Live the movies.
America is in the middle of the Great Depression and everyone is struggling to make end’s meet. Timid Cecilia (Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby) is in an unhappy marriage with a shifty lout named Monk (Danny Aiello, Hudson Hawk) and barely scrapping by as a waitress. Monk spends his days drinking and shooting craps, as well as cheating on Cecilia with local floozies. Cecilia escapes from her misery by seeing movies at the local cinema, especially the sweeping romantic epic “The Purple Rose of Cairo” over and over again. When one of the characters, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels, Terms of Endearment), decides to walk off the screen and into real life, he ends up taking Cecilia on a whirlwind romantic adventure that neither of them will ever forget.
The movies have always provided viewers with escapism. From sweeping romance to explosive action, Hollywood has spent decades offering audiences a way to forget their problems and troubles through both physical and emotional spectacles. But what if the movies, and the characters that inhabit them, wanted their own escape? That’s a central question at the heart of The Purple Rose of Cairo, a fantastical comedy-drama that turns the tables on the audience and sends the movies into the real world.
Regardless of what you think of Woody Allen’s personal life (which has enough drama in it to fuel a dozen different movies), it’s hard to deny that he’s a prolific and talented filmmaker that has dabbled in a lot of different genres. While Allen’s work is predominantly comedy, he’s created films that have elements of a drama, a thriller, a comedy, and other genres, often mixed together at the same time. Allen’s work has been uneven at best. When the auteur writer/director/actor is on his game he’s often pitch perfect (Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors), and when he isn’t the films are often interesting but deeply flawed (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Shadows & Fog). The Purple Rose of Cairo is one of Allen’s better works, a mix of daft, fantastical comedy and bittersweet nostalgia.
The Purple Rose of Cairo. is a warm movie, filled with a simplistic idea (movie characters walk off the screen and get caught up in a real life romance) and charming performances. The screenplay by Allen is compact and tight (running a scant 82 minutes) and gets to the point…and heart…rather quickly. I was amused at how blase everyone in the film takes the idea of a character walking off the silver screen and into the real world. The concern shown isn’t about the law of time and space or physics being broken, but that it may cause a lawsuit and “thousands of Tom Baxters” will be walking around outside. Allen wisely bypasses any real life consequences of fantasy elements and just allows the story to “go with it”, as it were.
The performances are light and fun, including a playful Jeff Daniels as the cinema character who decides to take a stroll into the real world. Daniels gets the chance to play not only Tom Baxter but also Gil Shepherd, the actor playing Baxter. Daniels looks like he’s having the time of his life onscreen. Mia Farrow (one time partnered with Woody Allen, before he left her for their adopted daughter) is meek and shy as Cecilia, a woman who seems to have an air of sadness around her for a good bulk of the film. The supporting cast include Danny Aiello as Cecilia’s abusive lout of a husband Monk, Edward Herrmann (TV’s Gilmore Girls) as one of the movie characters caught inside the film strip, and frequent Allen collaborator Dianne Weist (Hannah and Her Sisters) as the gum-smacking, tough-talking prostitute, Emma.
There’s a bittersweet feel that courses through The Purple Rose of Cairo‘s veins, especially as the film wraps up and Cecilia must choose between the real life Gil Shepard and his on-screen counterpart, Tom Baxter. Mirroring real life, Cecilia must ultimately make a choice and that choice has consequences. I’m a bit surprised and pleased that Allen ended the film as he did; it wraps up the story on a true note, not a fluffy fantasy note. If you’re a fan of Woody Allen’s work, The Purple Rose of Cairo is well worth seeking out.
The Purple Rose of Cairo is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. This MGM title (licensed by Twilight Time in a limited issue of only 3,000 units) is a very pleasing transfer that features solid colors and dark black levels. The image is exceptionally clean and shows very little damage or imperfections (a thin layer of natural film grain is present which gives The Purple Rose of Cairo a warm feel). Overall fans will be very happy with how good this transfer looks. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD 1.0 Mono in English. While this mono track is a good reproduction of the original soundtrack as it was presented, it isn’t a sonically exciting mix. This mono track is very front heavy and without any surround sounds or directional effects. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
The only extra features included on this disc is an isolated music track and a theatrical trailer for the film.
The Purple Rose of Cairo is a sweet, funny, romantic, and (at times) sad rumination on the movies and why we, the audience, go to see them. The actors all give great performances and Woody Allen’s simple but poignant script is wonderful. Fans of the film will want to grab this upgrade that’s well worth owning (even with a lack of extra features). It’s available in a very limited quantity through Twilight Time, so get yours before they’re gone!