Tag Archives: Woody Allen

The Front (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Covering for blacklisted writers.

In 1953 during the height of the Red Scare where many working in Hollywood were blacklisted if they had any connections with communist sympathizers writer Alfred Miller (Michael Murphy) suddenly finds himself out of work and unable sell any of his scripts. He asks his friend Howard (Woody Allen) who works as a cashier at a cafe to act as a ‘front’ for him by selling his scripts to producers and acting as if he wrote them instead of Alfred. In exchange Howard would be able to collect 10 % of the profit, which he readily accepts. Soon Alfred’s other writer friends hire Howard to sell their scripts, which quickly makes him financially comfortable, but he soon sees the dark side of the business especially when he gets investigated for being communist sympathizer himself.

The film was written and directed by those who personally went through the blacklisting when it happened, which is great, but the film cannot seem to decide whether it wants to be a drama or comedy and takes too much of a timid, middle-of-the-road approach that is neither impactful nor memorable.  Lots of prime comedic potential gets completely glossed over like when Howard is forced to do a rewrite on a script in a hurry despite having no background, or knowledge on how to do it. This occurs twice and both times the film fails to show what he does to get out of the jam, he is shown for a couple of seconds on the phone presumably with Alfred getting advice, but it would’ve been funny hearing their conversation and seeing him quite literally sweat his way through the process.

Spoiler Alert!

The drama gets handled in too much of a genteel way too making the intended message mild and not something that completely connects emotionally with the viewer. The scene where Zero Mostel jumps out of a hotel window when he realizes his career is over happens much too fast. One second we hear the window being opened and the next second the camera quickly pans over to see that Mostel is no longer standing in the room making it seem more like he just disappeared into thin air. The ending where Howard finds himself forced to testify in front of the House of UnAmerican Activities panel is weak as well. The final 20 minutes is spent with this big build-up of what Howard will do when he is put in front of them, but the payoff is slight and hinges on him telling them to go ‘fuck themselves’, which is such an overused expression in this modern age that it hardly resonates as it once might’ve been.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Allen is an obnoxious protagonist that I did not find funny or sympathetic. He became so unlikable that I started wanting to see him get caught and even humiliated, which I don’t think was what the filmmakers intended the viewer to feel. I also thought it was ridiculous that this scrawny, dorky looking guy would be so brazen to come-on to hot looking women like he does. I know in the movies that he directs this always occurs and I looked past it as Woody simply revealing his diluted, narcisstic ego, but this film was done by a different director, so things should’ve been presented in a more realistic way by having the beautiful women laugh at Woody when he attempted to ask them out and forcing him to settle for someone his physical equal. I realize that Andrea Marcovicci’s character falls for Woody because she thinks he’s the writer of the scripts, but I would think after she went out with him for awhile she’d start to realize he wasn’t the same person she thought he was and not have to have it explicitly spelled out  for like it ultimately is.

It would’ve worked much better had Michael Murphy been cast as Howard as he was more able to convey likable qualities. Zero Mostel is also quite strong as the desperate comedian and had his character been cast in the lead it would’ve given the viewer a stronger feeling of what it was like to be blacklisted during that era as the story would’ve been told from the victim’s point-of-view instead of having those directly affected by the McCarthyism relegated to only supporting parts.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Manhattan (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer has relationship issues.

Isaac (Woody Allen) is an unemployed TV writer who’s currently dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) a 17-year-old girl, but he feels guilty about this and thinks it’s only a matter of time before she moves on to someone else that is more her age. In the meantime he begins seeing Mary (Diane Keaton) who is the mistress to his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). Eventually Isaac falls for Mary, but she then goes back to Yale forcing Isaac to beg Tracy to come back to him even as she’s prepares to go off to London to study acting.

Although this film became a critical darling I agree more with Allen himself who considers this to be the least favorite out of all of the movies he’s directed. The much ballyhooed black-and-white cinematography is a detriment especially when it shows the fireworks going off above the skyline, which if done in color would’ve been vibrant, but here it’s less than thrilling. The film also doesn’t give you much of a feel for the city since all it does is give brief shots of the skyscrapers and never any of its eclectic neighborhoods, shops, street life, or people. Looking at various photos of the city in Wikipedia gives one a far better visual taste of Manhattan then this film ever does and the George Gershwin score has unfortunately lost its uniqueness since United Airlines used it for many years for its ad campaign and I kept thinking of that the whole time it gets played here.

Allen’s trip with Keaton to a planetarium is interesting visually and their facial expressions during a visit to a concert is amusing, but otherwise the storyline dealing with their budding romance is boring and predictable. It’s fun to see, and a testament to Keaton’s great acting ability,  her playing a completely different type of person than the one she did just two years earlier in Annie Hall, but the character itself is off-putting and not someone most men would want to warm-up to. Maybe it’s the way she thinks that just because she’s from Philadelphia that makes her or anyone else from there morally superior, which I realize is meant to be amusing, but I didn’t find it that way mainly because I know people in real-life who are actually like that.

Allen’s visits with his ex-wife, played by Meryl Streep doesn’t jive either because I could not believe that they were ever compatible enough to ever have gotten married in the first place.  It’s also weird that her new partner Connie (Karen Ludwig) remains so civil and calm when in Allen’s presence since he apparently tried at one time to run her over with a car, which to me would make her not want to be anywhere near him, or even allow him into her home.

Allen’s relationship with Hemingway is the film’s only interesting aspect. Some of course may consider this to be controversial due to the wide age differences between the two although technically in the state of New York the age of consent is 17, so in the eyes of the law it was legal even though the characters themselves amusingly don’t seem aware of this. What I liked though was that Hemingway, despite being so young, comes off as the mature one in the relationship and when they’re shown walking side-by-side she is actually taller, which I found to be the funniest part of the whole movie. She also does a very convincing cry, which isn’t easy.

Unfortunately the relationship also leaves open a plethora of questions that the movie never bothers to answer. For instance where are her parents and what do they think of her living with a 42-year-old man? What do her friends think of Allen and what exactly does she see in this scrawny, whiny little man to fall-in-love with him anyways?

Supposedly her character is based on actress Stacey Nelkin who had a on-going relationship with Allen for 8 years starting when she was 16, but that made more sense because she was a young would-be starlet who most likely was mesmerized by Allen as a well-established director and who she probably saw as being her ticket to possibly breaking into the business, but here Isaac is an unemployed nobody yammering incessantly about things like Ingmar Bergman, which is something most teens can’t get into, so again I ask what does this Hemingway character see in this guy that would make her want to move in with him?

I’ve been a fan of many of Allen’s other films especially his comedies from the early 70’s and some of his dramas too, but this one left me cold. I felt that way when I first saw it over 20 years ago and nothing changed upon the second viewing as it seems to be cramming in three diametrically different storylines giving it kind of a jumbled narrative instead of just focusing on one.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

everything 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Woody takes on sex.

This is a very loose adaptation by Woody Allen of the famous sex manual written by David Reuben, but given a comic spin. This was made when Allen was at his absolute peak as nearly everything is funny and original.

Some of the jokes are outrageously over the edge even for today. The highlights include Gene Wilder’s incredibly long reaction shot after a shepherd informs him that he has fallen in love with one of the sheep from his flock. Another highlight includes Allen trying to fight off a giant ‘monster breast’ by using a Crucifix and a giant bra. Cross dresser Lou Jacobi getting caught in a women’s dress while visiting a friend’s house is another classic as well as ‘What’s My Perversion’ a very brilliant and inspired send up of ‘What’s My Line’. Of course the best may be, should I say, the climactic sequence involving the control room of the inside of a man’s brain as he goes through ejaculation.

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The only negative is the second segment entitled ‘Why some Women can’t have orgasms’ is a misfire. The joke of having Allen and Lasser talk in only Italian with no subtitles wears thin pretty quickly. The only pluses from this segment involve seeing Allen in a pair of trendy glasses as well as watching an electric dildo catch on fire.

In a lot of ways I consider this to be Allen’s best comedy. Just about everything works and it’s all laugh- out-loud funny. Even the few things that don’t are still creative enough to get kudos.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video