Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Bullets over Broadway
New York, early 20th century. Young playwright David wants to make it to Broadway, but has to make a huge compromise: in order for a gangster, Valenti, to finance his play, he must give a role to the latter girlfriend Olive, who is an awful actress. However, David is happy that at least he managed to get his idol, actress Helen Sinclair, for the lead role. Olive's bodyguard, gangster Cheech, suggest a few surprisingly good improvements to the play, and quickly advances into the main "ghost writer" for David. In order to complete his work, Cheech even kills Olive and thus enables a better actress to complete the impression, but is killed himself. The play is a hit, but David abandons that life and returns to his girlfriend.
Critics frequently exaggerate Woody Allen's "crisis phase" in the late 80s and early 90s since he managed to direct a masterwork, "Crimes and Misdemeanors", in between his lesser films from '87 to '94, but they are generally right that "Bullets over Broadway" signalled his "comeback": even though it is set on Broadway, this film obviously has a few poignant references and jabs at the modern film making business that involves painful compromises (finance through the mafia; accepting a lesser actress) and slyly asks the obvious bigger question, namely is it possible for an author to ever achieve his perfect vision of a story in this world? And are all films and plays just a pale glance of the original idea? Allen has a very elegant and sure directing hand, allowing for the characters to clash and interact in his own play, and the film has many of his characteristically good comical lines and dialogues ("If you entered a burning building and had the choice, would you save the last copy of Shakespeare's play or some anonymous human being?"; "I'll have a double anything"; David lamenting that the gangster has an "IQ of minus 50"...) and Rob Reiner almost steals the show in his small role of a philosophical playwright. However, it won't be until "Mighty Aphrodite" and "Deconstructing Harry" until Allen recovered completely, since the last 20-30 minutes of the film are routine and bland, whereas a few "empty walks" show up here and there. Among the most interesting features is the ending that shows how the hero simply abandons his potential glamorous life in show business and simply returns to his humble life, figuring he can only live in his honesty and reality, not in fake art, a completely different conclusion than the one reached in Allen's own "Harry".