Play It Again, Sam (1972) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG for sexual references and language (would be PG-13 today)
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Jerry Lacy, Susan Anspach, Jennifer Salt
Director: Herbert Ross
Screenplay: Woody Allen (based on his play)
Review published December 14, 2015
Woody Allen (Bananas, Love and Death) adapts his successful Broadway play from 1969 to the big screen, a notable undertaking for the young and talented comic writer and actor who proved that he could play a romantic lead in films with his neurotic but witty personality. It's an interesting irony, given that his character is of a man who wishes he could be just like the great romantic lead actors in films of yesteryear, and then that same personality would become Allen's lead romantic persona throughout most of his career, to great success.
Allen plays Allan Felix, a film journalist living in San Francisco who finds himself in the unenviable position of having to put himself out there to meet women when his wife ends up dumping him for being too much of a watcher in life, and she wants more of a doer. His best friend, Dick (Roberts, Serpico), and Dick's benevolent wife, Linda (Keaton, The Godfather), do their best to set Allan up with women they know, but it's hard to find the right type for him, especially given his many quirks and neuroses that seem to come out in full bloom whenever he nervously tries to impress his dates. Wanting to be a man women would want, he summons fantasies of Humphrey Bogart as he exists in his favorite film, Casablanca -- the man's man -- to give him sage advice on what to do in such situation, but Allan is so entrenched in his erratic behavior that it's an uphill struggle.
Play It Again Sam is directed by Herbert Ross (Protocol, The Secret of My Success), a very good filmmaker in his own right, who had already helmed such quality films as Goodbye Mr. Chips and The Owl and the Pussycat to success. Allen didn't want to direct a play to the big screen, instead going for someone who would give it the look of a movie, and one that could broaden the commercial appeal of the project beyond just his own fanbase. It's one of those movies that often gets overlooked by people who look merely at Allen's filmography based on the films he's directed, but this is truly Allen's film through and through, even if Ross worked as a hired gun behind the camera. Though Ross isn't big on style, he is exceedingly competent on making the play feel cinematic, especially in drawing out good cinematography in and around San Francisco (it was meant to be filmed in New York, but a strike of film workers there forced a relocation), and very well-framed compositions that make Play It Again Sam one of Allen's most polished films.
For the film, Allen casts the main players from his stage play, Tony Roberts, Diane Keaton, and Jerry Lacy, who does his best impression of Bogie, usually lurking in the shadows so we don't see that he's not exactly a dead ringer close up on the big screen. All the pieces are there, including Allen's sharp and witty dialogue, some of the best in his long and distinguished career. Play It Again Sam is a film about a film buff literate enough to appeal in a big way to cinephiles, who'll appreciate the insider's look at classic and foreign cinema that Allen himself had been a lifelong student of, and it will be a special treat for any who adore Casablanca.
©2015 Vince Leo