Play It Again, Sam

by Damian Cannon

An amusing tale of a neurotic film buff who turns to Bogart for advice on being successful with women, with glorious parallels to Casablanca. Allan Felix (Woody Allen) is a fan who revels in the whole process of watching, talking and writing about movies. At this time Allan's life is in turmoil, since his wife Nancy (Susan Anspach) has just walked out and asked for a divorce. Apparently she just doesn't find him funny, interesting or attractive any more -- but don't take it personally! Reeling from the blow Allan turns to the only solid thing in his life, movies, and projects his alter-ego into the form of Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy). As the complete opposite to Allan's nervous, desperate, obsessed character Bogart offers solid advice on dealing with "dames". Luckily Allan has slightly more solid friends in the form of Linda (Diane Keaton) and Dick Christie (Tony Roberts). Linda is similarly neurotic and insecure while Dick lives for his business (he constantly phones the office to report his location), although they both commiserate on his predicament.

Finding women for Allan to go out with, the task undertaken by Linda and Dick, is made a little difficult by his exacting standards. Anybody is fine as long as they're tall, blond, have big chests and might like him. What's worse is that when they find a candidate, such as Sharon (Jennifer Salt), Allan is so tense that he makes a complete fool of himself -- falling over furniture, fumbling his words and drinking after-shave. Matters become even more ridiculous when Allan takes a girl to a seedy bar, where she suggests that they can "get high and watch the weirdos". Unfortunately the leather-clad inhabitants of the bar don't take kindly to this up-town intrusion and make trouble; beating up a cowardly Allan and stealing his woman.

After a while Allan realises that he's spending more time with Linda and Dick than anyone else, and finds himself attracted to Linda. She's the only woman that he can talk to without embarrassing himself and causing chaos. From Linda's perspective Allan is a whole lot more perceptive than Dick (buying her a plastic skunk for her birthday) and always there when she needs support. Dick, who is often away making real-estate deals, can't see the events taking place right under his nose and, even if he could, he would never suspect Allan of making him a cuckold. Even with sterling advice from Bogart, Allan is inhibited about making advances on Linda, though that seems the best move for everyone.

Adapted from a Broadway stage production, Play It Again, Sam is a mostly successful mix of one-liners, pathos and visual humour. Allen mixes his usual soup of anxious personalities, observations on the human condition and the difficulties of being a geek to fine effect. The familiar group of actors that Allen likes to use (Keaton and Roberts) work well as foils to his madness, adding texture to roles that would otherwise be caricatures. However, there is a certain slackness to the movie which betrays it as a transition between the rapid-fire slapstick of early Allen movies and the more measured, emotional work which came later. Perhaps this is simply a reflection of the constraints found in adapting a play. The film is still a lot of fun though and able to hit many key notes with cinemaphiles.

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