There’s a strange part of my brain that immediately dislikes any Woody Allen film from the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s in which he doesn’t appear as an actor, yet if he appears in one of his films post-2000 then I’m instantly disappointed. Maybe it’s easier to look beyond his supposed wrongdoings back in his youth, and the glimpse of him on screen post-allegations and post-Soon Yi relationship is just too jarring?
The Purple Rose Of Cairo is a rarity in that it’s one of only two of his 1980 films in which he doesn’t star or feature in a prominent role (1988’s Another Woman being the other). It’s probably a good casting decision – usually there’s a fantastical element of his work where his character ends up with somebody far more beautiful, desirable – or in the case of Manhattan, somebody far younger – than him. The audience is usually expected to suspend their disbelief that somebody like that could fall for somebody like him – a nebbish loser who looks like he’s crawled out of a Robert Crumb drawing.
But The Purple Rose Of Cairo is something else. It’s a fantasy film – but along the traditional lines of the genre – rather than a dating / relationship fantasy. Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a downtrodden waitress in the midst of the Great Depression who finds solace in the escapism of the silver screen. After watching one film – The Purple Rose Of Cairo – numerous times at the local cinema, its lead actor, the charming Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) breaks the fourth wall and recognises her from being sat in the audience so regularly. He emerges from the screen and enters the real world, where the pair go on an adventure involving an odd love-triangle between Cecilia, Tom and actor Gil Sheppard (Jeff Daniels again) who portrayed Tom in the fictional film.
It’s a nice little film which affords Allen the opportunity to play around with the conventions of cinema, and while the main plotline is compelling enough, it’s the small sub-plot featuring the abandoned actors stuck on screen in the fictional film, conversing with the cinema owner, that I find the most enjoyable.
Jeff Daniels plays the enthusiastic all-American hero well – a part which the audience would have had difficulty swallowing if Allen had cast himself – and Mia Farrow plays to her strengths as the innocent pulled along for the ride.
The music, as per the Allen trademark, is period rag-time jazz, ably composed and conducted by Dick Hyman (‘period’ and ‘rag-time’ – what an unfortunate pair of labels!). The tunes are so well executed that they easily stand up to the one piece of contemporary music on the soundtrack – Irving Berlin’s Cheek To Cheek, sung by Fred Astaire, from the 1935 film Top Hat, which we leave Cecilia watching at the conclusion of the film.
Hit: Cheek To Cheek (Main Title) – Fred Astaire
Hidden Gem: Hollywood Fun