Film review – Play It Again, Sam (Herbert Ross, 1972)

‘Play It Again, Sam’ is unusual in that was written by and stars Woody Allen, but was actually directed by Herbert Ross. This is unmistakably a Woody Allen film, however, and an excellent one at that.

It stars Allen as the down-on-his-luck hypochondriac Allan Felix, a man who has recently been divorced by his wife. A writer of film commentary who is addicted to the film Casablanca, he has a fictional Humphrey Bogart as his guardian angel, offering him timely advice on love when required.

His friend Dick (Tony Roberts) and his wife Linda (Diane Keaton) are trying to encourage him to meet women so he can move on in his life. After several disastrous dates, Allan unexpectedly develops feelings for Linda, the one woman he is able to feel himself with.

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“I had to go to Washington once when I was married, and even though I was the one leaving, I got sick; and when I returned, my wife threw up.”

This is a brilliant comedy that arrived very close to the start of Woody Allen’s film career. It contains some of his best self-defeatist one-liners, which would be equally at home in one of his stand-up routines.

It is a tight script that perhaps plays too predictably to a plot that writes itself from Linda and Allan’s first conversation. Predictability doesn’t necessarily mean a bad film though when the humour is this good. The over-coherence is probably due to the fact it originated as a Broadway play, though the film is heightened by a well-rehearsed cast, each of whom reprise their roles from the stage play that finished its run four years earlier.

The reason Allen wasn’t interested in directing this, according to an interview with Cinema Magazine around the time of release, was that he “didn’t want to spend a year doing a project I had done on Broadway… I would only be interested in working on original projects for the screen… [this will] hopefully entice a broader audience for me than I get with my own films.”

Whilst his intentions at the time may have been laced with cynicism, he ended up with one of his most celebrated pictures of a long and illustrious career.

Play It Again, Sam, is available now on Netflix, and can also be purchased on DVD. No Blu-ray has been released in the UK.

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