Movie Posters that scared me as a kid.
Scared me so much I didn’t see the movies until much later.
After visiting with Danny Rose, Woody Allen’s most optimistic creation, perhaps it’s best to begin our exploration of The Purple Rose of Cairo with Woody’s take on the film, from Conversations with Woody Allen by Eric Lax:
When I first got the idea, it was just a character comes down from the screen, there are some high jinks, but then I thought, where would it go? Then it hit me: the actor playing the character comes to town. After that it opened up like a great flower. Cecilia had to decide, and chose the real person, which was a step up for her. Unfortunately, we must choose reality, but in the end it crushes us and disappoints. My view of reality is that it is a pretty grim place to be, (pause) but it’s the only place you can get Chinese food.
This should prepare you for the sadness that accompanies a viewing of this film and the sorry state of the lead character, Mia Farrow’s Cecilia.
Set in New Jersey of the 1930s Cecilia is buried beneath a country-wide Depression that has claimed the humanity of her husband Monk, a dastradly Danny Aiello, and, with the help of Allen’s longtime collaborator Gordon Willis, drained the color from the world around her. Woody recollects:
I deliberately wanted her to come out [of the theater] to a very unpleasant situation for her. Gordon was able to do that. I described to him coming out of the movie theater and it suddenly being the real world in all its ugliness.
Cecilia waits tables and trods beaten paths to broken door frames amid drab New Jersey browns. She finds solace at the local movie theater, where, in a neat reversal of the color-coding of The Wizard of Oz, the black-and-white of the fantasy world on screen is a veritable wonderland of richness and possibility and the colors of reality are stifling.
Woody Allen doesn’t appear in this film, and if you squint really hard, I guess you can see some of him in Cecilia. But I think that “looking for Woody” in the films in which he does not appear is sometimes a mistake. And it does a disservice to Mia Farrow’s performance. Woody Allen does not hold a patent on neurotic behavior – I found Mia’s Cecilia to be an original. Her beaming recollections of the previous night’s cinema smoothly countering her fumbling dishes at the diner.
But you can’t break dishes during a Depression. Her job lost and her two-timing abusive husband a constant oppression, she returns again and again to the cinema to lose herself in the latest bit of romantic escapism on display: The Purple Rose of Cairo, featuring an explorer named Tom Baxter, of the Chicago Baxters, whose import to the film is of some contention. Regardless, Cecilia fixates on him to the point that he notices. Upon her fifth viewing, Tom decides to approach her – by walking out of the screen and into the theater.
Guest Writer: John Schulian
It is a sign of the times that our movie heroes no longer go traipsing off to Mexico to scratch their itch for unlikely nobility, filthy lucre, or good old-fashioned trouble. The show-me-your-papers crowd in Arizona would have us believe there are so many illegals heading north that even celluloid mercenaries looking south of the border better stay home lest they be trampled. Myself, I’d suggest that the abundance of lead being slung in Mexico’s drug wars makes telling stories about brave yanquis, especially the contemporary variety, about as plausible as having Madonna sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Once, however, the land of Villa welcomed Humphrey Bogart so he could die a greed head’s death in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and Robert Mitchum, fresh out of a very real jail, as he tracked down a missing Army payroll in “The Big Steal.” You should know about “The Magnificent Seven,” of course, just as you should “The Wild Bunch”: two classic Westerns that sprang from the idea of American bad men finding something good inside them under Mexican skies, the former ending with a triumphant ride out of town, the latter with a fireball of dark glory. And then there is a hugely entertaining Western that is too often forgotten, “The Professionals,” which is about early 20th Century mercenaries who are crazy brave but not stupid. Four of them, to be exact: Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode, each possessing more testosterone by himself than there is in all of Hollywood today.
Lancaster was a former circus acrobat who did his own stunts and, legend has it, could handle himself in a street fight. Marvin fought his way through World War II as a marine in the Pacific, and, with a mug like his, he must have put up his dukes a few times as a civilian, too. Ryan boxed in college (and was nothing less than splendid in the fight racket noir “The Set-Up”). Strode played football at UCLA, broke the NFL’s color line (alongside college teammate Kenny Washington), wrestled professionally, died a righteous death in “Spartacus,” and, though he was 52 when “The Professionals” was released in 1966, looked like he was made of steel cable.