Stars – Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Harold Gould, Alfred Lutter, Olga Georges-Picot
Director – Woody Allen
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Love and Death may have been the last purely funny Woody Allen movie. His next film Annie Hall (1977) won four Academy Awards and was a beautifully realized production. Hence forth he has made close to a movie a year, at least 35 films and counting. He has used many other actors in the leading role rather than himself. Allen has gone out on a few artistic limbs, often alienating his initial audience. He has managed to work with a huge array of name talent in his highly personal films. Occasionally the sun, the moon and the stars will align and he’ll create a film like Midnight in Paris (2011) with broad appeal and plenty of his own stylish quirks still intact. However back in 1975 it seemed like all of his comedic influences were on full display. There was one clear goal; to make you laugh. That may have dated a bit but by and large this is still a very funny picture. The brisk 85 minute running time is just about the ideal length for a comedy.
Set in czarist Russia Woody is a poor schmuck named Boris. Diane Keaton is the attractive, vivacious and terribly unsatisfied Sonja. Boris wants Sonja. She doesn’t notice him. In between Boris’ romantic overtures there is a full plate of recognizable period happenings for Woody to satirize. There is a war with Napoleon, a duel at dawn, a cornucopia of bizarre relatives and even a village idiots convention. Allen is on fire. We are treated to visualizations of the kind of witty humor found in his popular essays and short stories. An old man whose only goal in life is to have a piece of land literally carries a crumbling clump of it in his shirt. Thee are plenty of blackout style sight gags. During the massive (well not too massive) battlefield scenes there is the Woodman with two cheerleaders and a megaphone urging us to root for the Russian Army. Allen and Diane Keaton engage in several comic asides that feel like an improvisational duet. They shoot rapid fire quips at each other with classic timing. There is a scene where they impersonate a Spanish brother and sister in order to gain entrance to Napoleon’s castle. When they are stopped at the door and asked who they are, they riff on not being recognized as the countess and the count. It is exactly the same kind of banter they did in Sleeper (1973 ) when they impersonated two doctors who must close the Leader’s nose.
The other kind of humor that runs blatantly through this film is the kind of farce that Bob Hope excelled at. It is clear that much of Woody’s cinematic persona, at least at that point, owes a great deal to the kind of period set films that Bob Hope made. He makes comic asides to us as we watch him. He’ll throw himself into a dance where he has no technique whatsoever. Just like those vehicles did for Hope he’ll write some plot lines that have him trying to save the world and get the girl but we know he is barely capable of tying his own shoe. That loveable ineptness is charming in the right hands. You can almost feel him channeling the seemingly effortless breezy style of Bob Hope in Son of Paleface (1952), Monsieur Beaucair (1946), Cassanova’s Big Night (1954) and others. In that respect the period costumes and set pieces all fit nicely into the plan. Whether some of the laughs have lost a little of their power or not Allen got this style of film down pat. For many this would be something of a swansong to the films of his that were just out and out funny stuff.
Even at this stage though there is a bit of a paradox going on. He’ll use a shot of a soldier’s cracked bloody eyeglasses to get a chuckle as we recognize the classic shot from Sergei Eisenstein’ Battleship Potemkin that he is parodying. He’ll set up that stylized Berman split face of a woman’s profile from Persona with Diane Keaton. Again it’s just a visual pun as we see it. Yet, when Keaton watches Woody dancing with Death at the end the shot is clearly a very European inspired type of composition. The comedy is in the way Woody dances and jokes with Death. The shot of Diane inside the house, behind the large window frame may have some humor to it but really, to me I think he’s beginning to like that kind of shot for what it is. As smartly done as his films have become there will always be a welcome place for those early ones. No matter how clever or inspired the humor the goal was clear and appreciated. Love and Death is not as uproarious as others but Boris and Sonja are more than enjoyable. The Village Idiots convention is hilarious.
Video – 1.85:1
The film looks better that I have ever seen it on home media. There is still grain, which is fine. Colors are good and the source material looks to be in good shape. The look of the film was ambitious then and that still comes across nicely.
Audio – DTS-HD MA 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
Sergei Prokofiev’s classic themes fit perfectly with the film.
Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Original Theatrical Trailer
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent