Play It Again, Sam Review

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Despondent after being abandoned by his wife, Nancy, film critic Allen Felix takes the advice of his movie hero, Humphrey Bogart and reluctantly allows himself to be cheered up by his best friend Dick Christie, only to find himself falling for Dick’s wife


Woody Allen stumbled across his trademark screen persona in this engaging adaptation of the 1969 stage play that was inspired by his impending divorce from second wife, Louise Lasser. However, he would veer off into the future (Sleeper) and the Napoleonic past (Love and Death) before returning to this archetypical New York nebbish in Annie Hall. Ironically, an east coast union strike forced Herbert Ross to shoot the picture in San Francisco, but Allen Felix is essentially the template for Woody's Manhattan Man.

     Perhaps just as significantly, the Broadway production also brought Allen into contact with Diane Keaton. He had only agreed to a casting call to appease producer David Merrick, but was instantly struck by the kooky Californian and began to rework the scenario to her advantage. Indeed, so intense was their personal and professional attraction that, part way through the 453-performance run, Keaton briefly moved into Allen's apartment, where he was in the process of reworking the screenplay for Take the Money and Run. However, he would also make Bananas before a deal could be struck to transfer  Sam to the screen.  

     Woody was initially content for either Dustin Hoffman or Richard Benjamin to play Allan, as he still saw himself primarily as a comedian rather than a film-maker. But the success of Bananas persuaded Paramount to stick with the original stage trio of Allen, Keaton and Tony Roberts - although this was to be the last time that Allen would allow another director to handle one of his screenplays.

        Allen opened out the play by adding a couple of party and disco sequences and some self-lacerating reveries involving his ex-wife. However, the storyline retained its original three-act structure and this staginess is occasionally intrusive. But Allen was still able to imbue the action with a passion for cinema, not only through the memorabilia in Felix's apartment and Bogie's ethereal appearances, but also through the clips from Casablanca that reinforced the central celebration of movies as an escape from the pressures of daily life.

Woody's neuroses are still gloriously present, and the whole thing is made accessible by Herbert Ross' dynamic direction.