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Film review: Take the Money and Run (1969; dir Woody Allen)

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Allen plays small time thief and cellist in a marching band, Virgil Starkwell.

Allen plays small time thief and cellist in a marching band, Virgil Starkwell.

Woody Allen plays small time thief and full-time anti-hero Virgil Starkwell, who’s forever slapsticking it up on his path to schmuck-cess

Take the Money and Run (1969) is one of director/actor Woody Allen’s earlier, highly slapstick films before the days of Annie Hall, which is lauded as the measuring point of all things Woody. In fact, it was his second film as director, following What’s up, Tiger Lily?. And, to be honest, it showed.

A mockumentary set in the 1950s, the movie traces the life of thief and social misfit Virgil Starkwell. A whole bunch of people from Virgil’s life are interviewed — his parents (protected from identification with Marx Bros glasses), wardens, psychologists, cello teachers … etc. The interviews really add commentary to a narrative with Virgil as protagonist. He was a petty crim at a young age, despite attempts to do good being a cellist in a marching band. One day, he meets a young Louise (Janet Margolin) and they become (unlikely) lovers after Virgil claims he plays for the philharmonic orchestra. Virgil gets caught up in his own addiction to lying and stealing as he tries to bring dosh into his new family. Each robbery attempt is an unfortunate mistake. In one attempt, he hands a written note to the bank teller demanding money — the teller doesn’t know what the note says (“gum” or “gun”?) and consults the rest of the bank staff. In between abortive robberies, is time in the clink.

This is all very Woody Allen stuff — Allen’s absurd anti-hero who is so convinced of his absurd fantasy that he is almost heroic. Virgil is one of the first. It’s all underscored by Allen’s casting of often younger, attractive female counterparts.

I love Allen’s movies, but I have to say I fell asleep through this one. The slapstick was a little OTT and grew tiresome. Allen’s earlier films were much more slapstick. Chaplin, Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton are his muses, and it certainly shines through in this movie. Gaffs, goofs and blunders. As he matured, the Allen of Freudian slips, Oedipal complexes and the obligatory Hitler joke emerges and marries with his slapstick. And it’s this that I love, but a little absent in this one.

Small Time Crooks (2000) revisits Take the Money, with Tracey Ullman. This is a much better film, no doubt with a bigger budget and after years of refining his art.

It will be a sad day when Allen departs the stage.

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Written by Darren Smith

7 August 2008 at 11:34 pm

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