Woody Allen fans have seen a slew of his films hit DVD over the last 15 months or so. The vast majority of these came from MGM, who produced three separate Woody Allen Collections of between five and eight movies apiece; those added up to a total of 19 Allen flicks among them.
Other studios have the remaining films, most of which currently appear on DVD, and the rest slowly are making the cut. Add 1972ís Play It Again, Sam to the mix. Itís an oddity among his work, for while Allen wrote the script - adapted from his own play - he didnít direct it; veteran Herbert Ross took the reins.
Sam also stands out as something unusual when compared to Allenís other output from the era. Sam appeared in the same year as Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Afraid to Ask and was bookended between 1971ís Bananas and 1973ís Sleeper. Along with 1969ís Take the Money and Run, those movies strongly represent the slapstick genre Allen embraced during his earliest works; it wasnít until 1975ís Love and Death that heíd start to emerge as the more introspective, relationship-oriented Allen we now recognize.
Or so I thought. Sam feels like an aberration among its time period peers because it more closely approximates mid-Seventies Allen. In Sam, Allen plays Allan (how confusing!), a neurotic film buff whose wife Nancy (Susan Anspach) has just left him. His friends Dick (Tony Roberts) and Linda (Diane Keaton) attempt to find him a new babe, but these stabs fail miserably. Ultimately, Allan finds himself drawn toward Linda, as the two seem like a much better match that she and the go-getting Dick.
Interspersed within the action are Allanís hallucinations. The film begins with Allan at his umpteenth screening of Casablanca, and at key times, he sees and hears woman-related instructions and criticisms from Bogart (Jerry Lacy). Of course, these tough-guy bromides stand in stark opposition to the wimpy tendencies of Allan, and he mostly ignores them, though he occasionally tries to take Bogieís advice, with semi-comic results.
ďSemi-comicĒ is about the best I can say for Sam. Although it was interesting to see the relationship-oriented attitude from Allen at this time, the movie clearly lacked the depth and sophistication found in later flicks like Annie Hall. The characters felt drab and uninteresting, and the Bogart gimmick was cute but somewhat pointless. I guess Allen wanted us to see the difference between fantasy men and reality, but the trick added little to the film.
On a side note, I was surprised to see how un-politically correct some of Samís humor was. At one point Allan and Linda joked about rape, as she indicated that she hoped someone would do it to her. Comic or not, the gag seemed to be in bad taste. I guess it was more acceptable almost 30 years ago, though thatís somewhat hard to believe.
With or without that questionable piece, I thought Play It Again, Sam offered decent but bland Woody Allen. At best, the movie seemed moderately amusing and entertaining. However, I frequently thought it appeared bland and uninvolving, and the humor didnít much move me. For my money, Allen reached his peak in the mid-Eighties, but 1972ís Sam showed few signs of that talent.
Play It Again, Sam appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though it occasionally showed its age, as a whole I thought the DVD provided a surprisingly satisfying picture.
Sharpness appeared nicely crisp and detailed for the most part. That element and some of the others were negatively affected by the film stock of the time; Sam showed a modestly drab appearance typical of many movies from the era. Nonetheless, it remained distinct and well defined within those parameters. I noticed a little shimmering on occasion, but I saw no jagged edges or edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed surprisingly minimal for such an old movie. A few specks and a little grain appeared along the way, but as a whole, the film seemed clean and fresh.
Colors appeared slightly bland due to those film stock issues, but overall they looked reasonably clear and accurate. The movie utilized a naturalistic palette, and the tones generally came across as fairly solid and distinct. Within nightclub shots, colored lighting looked a little thick, but not terribly so. Black levels seemed slightly flat but were acceptably deep and dense, while shadow detail looked nice, with good definition in low-light sequences. Ultimately, Play It Again, Sam wasnít a stellar image, but it seemed very strong for its age.
The monaural soundtrack of Play It Again, Sam was less pleasing, though it remained acceptable for its age. Dialogue was the most important element in this chatty film, and speech sounded acceptably natural and distinct throughout the movie. The lines could appear slightly flat at times, but they usually came across well, and I noticed little edginess and no problems with intelligibility. Effects were somewhat tinny and thin, but they stayed in the background for the most part, and they seemed fairly clean and accurate within their age-related boundaries. Music lacked clear highs, but low-end reproduction appeared pretty good, especially during the nightclub scenes. Ultimately, Sam offered a decent but unexceptional soundtrack that adequately represented the material of its era.
Where Play It Again, Sam failed related to its extras. No Woody Allen discs include any significant supplements, though the MGM offerings at least tossed in trailers and good production notes. However, absolutely nothing accompanied Sam. No trailer, no notes, no filmographies - zip!
Although I canít blame Paramount for Allenís lack of involvement from that end, I will gripe about the cost of the DVD. Play It Again, Sam lists for $29.99, which is $10 more than the MGM Allen discs, and those include some extras! As a film, I didnít much care for Sam. It was modestly entertaining at best, but it doesnít compare with Allenís better material. The DVD offered a surprisingly fine picture with average sound and absolutely no extras. Considering the high list price of the disc, this one should be reserved for Allen diehards alone.