Woody Allen's Play it Again, Sam (1972)

Woody Allen's Play it Again, Sam (1972)

Well, Play it Again, Sam isn’t all Woody Allen’s. It was a Broadway production based upon a script that Allen penned, of course. But the filmic rendition of the play was directed by Herbert Ross – who’s probably still better known for his work in the theater world than the big screen. Who directed this feature, though, isn’t really the point. Ross’ work doesn’t readily impact the overall product anyway. And since the action takes place in San Francisco as opposed to New Yawk, Allen may not have found his most poetic, behind-the-camera moments anyway.

But the story is largely a common one. Allen’s character, Allan Felix, which is still the basic Allen character, is amidst losing his wife. Once she’s gone, Allan doesn’t really know what to do – he’s still all hung up on his ex. He refuses to put forth any effort towards meeting new folks so eventually his long time friend Dick (Tony Roberts) and his wife Linda (Diane Keaton) begin fixing Allan up with various and sundry woman.

As one might imagine, these encounters don’t go very well at all and leave Allan to contemplate an eternity alone. What keeps him motivated, to a certain extent, are the few different spirits he continuously sees throughout the film. It should be figured that imagining these figures plays into Allen’s ubiquitous inclusion of psychoanalysis in his films. Perhaps in Play it Again, Sam Allen actually intends for his character to be batty. Regardless of the answer to that, both his former wife and Humphrey Bogart show up pretty frequently to chide Allan. The scenes that include these specters work to varying degrees, but certainly set up the proper conclusion to the film.

In real life, outside of the narrative, Allen first met Keaton while performing this particular show on stage during which the pair began an intimate relationship. Each of the actors’ roles were transferred to the big screen. But by the time that the feature had been completed the two had split. So it’s odd to imagine the tensions of a real relationship being played out here as Allan and Linda eventually strike up some sort of clandestine intimacy while Dick’s away on business.

Allan’s successful courtship of Keaton’s attractive character should bolster his confidence. But since this is all from the mind of Woody Allen, only neurosis follows. The escapism of such a successful relationship – on screen and in real life – was most likely a confusing thing to Allen’s rising star. Certainly, he was a successful writer and actor, but still not an especially attractive fellow. The struggle that the filmmaker, actor, writer and man endured thoroughly informs the arc of this narrative.

By the end of it all, Play it Again, Sam looses its sense of reality and falls into a sort of nostalgia. Yes, that thread had run through the entire film, but the cribbed ending should signal to some that this play and film was as much an act of hero worship as anything else. Still a good watch even with that…