August 17, 2019

Woody Allen's First Real Movie Turns 50

I think most people agree that What's Up, Tiger Lily? doesn't really count as Woody Allen's proper directorial debut. It has Woody Allen stamped all over it, but it's basically an overdubbed Japanese spy movie, bought on the cheap by American International, who gave Allen the freedom to MST3K it, twenty years before MST3K.

This makes tomorrow the 50th anniversary of the release of the first film Woody Allen made from scratch, Take the Money and Run. I somehow suspect this occasion will come and go with little fanfare. Allen is currently persona non gratis in some circles, a result of serious, and seriously icky,  allegations that have dogged him for years.

If you, like me, can appreciate brilliant art made by flawed humans, then I highly recommend Take the Money and Run. I think it's one of the funniest of his earlier films, and that's saying something. If you like Bananas or Sleeper, I predict you'll like this one.

Like most of his early work, this film is told in a series of vignettes. If you don't find one gag funny, there's always the next one. It's framed in a documentary format. Allen believed the seriousness of documentaries created a fertile environment for comedy. He liked the concept enough to use it again in Zelig, which I like a little better.

There are a lot of memorable bits in this, the story of an inept criminal named Virgil Starkwell. Botched bank jobs, bungled prison breaks, even a guy in a gorilla costume, which is ALWAYS FUNNY. The romantic subplot is sometimes tedious, but Janet Margolin is endearing as the somewhat naive love interest, Louise.

I think the main reason Take the Money and Run gets overlooked is that the film has frequently been out of print. I wonder to what extent Allen himself may have had it suppressed, perhaps not being totally satisfied with the results.Thankfully, the good folks at Kino Lorber released it on DVD and Blu-ray in 2017. I put the links at the bottom of this post. You're welcome.

Take the Preview and Run!




Bill S. said...

And having the narration done by the great Jackson Beck helped a lot too.
I was surprised how well this film held up when I saw it again a few years back, after 40+ years.

John Glenn Taylor said...

Bill, thanks for your comment! I was oblivious to the fact that Jackson Beck, the announcer on The Adventures of Superman radio show, was the narrator. It was an inspired piece of casting. Beck's serious delivery heightened the humor considerably.