The Purple Rose Of Cairo Review

Although not as publicly lauded as some of his other works, or indeed as long, The Purple Rose Of Cairo is one of Woody Allen's most delightful films, with a tone bordering on the hilarious, the bleakly depressing and most often the fantastical.

Set during the turbulent depression era of 1930's America, The Purple Rose Of Cairo centres on Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a woman who frequently escapes from the beatings and the infelidity of her husband Monk (Danny Aiello) by going to the movies. Monk is out-of-work, and rather than look for jobs he is content to just live off the meagre earnings of Cecilia's waitress job. While times are especially hard and Cecilia loses her job, she falls in love with one movie in particular, "The Purple Rose Of Cairo", and watches the movie countless times. During one particular screening, something magical happens, and the lead character of the film, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels, who replaced Michael Keaton after Allen fired him), turns towards the audience and starts talking to Cecilia! He tells Cecilia that he has noticed her during all of the screenings, and then Baxter steps off the screen and into reality! Once in the real world, the fictional Baxter has a difficult time adjusting to life during the Depression, but he knows that he loves Cecilia and that is all that matters to him. This angers Cecilia's husband Monk, who hypocritically dislikes his wife turning to other men. Also, the studio behind the film is worried - what if Baxter murders or rapes someone whilst in 'reality'? What if his character leads a revolt amongst the other Tom Baxter characters in the other screenings? To make matters even worse, the actor who plays Baxter, Gil Shepherd (also Jeff Daniels of course) is worried about the potential detrimental effect Baxter's actions would have on his career. He therefore plans to convince Baxter to return to the big screen for good, whilst simultaneously stealing Cecilia from his on-screen creation.

On the surface, The Purple Rose Of Cairo is pure Woody Allen fun, without the neurotic ramblings or self-indulgence dallying with younger female leads out of his league. In fact, you could argue that the reason the film is enjoyably light is due to Allen fixing himself firmly behind the camera and not appearing in front of it. Comedy moments appear throughout, and many are pure cinematic gems that contain greater, more hidden meaning. Allen is in his element when he reverses Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr., by having the character enter the real world as opposed to Keaton's operator entering the screen of a Sherlock Holmes movie and solving the crime. This notion is carried even further when the other characters, left behind by Baxter on the screen, resort to sitting around watching the audience for a development. It's as if the audience and the movie have shifted places, and the watcher has become the watched. Because the set-up of The Purple Rose Of Cairo is deftly structured, many other elements of social commentary can also be extracted. For example, as movies are shown in the film to be an escape from the turmoil of reality, they are also slightly criticised for given perhaps a saccharine overview of the world. For example, when Tom Baxter enters 'reality', he is completely unaware of the depression or other non-cinema motifs such as prostitutes (the scene where he tries to pay a restaurant with fake Hollywood money is hilarious), but he doesn't worry about society as he is typically Hollywood in his idealism, he simply craves the love of his leading lady - Cecilia. However, Cecilia has to choose which version of a leading man she craves the most, the two-dimensional Hollywood character that she worships from the big screen or the 'real' rich, insecure actor with a glowing career ahead of him. This is the essence of The Purple Rose Of Cairo, it manages to show the pros and cons of both escapism and reality without choosing a winner, and yet it completely understands societies need to have both of these worlds running parallel.

Performance wise, although Woody Allen doesn't appear in the film, you can almost sense him in every one of his characters. Cecilia's famous quote from the film, the "I've just met a wonderful man. He's fictional, but you can't have everything," line is pure Allen in both wit and Farrow's delivery. Indeed, Farrow is very good as Cecilia, a woman who doesn't ask for much and yet is given even less. As both Tom Baxter and his actor Gil Shepherd, Jeff Daniels is splendid, and proves that he is a versatile actor. It's amazing that he wasn't nominated for an Oscar, considering that the Academy threw two Oscars towards Diane Wiest for two different Woody Allen movies. Danny Aiello seems to have the perfect posture for playing a slum scum and his performance as Monk is utterly believable in his monstrous disregard for his wife. Allen's direction is unbelievably quick-paced, and as the film is just over an hour and twenty minutes in length you almost have the feeling that the film skirts over its second act too quickly.

It's rumoured that The Purple Rose Of Cairo is Allen's favourite film, and if this is true it's easy to see why. It's a paean to movie escapism, or more precisely a celebration of visiting a cinema, and a justification of its necessity during the troubled times. As a film, it isn't as important or even as splendid as say Annie Hall or Manhattan, but it still remains as an important piece of work amongst Allen's lengthy career, and films such as Nurse Betty and Pleasantville owe a huge debt to it.

Academy Awards 1985

Academy Award Nominations 1985
Best Original Screenplay - Woody Allen

Presented in widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1 the picture is generally pleasing and is visually excellent. Woody Allen has carefully painted a beautiful if depression tinted view of thirties' America, and the transfer shows off Gordon Willis' excellent cinematography. A few elements of grain and digital artefacts can be detected, and a few blurry moments of motion are extremely evident, but this doesn't detract from proceedings too much.

Presented in two-track mono (like all of Allen's films) the soundtrack is clearly audible and relatively low on hiss. The mixing is obviously lacking in dynamic enveloping and occasionally surrounding events overshadows the dialogue of the characters, but even so, the sound track is perfectly fine.

Menu: A static and silent menu with a few images from the film thrown into the background.

Packaging: The usual MGM amaray budget range packaging, with chapter listings printed on the reverse of the inlay card and being visible via a transparent amaray.


Original Theatrical Trailer: An enticing trailer that conveys the plot without ruining any of the better moments of the film.


A very good effort from Woody Allen on a disc we have come to expect from MGM. Just like any of their releases from the old Orion studios, you can expect decent picture and sound quality without any extras other than the trailer. Given Allen's refusal to contribute to any commentaries or documentaries, one could argue that this release is arguably the best that is going to be available, and at an RRP of £12.99 you cannot really argue with that.

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Last updated: 21/06/2018 00:31:35

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