The second Woody Allen film in which he didn’t appear, The Purple Rose of Cairo is similar to Radio Days in that it’s a tribute to the entertainment of his childhood. While Radio Days pays tribute to the radio stars of the past, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a homage to the films he enjoyed as a youth. Allen even filmed the theater scenes at the Kent Theater in Brooklyn, his favorite movie theater while growing up.
Mia Farrow stars as Cecilia, a New Jersey Depression-era waitress whose irresponsible, unemployed husband (Danny Aiello) regularly beats her. Cecilia finds solace in movies. Intoxicated by their beauty, and lulled by their romance, her preoccupation with the latest films distracts her from her work and gets her fired. Despondent, she spends the rest of her day at the movie house, enraptured, as she watches The Purple Rose of Cairo, about a group of socialites from New York City who while in Egypt meet a dashing explorer, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels). After watching the film several times, in mid-scene, Baxter notices Cecilia, enraptured in her movie marathon, and literally steps out of the film, into the movie house, takes her hand and leads her away.
This is a tricky narrative concept, and one many filmmakers would botch. Woody Allen handles it expertly. He doesn’t bother to explain the unexplainable, but does explore the ramifications of this fantastic occurrence. The other characters in the film-within-the-film are stranded, stuck on the screen. Free of a narrative, they are left to their own devices. Some complain, some call for a revolution, others sit around. The movie characters provide some surprisingly humorous and smart moments. Truly hilarious is the reaction of film industry executives. The movie-house owner is in panic, the producer is racked with anxiety, and the actor who portrayed Tom Baxter, Gil Shephard (also Jeff Daniels), rushes to New Jersey, desperate to find his doppelganger, and put him back in the film to save his career. Once there, Gil meets Cecilia and he, too, is smitten with her.
Tom and Cecilia’s romance is sweet. Informed only by what was written into his character or played out on screen, Tom is innocent. For him, making love is simply a soft fade to black. It’s easy to see why Cecilia is swept away, eager to leave her husband. Regardless, she is able to resist the artificiality that makes up Tom world—paper money, cars don’t need keys to start. She’s very aware that she’s straddling the line between fantasy and reality. Amid the romance, Allen never lets you forget the abuse Cecilia faces at the hands of her husband. Even so, it’s still a bit of a shock when Allen rips away the Hollywood fantasy and ends the film, leaving Cecilia with little hope.
Woody Allen crafted a role for Mia Farrow that takes advantage of her dewy-eyed willowy look. She is believable as the awestruck, lonely housewife that a movie star could fall for. She wears her emotions on her sleeve. Jeff Daniels is able to show some versatility as Tom/Gil creating two believably different characterizations, and Danny Aiello is utterly dislikable as Cecilia’s husband. As the confused characters in the movie who insult each other and gossip after Tom takes off, Edward Herrmann, John Wood, Van Johnson, Deborah Rush, Karen Akers, Zoe Caldwell, Annie Joe Edwards, and Milo O’Shea are all wonderful. The great Dianne Wiest shows up in a memorable scene as a prostitute.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Twilight Time has provided a very nice 1080p transfer. Colors look just right, with the brownish tones used to suggest an earlier time, appearing as I remember them during the film’s original theatrical release. Skin tones appear natural, and the black and white scenes of the film within the film offer nice grayscale and black levels. Contrast is consistent throughout. Dust is evident in a few spots, but it doesn’t affect the overall viewing experience.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix provides clear dialogue with no apparent distortions. Dick Hyman’s music serves as the perfect complement to the film, and never interferes with the dialogue. I did notice an occasional hiss during the excerpts from Top Hat that close the movie, but that’s likely inherent to the print, not an issue with the track.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Isolated Score Track: The songs and background music are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
- Theatrical Trailer: (HD, 1:37)
- Six-Page Booklet: Contains stills from the film, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s knowledgeable essay on the film.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.