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Woody Allen #1: Take the Money and Run

Last month, PBS aired an episode of American Masters that delved into the career of filmmaker Woody Allen.  A very interesting documentary about the man’s life and career, it struck me how many of Allen’s movies I had yet to see.  I’ve seen many of them but there are large gaps in the Allen filmography that have gone unwatched by me and needs to be rectified.  Thus, I decided to start from the beginning and go through Allen’s films one by one, both the ones I have seen and the ones I haven’t.  So, you will be seeing plenty of Woody Allen films mentioned as this blog goes on.  I actually started this a few weeks ago when I watched What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, Allen’s comedic farce in which he dubs over a Japanese action film into a ridiculous hunt for a secret egg salad recipe.  Funny but minor but I’d say Take the Money and Run would be the true start of Woody Allen’s filmmaking career.

Woody Allen’s true filmmaking debut, Take the Money and Run is characteristic of early Woody films, the stand-up segueing into movies.  A broad mockumentary comedy follows Woody Allen as Virgil Starkwell, an inept bank robber trying to make life work with the love of his life.  Episodic in nature, Allen uses the mockumentary form as a wry form of expression, getting out his gags and one-liners with Jackson Beck’s deadpan narration.  Allen certainly wasn’t the first to use the mockumentary form (that honor belongs to David Holzman’s Diary, at least in America from what I’ve read) but he’s probably the first to use it so well.

The film itself is a tad clunky but the gags and comedic set pieces are hysterical and a delight.  Marvin Hamlisch’s score is bouncy and fun, really getting across the lighthearted direction of Allen’s first film.  Of the Allen films I’ve seen, this is probably the closest to his stand up roots.  Much of that lies in Jackson Beck’s superb narration which carries the film through its otherwise weaker moments.  Much of Allen’s thematic concerns which would recur throughout his career pop up here and there as well such as his interest in relationships and playing with morality and crime.

The film’s episodic nature as it follows its protagonist from one gag to another makes the film read more as sketch film rather than a narrative effort but it is a delightful one with more hits than misses.  Some rather clunky execution belies a comedic and filmmaking genius behind the lens.  As a film debut, the film is an otherwise fun distraction with genius level gags interspersed throughout.


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