Movies We Like
Play It Again, Sam
If Play It Again, Sam looks a little more like a generic 1970s romantic comedy than the usual Woody Allen flick of the period, that’s because Allen didn’t direct it. But it was based, seemingly line-for-line, on his own popular Broadway play with the three stars (Allen, Diane Keaton & Tony Roberts) reprising their roles. Allen was still early and raw in his directing career, so the much blander Herbert Ross (The Goodbye Girl), an ex-theater choreographer, took the helm. But it still has Allen’s incredibly funny script, showing many signs of the more mature style that would explode into Annie Hall, later in the decade.
Woody plays Allan, a San Francisco film fanatic and writer. Recently dumped by his wife, he’s even more of a mess than usual and in need of constant consolation from his friends, the married couple Dick and Linda (Roberts and Keaton), though Dick always seems to be preoccupied with work. Allan is hoping to score with a chick to help mend his broken heart, but he’s more comfortable watching movies than talking to a woman. Like a classic film geek, his life and his relationship to the world are based on a pose he has seen in films (usually the classics). He’s so lonely and extreme in his film obsession that he has developed an imaginary friend, Humphrey Bogart in his full Casablanca trench coat and hat get up. Bogart imparts two-bit noir advice, "I never saw a dame yet that didn't understand a good slap in the mouth or a slug from a .45." Allan usually ignores the advice and does the opposite or when he tries to obey, it usually goes hopelessly wrong.
The comedy comes from Woody Allen at his most self-deprecating. It’s like one long comedy act and that’s a good thing because Woody Allen’s comedy act was very funny. In Play It Again, Sam the character Allan is not as intellectual as the characters Woody would come to play in his more mature later comedies. This guy, though a film buff, is in some ways more of an everyman, he just wants sex and any young, attrative woman will do. He meets a woman at an art gallery and wants to ask her out. He asks what she’s doing Saturday night, she says committing suicide. He says, "What about Friday?" That’s a perfect Woody Allen joke and the film is full of them, as his character gets more and more desperate his self-esteem gets smaller and the laughs get bigger.
Eventually, after a number of disastrous dates and set-ups with women, Allan comes to realize that the true object of his affection is his married friend Linda. All leading to a love triangle resolution resembling the ending of Allan’s favorite movie, Casablanca (with the fantasy Bogart character filling in for Claude Rains). This was the first of seven films Keaton would make with Allen (eight if you count her cameo in Radio Days). The chemistry between them is apparent, though Linda may only be there to toss Allan the set-up for his punch line. And actually the equally lonely Linda could be considered cruel for toying with the vulnerable heart of Allan.
Play It Again, Sam makes nice use of early '70s San Francisco locations, which can be jarring to see Allen treating San Fran as his comfortable stomping ground the way he famously uses New York City in his best films (it was suppose to shoot in NY but a strike that summer forced a last minute move to the other coast). Like all early Allen work, besides the great amount of laughs, Play It Again, Sam is interesting as an early test for Woody Allen playing a romantic lead. Most of all it’s one of the great tributes to film nerds, I can relate, people who live in their own fantasy world based on what they see in films. I guess we haven’t changed much since ’72.