Dec 16 2009

Take the Money and Run

This week marks the first week of our new wednesday review days, in which the guys take on solo reviews instead of our traditional Film Duel format.  It’s James’ turn now, so expect Benn’s entry next week.  And on to the review…

When you admire an artist of any type, it’s always good to go back and see where he started out.  It was with this in mind that I decided to view Take the Money and Run, Woody Allen’s first film in which he performed the triple duties of writing, directing, and acting.  As with most first efforts, you can see bits of pieces of the style that would define Woody Allen down the line, but in a lot of ways this does not feel like a traditional Woody Allen film.  That said, it’s still very entertaining and has some great laughs.

The first thing you’ll notice about the film is its format.  Take the Money and Run is actually the first ever mockumentary, an example of the genre more formidably formed by Ron Reiner and Christopher Guest.  But the film doesn’t commit completely to this medium, as it sort of flows back and forth from a documentary style to a more narrative fueled story.  It also indulges in some screwball comedy and jokes that would be more suited to a film like Airplane! Examples of this would be Woody Allen’s use of a loaf of bread as a camera.  Despite the fluctuation in tone these cause, these jokes do still land.

Not the ideal marching band instrument.

Not the ideal marching band instrument.

The plot itself puts Allen’s classic bumbling protagonist in the role of a horribly dumb thief who keeps trying to rob banks and continually gets arrested and forced to escape from prison to be with the love of his life.  As with most mockumentaries, the plot certainly does not fuel the film, but rather the individual comedic moments are what shine.  A particularly smile-inducing scene features Woody Allen trying to rob a bank but failing because he ends up quibbling over the spelling of his threatening note to the teller.  He argues with the teller, then another teller, then a loan officer, and soon the entire bank is analyzing his handwriting.  While the situation is hilarious, the tone and dialogue of course makes it even moreso.

Despite these other genres infringing on what we know as the classic Woody Allen voice, we do hear it come out here and there.  For much of the first section of the film Allen doesn’t even speak, the narrator takes complete control, but there is a point, just after meeting Louise, that Woody Allen’s voiceover comes in.  When it does, it becomes as full-fledged an example of Allen’s neuroses and dialogue as can possibly be imagined.  This point, though, does provide one of the many breaks in tone that the film indulges in.

As previously mentioned, the narrator does control much of the movie, and with other scenes taken up by “interviews” with people associated with Woody Allen’s character, it’s surprising how little room Allen is given to just do his thing.  When he does, it’s definitely great, and there’s enough here for Woody Allen fans to be appeased.  One of his first on-screen moments is a great physical comedy gag in which he tries to play the cello as part of a marching band.  Physical comedy is usually not Woody Allen’s forte but it’s done so well here I’m surprised he doesn’t utilize it more often in his films thereafter.  The other roles are filled out by actors primarily unknown to me, but Janet Margolin does a good job as the classic gorgeous Woody Allen romantic interest, mostly because she’s beautiful in that subtle way that his females usually are.

Gorgeous man? or Gorgeousest Man?

Gorgeous man? or Gorgeousest Man?

As for the directing of the film, you can tell Woody Allen is learning how to do it and what he wants to do here.  The performances are all fine for comedy, but don’t carry that realistic weight that things like Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters do.  The pacing is brisk enough to keep you interested and the visuals are of course just okay.  But in a lot of ways this is a collection of great skits (strongly tied by character).  The finale in which he tries to hold someone up, finds out they’re a high school acquaintance, and then finally gets arrested by them because they’re a cop works perfectly well on its own, but is also very enjoyable as a finale to the movie.  On the other hand, it isn’t very climactic either, but a huge climax probably would’ve gone off the rails into over-the-top-land anyway.  IMDb states that Woody Allen originally filmed an ending in which his character died in a hail of bullets, which doesn’t really seem like it would do anything for me, so it’s good that his editor talked him out of it.

Overall there’s not a whole lot to say other than this is a really fun movie that’s a great example of Woody Allen, even if it isn’t a full-fledged showing of his style.  Those who enjoy his work but have been disappointed with the recent films would do well to revisit this movie.  If you haven’t ever seen a Woody Allen film, I’d still recommend starting with Annie Hall, and perhaps Crimes and Misdemeaners, but it can’t hurt to try this one either.  Hell it would probably make an interesting project to take them on in order.  (Good luck with that).

Just for fun I’ll also note that Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Match Point, and Vicki Cristina Barcelona are all also fantastic films, but represent the more dramatic side of Woody Allen.

Leave a Reply