Take the Money and Run (Kino Lorber, PG)

Take the Money and Run is Woody Allen’s second feature film, following What’s Up, Tiger Lily? Both films contain a strange bending of reality: Tiger Lily is a feature-length fourth wall break which depends on Allen’s constant presence as the filmmaker to achieve its laughs, while Take the Money is a riff on documentary filmmaking with an intentionally inconsistent central conceit. And like Bananas and Sleeper, it comprises mostly a variety of conceptual gags instead of a real story. There is a central character and a narrative, but unlike Woody Allen’s later forays into filmmaking, which contain more drama, the events are all setups for jokes. In this sense, it’s the best vehicle for Allen’s comedic style, pure and unfettered.

The premise is that we are watching a documentary about the life of Virgil Starkwell (Allen) a clumsy and inept bank robber and thief. While containing interview subjects (the greatest of which are Virgil’s parents, a pair of bickering Jewish couch-dwellers who wear fuzzy nose glasses to protect their anonymity), masculine narration and first-person testimony, the events play out in a way that is unworkable in the documentary format. With Allen playing Virgil in both present day and in dramatizations, there is no real way to distinguish pseudo-recreation from pseudo-reality in this mockumentary, thereby turning it into a strange hybrid, or “mockudrama”. This is to say that the humor in the film is centered on Allen’s personality, which he exaggerates and channels through the character of Virgil. Logic would only get in the way of his comedic goal, which he has been on record as saying, “was for every inch of it to be a laugh.”

The film begins by setting up one of its best recurring gags, which is a young Virgil being caught committing a crime, and in addition to his legal punishment, an authority figure throwing his glasses to the ground and crushing them. Later on, we learn that Virgil, even in his innocent endeavors, is hilariously misguided and clumsy. His desire to master the cello is offset both by his refusal to actually learn music and also his attempting to play the instrument in a marching band, which requires him to move his chair every few seconds to keep up with the parade.

As his life of crime progresses, he falls in love with a girl named Louise (played by the lovely Janet Margolin), who sticks by his side from then on. Her presence never quite leads to a strong dynamic, as she plays the sweet-but-suffering wife role throughout. However, the domesticity angle that she brings to Virgil’s life ushers in a few of the film’s funniest sequences, such as when they argue over the fact that she washed the shirt he intended to wear to a bank robbery.

This last gag speaks heavily to Allen’s trademark style, and also to the most prevalent type of joke used in this film, the incorporation of every day occurrences into extraordinary circumstances. A couple quarrels before a bank robbery, a dispute over the handwriting in a threatening note derails a holdup, and an unexpected encounter with an old friend occurs during a mugging. This, in addition to other absurd antics, fills the running time and acts as a survey of Allen’s personal brand of humor. For fans, it’s the most potent fix. | Nic Champion

There are no extras on this disc.

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