The Purple Rose of Cairo
MGM // PG // $19.95 // January 1, 1985
Review by Chris Hughes | posted October 21, 2001
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version

Features: Widescreen anamorphic - 1.85:1. Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono). Subtitles: English, Spanish, French. Theatrical trailer.


The Movie:
Woody Allen is what you might call a self referential film maker. Over the course of his career he's come back again and again to the same elements, investing a new spin each time. The relationships in his later films are informed those of the earlier, the jokes tend to relate on one level or another to the greater body of his work and always at the center is his relentless self examination. Keeping up with Allen's evolving style and picking up on the many in-jokes is all a part of being a fan.

In Allen's 1985 release The Purple Rose of Cairo the clever director turns his formula inside out and places his focus on the nature of celebrity and the cultural impact of movies themselves. Purple Rose isn't some dense drama that requires you to invest a great deal of thought though. Far from it. Rather it's one of Allen's most breezy and entertaining films, a fanciful fairytale that rewards a surface read with plenty of laughs while offering deeper meaning to those who look for it.

The setting is 1930s New Jersey where our heroin Cecilia (Mia Farrow) is struggling to make ends meet with her lunch counter job and doing her best to live with her abusive husband Monk (Danny Aiello). Cecilia is a shy and unassuming girl who seems unprepared to deal with the realities of the depression era and so she slips into the only form of escape she has at hand; movies. She visits the local theater with a religious intensity, sees each film several times and spends hours longing for a world like the one she sees up on the silver screen. One evening, while watching the latest release, a character in the film looks out into the audience and addresses her directly. Stunned, Cecilia answers back and before she knows it dashing explorer Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) steps down off the screen and whisks her away. Of course being nothing more than a character in a film Baxter quickly discovers that the real world is much more complex than he had imagined but before he can adjust word of the fantastic occurrence gets back to the studio in Hollywood. The executives are appalled. Is this the beginning of some sort of trend? Will characters start coming alive all across the country?

In act two the Hollywood big wheels send the director of Purple Rose and the film's star Gil Shepherd (Daniels again) out to New Jersey to appraise the situation. Their hope is that they can convince the misguided Baxter to get back up on the screen at which point they plan to turn off the projector and burn the print. The plan progresses nicely until Shepherd runs into Cecilia and strikes up a relationship with her. Now Cecilia finds herself in a deadly love triangle between her loyalty to her husband, her star struck infatuation with Baxter and her genuine affection for Shepherd.

The result of all this mayhem is one of Allen's most memorable films. Purple Rose succeeds on just about every level. The plot is clever and thought provoking, the dialogue is witty and the performances by Farrow and Daniels are top notch.

The Picture:
The current crop of Warner releases in the Woody Allen collection has varied wildly in quality. This is one of the better looking titles. Purple Rose seems to have been struck from an almost perfect source. The film elements look almost completely free of dust and dirt. There is a good deal of grain to be seen here but it never rises to the point of distraction. The vibrant (and never over saturated) colors, especially the skin tones, are spot on with no evidence of fading or shifting. Contrast is excellent with deep shadow detail and bright pure bright whites. Best of all Warner seems to have resisted the temptation of applying aggressive edge enhancement making for a very smooth, filmic look.

The Sound:
The monaural soundtrack on Purple Rose is also a surprise. The sound stems are exceedingly clean and crisp. The dynamic range is exceptionally broad making for rich sounding voices and music. It's a perfect match for the nice video transfer. Absolutely no complaints.

The Extras:
We Woody Allen fans have been chafing for special editions of his films ever since the DVD format debuted. Looks like we'll have to keep waiting. Warner offers nothing more than a very worn version of the theatrical trailer on this disc.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is one of my favorite Woody Allen films. It's a fun romp through the mind of one of our most accomplished modern directors. To my way of thinking the fine transfer far outweighs the lack of extras on this disc. Rating: Highly Recommended.

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