Monday, September 05, 2011

#193: Play it again, Sam

For all those fans of the Woody Allen-Diane Keaton chemistry, well this is where it all began. Play it Again, Sam was one of Woody's most successful plays that had the couple performing the central characters on-stage along with Tony Roberts and Jerry Lacy. When the decision to make this into a movie was taken, it was only natural that the four reprised their roles on-screen and thus began a legacy of the Allen-Keaton on-screen relationship.

Even if one rules out the reference to the immortal quote (which incidentally wasn't exactly such), it is quite obvious that Play it Again, Sam was Woody's tribute to the classic Casablanca. When protagonist Allan (Woody Allen) in the opening scene of the movie is sitting alone starry-eyed in a dim theater that's playing Casablanca, he not only speaks for himself but also sets the tone for the rest of the movie. His best friend busybody Dick (Tony Roberts) is a man eternally on the move for work and when a business trip takes him out of town, Allan starts hanging out with his wife, Linda (Keaton). At any time, we are not really sure if Allan is going to be with Linda by the end of the movie. That the movie hangs on to that single question and still retains your interest till the very end is quite remarkable. That feat is achieved primarily because of two people. The first is the brooding writer Allan, whose wife has left him and whose manic depression is the main sublet for humor in the movie. The second is the surprise character of Humphrey Bogart, essayed so very meticulously by Jerry Lacy.

Bogart is Allan's soul-mate in the movie, his favorite mentor, hero and critic. Whenever Allan is in a spot, he turns to Bogart for advise. This Calvin-Hobbes sort of a situation was weaved in seamlessly in the main love story and served as a unique instrument to evoke some laugh-out loud moments. Jerry Lacy's jaw-dropping impersonation of Bogart is the most appealing component about Play it Again, Sam even as glimpses of the sparkling chemistry between Keaton and Allen are very much on offer. Keaton slips in effortlessly as a woman who is feeling a bit short of attention from her husband played by Tony Roberts. Robert's character is consumed with work, even when he's home with Keaton and soon enough, unknown to him Keaton starts taking a liking to Allan. At 85 minutes, the movie is one of Allen's shortest and yet would rank as one of his most memorable screenplays because of its unusual on-screen character of Bogart.

Play it Again, Sam is a genuine but an unconventional ode to Casablanca. There were very few scripts that Woody Allen wrote and didn't direct beginning from the 70s. This was one of his last. It is said that Allen always wished to have complete control over the production, something he learnt the hard way with his bitter experiences on movies such as What's Up Pussycat and Casino Royale. However, it will have to be said that director Herbert Ross not only handled this quirky script adeptly but also gave us a wonderful movie to savor.

Rating: 7.5/10

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