Film: The Purple Rose of Cairo

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Film:

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Director: Woody Allen
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: MGM (Video & DVD)

One of the high points of Woody Allen’s career. Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a depression-era waitress married to a brutish husband (Danny Aiello), finds her only escape at the movies, her current favorite being a light comedy about an explorer among socialites, called The Purple Rose of Cairo. She sees it so many times that the main character, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), falls in love with her and steps off the screen to woo her. When news of this gets back to the movie studio, the producers send the actor who played Baxter (also Daniels) to convince Baxter to…

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One of the high points of Woody Allen’s career. Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a depression-era waitress married to a brutish husband (Danny Aiello), finds her only escape at the movies, her current favorite being a light comedy about an explorer among socialites, called The Purple Rose of Cairo. She sees it so many times that the main character, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), falls in love with her and steps off the screen to woo her. When news of this gets back to the movie studio, the producers send the actor who played Baxter (also Daniels) to convince Baxter to get back on the screen. The script is one of Allen’s funniest, but underlying the whole story is a current of sadness that gives the movie’s ending a surprising impact. Allen himself considers The Purple Rose of Cairo to be his personal favorite of his own films. A gem. —Bret Fetzer

“I’ve just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything.” So says Cecilia (Mia Farrow), the central figure in Woody Allen’s lyrically humorous Purple Rose of Cairo. The era is the Great Depression, and she is the bullied wife who finds escape in romantic movies, falling in love with the explorer hero, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), of the eponymous film. So far, nothing remarkable. But Allen has Baxter spot her in the audience, fall in love with her, and desert the picture, much to the irritation of the other characters. The surreal quality of the situation develops further when Gil Shepherd—the actor who played Baxter (Daniels again)—seeks out his fictional alter ego to persuade him back into the film and thus save both their reputations. Naturally Shepherd, too, falls in love with Cecilia, and she’s left to choose between fiction and reality, chooses the latter and is then cruelly jilted. The message seems clear: fairytales are just that, make-believe. There’s no such thing as a happy ending. Dating from 1985 (after Broadway Danny Rose and immediately before Hannah and her Sisters), this is one of the few movies in which Allen doesn’t actually appear, though he’s recognisable in every line of Farrow’s character. It’s also a nostalgic tribute to the era that defined movie glamour, the close-up of Cecilia’s face at the end a moment of pure Hollywood. At 81 minutes, this is a small but brilliant gem. —Harriet Smith

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