Synopsis: Woody Allen’s wonderful comedy was his first film with Diane Keaton, a relationship that would eventually bring them both Oscars® (Annie Hall). Allen plays Allen, a fanatical movie buff with an outrageous recurring hallucination: Humphrey Bogart offering tips on how to make it with the ladies. His married friends Dick and Linda (Tony Roberts and Diane Keaton) fix him up with several eligible young ladies, but his self-confidence is so weak that he’s a total failure with them all. Eventually, Allen discovers that there is one woman he’s himself with: Linda, his best friend’s wife. The final scene is a terrific takeoff on “Casablanca’s” classic ending, complete with roaring plane propellers, heavy fog and Bogart-style trenchcoats.
Play it Again, Sam 8.25
Allan: “I love the rain – it washes memories off the sidewalk of life.”
‘Play it Again, Sam’ is Allen’s first true attempt at merging humour and drama into a cohesive whole; in truth, if any picture is the predecessor of ‘Annie Hall’, this one is. Even Allen’s films in between ‘Play it Again, Sam’ and ‘Annie Hall’ don’t manage to cross that line as effectively as he does here; ‘The Front’, a rare example of a film he neither wrote and/or directed comes the closest.
The humour is still too broad, unfortunately, what with Allen’s predilection for slapstick sticking out like a sore thumb – not because the gags aren’t funny, but mostly because his delivery isn’t nearly as skillful as it should be. There are moments that work brilliantly, like when he tries to impress a date and swings a record out of its sleeve by mistake, or when he topples over a chair, but these are exceptions.
The strength of the film is Allen’s self-reflective monologues, which are delivered as though he were talking to himself out loud. I loved those: not only were thought-provoking, perhaps even insightful, but they were quite funny. Allen has a way with words and he would eventually focus on these types of observations in his later works. It’s quite clear that ‘Play it Again, Sam’ was originally conceived as a play but. amazingly, this device also works on film.
The themes are similar to what we’ve come to expect from Woody Allen, but its mixed approach maintains it as a stand-out even over two dozen films later. In many ways it’s one of the freshest of his works, because it did many things for the first time and you can feel it – it retains a vitality that other don’t have. One example is the device of having a fictitious character to talk to (in this case Rick Blaine/Humphrey Bogart from ‘Casablanca’) – something he would reuse in ‘Mighty Aphrodite’, ‘Scoop’ and ‘To Rome With Love’. But this was his first, and it shows.
Also a first is the appearance of Diane Keaton, who would become a mainstay of his ’70s pictures. It’s a terrific first start, even if she was a bit off here, being unable to deliver her lines entirely convincingly. Sadly, she doesn’t show off her comedic skills in ‘Play it Again, Sam’, but she’s got so much presence that it’s no wonder that Allen would pick her for his next features. Well, that and the fact that they were an item by then, of course.
Aside from its connections with ‘Casablanca’, demonstrating Allen’s passion for the cinema for probably the first time on the silver screen, the picture (which is based on his stage play) is mostly about a lonely loser who falls for his best friend’s wife. It’s nothing original, however it’s all done with Allen’s flair and it makes it special. I especially loved the ending, in which Allan gets to say his all-time favourite line to Linda:
Allan: “If that plane leaves the ground, and you’re not on it with him, you’ll regret it – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”
Linda: “That’s beautiful!”
Allan: “It’s from Casablanca; I waited my whole life to say it.”
And that’s all there is to it; those lines wrap it all up perfectly, beautifully. One can speculate that the original play might have been Allen’s attempt at saying something he had never before been able to say before and never thought he’d get another chance to in his comic routines. With ‘Play it Again, Sam’, he managed to indeed do something special, something uniquely his own, and it would become a trademark. Luckily, it became something we’d come to expect and still crave four decades later.
Many have been inspired by his works, but there is only one Woody Allen. In the end, even though he’s been repeating himself for years, I find it very difficult to chastise the man: after all, when it comes down to it, only he truly can deliver a Woody Allen film. So, play it again, Sam.