affirmation and self.

Barbara Hershey stars as Lee, the youngest sister, the romantic, a free spirit enamored of older men eager to assume the role of affectionate teacher. She lives with a cynical, angry and misanthropic artist (Max Von Sydow), but has also drawn the fancy of Hannah's husband, Elliot, who barrages her with favored novels and poetry.

In playing out his typically witty love triangles, disappointments, and neuroses, Allen poignantly illuminates the no-man's-land that hovers in the shadows between thoughts and actions, intentions and results, drama and truth. For all its soul searching and interpersonal treachery, Hannah enjoys the happiest ending of all his great films, and it is the warm and welcome affirmation of our complex lives that Allen's masterpiece richly deserves.

Both Caine and Weist won Oscars for their supporting performances, as did Allen for his screenplay.

MGM's Hannah and Her Sisters is presented in a fine, though by no means meticulous, 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital mono (Allen's preferred audio format). The theatrical trailer is included.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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