The Set of 400: #203 – My Favorite Inter-Celluloidal Romance

Today! Because I don’t get hurt or bleed, hair doesn’t muss – it’s one of the advantages of being imaginary –

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Directed by Woody Allen (x4)

Starring Mia Farrow (x3), Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello (x2), Edward Herrmann (x2), Deborah Rush (x2), Van Johnson, John Wood, Zoe Caldwell, Milo O’Shea (x2), Dianne Wiest, Glenne Headly, Peter McRobbie

While his early movies had a greater tendency toward the absurd and the extreme, Woody Allen has never really been a director of all-out fantasy. There are partial exceptions, sure – Sleeper, Midnight in Paris, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…, Zelig – but it is most pronounced with The Purple Rose of Cairo. Figure, Sleeper is a straight science-fiction comedy, Everything You Always Wanted… is a bag of vignettes, some fantastic, some just goofy, but Purple Rose of Cairo is this wholly unexpected, supernatural thing taking place in the real world – much like Midnight in Paris.

This was also the first comedy Woody made that he doesn’t appear in – and unlike his later comedies, there isn’t even a “Woody Allen character” in the bunch -maybe you could stretch it to say Mia Farrow’s Cecilia fits this bill, albeit just barely. Her depressed, 1930’s movie fan frequents the local theater, where one day – while showing the titular movie-in-the-movie (favorite sub genre!), star Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) just walks out of the screen and sweeps her off her feet. And as fun as the fish-out-of-water movie character wandering around the real world is, the reel world section of the film – where the movie inside the theater tries to figure out how to continue after one of the actors disappears – is almost better, and good for plenty of laughs.

Purple Rose comes right around the final days of the second great period of Woody’s career – assuming the first to have ended right before Annie Hall, the second right before his plunge into mediocre dramas in the late ’80s. It’s debatable whether there’s been a third – the last thirty years have sporadically featured good-to-great movies, but never in a consistently great run again. You wouldn’t know it from the awards, though – he had as many Screenplay Oscar nominations in the ’90s (five) as he did in the ’80s – and Purple Rose was his fifth overall. It also won Best Film and Screenplay at the BAFTAs, while Farrow, Daniels and the movie received Comedy/Musical nods at the Globes, whereas Woody won his first Globe for the script.

And yes, as in the three previous Woody Allen films on this list, I’ll again mention – I grapple with my love of Woody Allen films in this day in age. Movies are supposed to be fun, and comforting, and thought-provoking, but not necessarily about the horrible things the people who made them are accused of doing. How is that fun? So again, if you can’t separate the actors/filmmakers from the productions, I get it. We’re living in hard times.

I will likely mention this again in the future, but if not, know that it’s always there nonetheless.

#349 Broadway Danny Rose, #320 Match Point, #304 Take the Money and Run, and now The Purple Rose of Cairo make Woody the third Four-Timer director, along with Hitchcock and Paul Thomas Anderson. We are yet to see a Five-Timer! The day is certainly coming, but who will sit atop the mountain of directors come next September? Stay tuned!

A bunch of Two-Timers join the acting club, with Aiello (#270 The Front), O’Shea (#393 The Dream Team), Rush (#253 My Blue Heaven), and Herrmann (#214 Nixon), while Mia Farrow is the only new Three-Timer today, following her roles in Broadway Danny Rose and #352 Be Kind Rewind. Spotlight!

It’s never not going to be kinda odd that she was married to Frank Sinatra, right?

Coming tomorrow! Climbing the mountain of conflict? You sounded like a Nazi Julie Andrews!

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