‘Play It Again, Sam’: Woody Allen’s hysterical and adorable tribute to ‘Casablanca’

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In Herbert Ross’s Play It Again, Sam, Woody Allen plays a film critic who is obsessed with the movie Casablanca and this is evident from the opening scene in which he watches it inside a theater, wide-eyed and with this mouth open in awe – probably for the 17th time. He worships Humphrey Bogart, has posters of every Bogart movie on the wall and he wishes to be like him, especially when it comes to the female department.His wife has left him and he is feeling depressed and he tells us this by breaking the fourth wall. She didn’t find him fun anymore. “You used to be more aggressive in the beginning”, she tells him. And he tells her that that is how all guys are and that in the beginning, everyone puts on an act to impress girls.

Here Bogart shows up several times as his alter-ego and is played brilliantly by actor Jerry Lacy – he looks and speaks just like him. He offers Allen tips on how to approach girls and what he should say to them and what not. But Allen is totally aware that he is no Bogie. His friends Dick and Linda take pity him on and decide to introduce him to some of their single female friends. But, Allen, who is the overanxious type, makes a mess of every date he shows up for. And the women are not his type either. One is a porn star, one is a nymphomaniac and the other one is planning to   suicide on Saturday. After Allen spends some time with Linda, he realizes that he has fallen for her. Dick, being a busy real estate man, doesn’t get enough time to give her the desired attention. Allen thinks that she is the right woman for him and they both share similar interests.

The rest of the film deals with Allen’s attempts to find out his story is going to have a happy ending or if it’s going to have an ending similar to Casablanca’s. Allen is absolutely fabulous and the best scenes are those where he demonstrate his social awkwardness. Allen has played hyper characters in many films – a perfect example being Hannah and Her Sisters – but I’ve never seen him act this hyper. This is Allen at his peak. This is a classic Woody Allen film that was not directed by him. However, he wrote the screenplay which was based on a play he wrote 3 years earlier.  This is a tribute of sorts to Casablanca. The film also marked the first collaboration between Allen and Diane Keaton (who plays Linda). This is one of my favorite films from the 70s. A must-watch for all Allen fans.

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