Love and Death (1975) / Comedy-War
MPAA Rated: PG for comic violence and some sexual humor
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, James Tolkan, Harold Gould, Olga Georges-Picot, Henry Czarniak, Sol L. Fieder
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published October 29, 2004
Love and Death marks the last movie written and directed by Woody Allen (Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo) just before he became a more serious filmmaker with Annie Hall two years later. Like some of his previous works, there's a scattershot approach taken by Allen, who experiments with a variety of different cinematic styles, as well as comedic, and slaps them together into a loosely cohesive, light-hearted romp. Not all of it works, but some bits are classic; It's a timeless funny movie, and one of Allen's best in the screwball department.
It's one of Woody's rare films not set in New York, filming most of it in the outdoors of Hungary and some locations in Paris, and also a unique period piece for the very modern comedian, set in 19th Century Russia. Woody plays Boris, a cowardly Russian who gets drafted into the Russian army to fight on the frontlines against the mighty French army, led by the legendary Napoleon (Tolkan, Back to the Future). Through a fluke agreement, Boris is betrothed to his beloved cousin Sonja (Keaton, Running Mates), who tries valiantly for Boris to assassinate Napoleon when he takes Moscow.
From the high amount of homage Allen pays to other filmmakers, from Bergman to Eisenstein, Love and Death marks his first film to take his role as a filmmaker seriously, although still clearly in a purely comedic style. Similar in style to the Marx Brothers films, in particular, Duck Soup, Allen sets a screwball comedy amid more serious circumstances, but never loses his inspired tone throughout, despite tossing out a variety of gags and humorous set pieces. Mixing some very intellectually droll humor with silly slapstick, Love and Death is a refreshing parody of Russian films and literature, but with shtick that makes it accessible to almost everyone. However, you do appreciate the film more, the more you know of the source material Allen makes allusion to.
With a terrific comedic performance by Allen sidekick Diane Keaton, and a memorable use of Profokiev in the score, Love and Death is a must-see for all of Allen's fans, as well as those who enjoy the great epic Russian works (Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in particular), Ingmar Bergman, and the history of Napoleon and Russia. For a fast, funny, exuberant time, this ranks among Allen's finest dessert films.
©2004 Vince Leo