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With: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Seth Green, Jeff Daniels
Written by: Woody Allen
Directed by: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: various
Running Time: -99
Date: 19/03/2013
IMDB

The Woody Allen Collection 3 (2001)

4 Stars (out of 4)

A Woody Thanksgiving

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Woody Allen Collection 3 on DVD.

If you can't get your greasy, turkey-smeared hands on Planes, Trains & Automobiles or Home for the Holidays to watch during this Thanksgiving week, the outstanding new "The Woody Allen Collection 3" (1982-87, MGM/UA, $99.96) will make a nice substitute.

One of the films, Hannah and Her Sisters, takes place over the course of a year and begins and ends during family Thanksgiving dinners. Another, Broadway Danny Rose, has our heroes Woody Allen and Mia Farrow running for their lives through a warehouse full of king-sized Thanksgiving Day parade floats.

The box set spans some of Allen's most creative years, from 1982 to 1987, which I like to call the "fallout" from his 1977 to 1980 explosion (Annie Hall, Interiors, Manhattan and Stardust Memories). During the 80s, Allen met and fell in love with Mia Farrow and she proved to be one of his best muses. She didn't burn as brightly as Diane Keaton in the 70s, but she burned for a long time, and Allen created some of his most delicate masterworks during this period.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) is the best, and tellingly, the only one of these six films to be set in the present day (a strong nostalgia runs through these years). It's a brilliant ensemble piece with all the characters centering around three sisters, played by Farrow, Dianne Wiest (who won an Oscar) and Barbara Hershey. Farrow's husband (Michael Caine, who also won an Oscar) falls in love with Hershey, while Hershey's older artist boyfriend (Max von Sydow) becomes jealous.

Meanwhile, Wiest and her best friend (Carrie Fisher) fall for the same guy, and Farrow's hypochondriac ex-husband Allen worries about a brain tumor. Allen structured the film like a novel (he won an Oscar for his screenplay), perfectly capturing a seasonal New York flow and interspersing hilarious comedy with glorious, poignant moments (Hershey reading the e.e. cummings poem, Allen finding a new lease on life through the Marx Brothers). Balance is the key word, but the film lives and breathes. It's a masterwork.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) is the other masterpiece in this set, a gorgeous, moving black-and-white homage to a grade-Z theatrical agent (Allen) and his attempts to get a washed-up Italian crooner (Nick Apollo Forte) back into the limelight. Mia Farrow co-stars in one of her best performances as the dimwit blonde who smites both the singer and Danny. The story is told in flashback by a bunch of old-time showbiz vets sitting around a deli and swapping funny Danny Rose stories. Like Hannah, it strikes a perfect balance between structure, pathos, and sheer laughs.

The other four films don't quite rank as masterworks, but they're all keepers. Radio Days (1987) is my favorite, a pure nostalgic look back at Allen's youth listening to the radio, intercut with the glamorous lives of the radio stars. Another perfect mixture of laughs and heartbreak, it's one of the ones I can see over and over again. Young Seth Green plays the fictional Woody on screen, and Allen himself narrates the tale.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) cooks up a weird but wistful look at movies during the depression when a character in a black-and-white movie (Jeff Daniels) falls in love with an audience member (Farrow) and walks out of the screen to be with her. The real actor (also played by Daniels) later shows up to complicate matters.

Zelig (1983) perfected the fake documentary a year before This Is Spinal Tap. Allen plays Leonard Zelig, the changing man: a man so insecure with his own persona that he physically morphs to match whomever he's with. I loved this movie the first time I saw it, but it's a one-joke idea stretched to 79 minutes, and it doesn't hold up more than once.

Three couples get together for a weekend in an enchanted wood, causing everyone to fall in love with the wrong partners in A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982). It's one of Allen's lightest trifles, but it too contains enough funny jokes and fantasy moments to make it a small treasure.

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