February 9, 2016

Play It Again, Sam (1972)
Grade: 83/100

Director: Herbert Ross
Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts

What it's about. Based on Woody Allen's successful play. Allan (Allen) is a film critic obsessed with cinema. His more attractive wife Nancy (Susan Anspach) has recently left him. His best friends Dick (Tony Roberts) and Linda (Diane Keaton) are concerned, and set him up with a disastrous series of dates.

Allan also receives relationship advice from the ghost of Allen's hero, Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy). Allan also sees apparitions of his Nancy. Sometimes, the faux Nancy and the fax Bogart bookend Allen, to further confuse him.

Dick and Linda are married, but Dick is ever distracted by business, and is often out of town. The lonely Linda begins spending more and more time with Allan, who begins to see her as a potential romantic conquest.

How others will see it. In 1972, The Godfather was the number one box office film for seven straight weeks until May 7, when Play It Again, Sam briefly surpassed it. (Diane Keaton was the female lead in that movie as well). But despite the movie's money-making prowess, and its favorable reviews, it was ignored by both the Oscars and Golden Globes.

Today at imdb.com, the film has a modest 19K user votes, far less than The Godfather. But the user votes of 7.7 are high, and rise to 8.1 among women over 45, the most telling demographic. The consensus is that Woody Allen is a nebbish, but he tries his best, and he's always saying or doing something amusing.

How I felt about it. Two of Woody Allen's best films were not self-directed. One was The Front (1976), and the other is the present movie. Allen did write both the screenplay and the source play, and had mentally moved on to other projects. It is also uncharacteristic that it was not set in New York. The production moved to San Francisco because of a union strike.

But it other ways, the film is classic Woody Allen. The always agreeable Diane Keaton is the romantic female lead (the first Allen-Keaton movie), and the amusing Tony Roberts shows up as a man in need of a beeper (as my father once commented, also in an era before the omnipresence of cell phones). Woody is again a short, homely neurotic in search of a beautiful young woman he doesn't really deserve. Not to mention that he's a magazine film critic. He'll be lucky to pay the rent. Especially in San Francisco.

But if you're looking for laughs, Woody is your man. And he's hilarious in this movie, especially when he is trying to impress his date, the star of Gang Bang. Woody's imaginary friend, the ghost of golden-age Hollywood tough guy Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy), is his romantic counselor, and is always there for Woody when he needs him, even after Bogart is briefly shot dead by Allen's free-spirited ex-wife Nancy (Susan Anspach).

We know why Diane Keaton would fall in love with Woody Allen. He's a filmmaker, and she's an actress. Why Linda would fall for Allan is a different matter. Maybe she just has a mothering instinct.

Among Woody Allen films, I have this pegged in second or third place, tied with The Front and trailing only Manhattan (1979). Although Herbert Ross was the man behind the camera, it seems like an Allen movie all the way. Particularly when the four leads were also in the Broadway play.