The Purple Rose of Cairo

Bottom Line: It’s a purple rose to the cinema.

Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Danny Aiello, Deborah Rush, Dianne Wiest, Edward Herrmann, Jeff Daniels, John Wood, Mia Farrow, Stephanie Farrow, Van Johnson, Zoe Caldwell

Writer-director Woody Allen’s mind is like a conveyor belt, quickly churning out mostly high-quality products right before our eyes.  There’s something odd about the gears that run his conveyor belt of a psyche, however, which is that they seem to be inverted.  We see this without a thread of blanketing in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, where Woody envisions films not as projections on the walls of cinemas, but rather worlds on those walls, where the characters often recognize and are annoyed by their duty to give the same contrived story three or four times a day.

During the 1930s, Cecilia (Mia Farrow) is a woman unhappy with her job at a diner.  She decides to take her mind off her melancholia and go to the movies for a feature titled The Purple Rose of Cairo, only to fascinate her enough to bring her back several times.  On her fifth visit, Woody Allen’s mind goes berserk and not only writes Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), a minor character in the film bored with the story, into breaking the fourth wall, Baxter goes a bit further by climbing out of the projection and joining Cecilia, whom he falls in love with in the real world.  The characters in the film gripe about their disability with continuing the story, due to the “leave of absence”, so to speak, taken by Tom Baxter, who is said to have moved the story along greatly at one point or another.  Meanwhile, Gil Shepherd (also Jeff Daniels), the actor who portrayed Tom Baxter during the shooting stage of the film, is worried about his character being out and about in the real world.

I’ll agree that the plot does sound confusing.  Watching the film, it all pieces together perfectly.  This is by far one of Woody Allen’s finest screenplays, and the fact that the Academy did not find it strong enough for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar is utterly mind-boggling.  He takes that baffling storyline and transforms it into something compendious yet easy to follow.  Let’s not forget all the wit–perhaps less sarcastic than most his other work–and charm along the way.  The writing is guaranteed pleasure for those who don’t generally view film as a work of art, but for just about any cinephile watching this is bound to get a magical thrill similar to the kind a young child receives when he or she enters a candy shop.

I’d be sounding like a broken record if I were to tell you all that I’m a true blue Woody Allen fanatic.  It’s clear the man knows how to pick and choose a strong cast.  Mia Farrow is irrefutably underrated; nobody has seemed to ever understand her potential, and I strongly feel that she is, in fact, one of the most outstanding Hollywood actresses from the latter half of the twentieth century.  Not only is she beautiful, her delivery is brilliant, and her chemistry with Jeff Daniels–who delivers just a slightly less powerful performance–is grand.

What more can I say about THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO?  It isn’t perfect, but it’s very much close.  I’m talking about a sheer motion picture that represents the 1930s in perchance the utmost picturesque, vivid manner possible.  In just two, simplistic words, it’s magnificent.


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