Label: Twilight Time
Released: July 8, 2014.
Synopsis: Woody Allen’s nostalgic trip to a childhood in Rockaway where radio shows, jazz, fresh fish, and a good smack in the head were all good.
Special Features: Isolated mono music & effects track / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.
Made the same year as September (1987), Woody Allen goes a little Fellini in this highly nostalgic evocation of a childhood in Rockaway, NYC, with friends, family, impressionable radio personalities, and getting smacked in the head a few times for being a little insolent.
Radio Days starts off with several fast and snappy vignettes that introduce the extended family of young Joe (Seth Green), his patient mother (Julie Kavner), father (Michael Tucker) who’s highly secretive of his day job, single aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest), and uncle Abe (Josh Mostel) who obsesses over the collection and preparation of premium fresh fish. Allen then weaves in increasingly detailed strands covering the career and mental enlightening of cigarette girl Sally White (Mia Farrow) as she evolves from a wise-cracking mistress of a radio star to an eloquently voiced star in her own right after toiling through bit parts and cheesy commercials.
There’s also mob hitman Rocco (Danny Aiello), who decides not to kill Sally in spite of her being the sole witness to a payback murder, and myriad small roles for a film packed with some of the finest character actors in the business. Tracked with vivid period songs, Allen uses little Joe as a marker, showing the slow, incremental changes within his family’s lives versus the fluffy upper class lifestyles of Sally & Co. as they feast on evanescent bubbly, their snazzy attire, and rooftop affairs.
One could argue Allen’s memory trip is pure fluff – the odes to Fellini include Joe and his buddies spying on a well-endowed and (future supply teacher) caught dancing in the buff; and the somewhat familial, carnival atmosphere of Sally, working her way up the steep social ladder and eventually returning to her old night club haunt as part of the elite crowd – but it’s a fun, sprightly journey, with several memorable & absurd moments, crisp gags, and a few hysterical scenes which might not be P.C. in today’s age.
For example: when Joe steals money from a Help Palestine charity drive to get a toy, justice is initially meted out by Rabbi Baumel (Kenneth Mars) in verbal form, but Joe’s insolence soon reduces him into a smacking doll, with each adult shoving and slapping the kid to reassert his / her authority over the other adults. There’s also Joe’s father saying to his mother ‘You’re such a douchebag, but I love you,’ and the family’s neighbour who refuses to honor a day of rest by working because to not work is a waste of a perfectly good day, thereby igniting a backyard fisticuff.
Allen’s sense of comedic timing ensures the gags run fast, the scenes flow, and the wrap-up is quick and neat, and although Radio Days is still a series of loosely connected vignettes, they’re lovely and ridiculous, and the characters are shown to have more than mere grains of decency. It’s also clear Allen loves the major and bit characters, so no one’s really disposable – just part of a rich, amusing palette within this extended childhood flashback. Diane Keaton does a cameo as an elegant singer, while Joy Newman steals the film for a few beats doing a perfect lipsync of a Carmen Miranda ditty. Also glimpsed in the cast are band leader Tito Puente, Larry David, Mercedes Ruehl, William H. Macy, and Kenneth Welsh (Twin Peaks, Best Laid Plans).
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a clean transfer and an isolated mono score track featuring some of the source songs and cue arrangements by Dick Hyman, and Julie Kirgo’s essay provides an affectionate tribute to this gem.
The radically simple trailer involves a narrator interpolating the most minor characters between major and secondary figures as the camera slowly zooms out from an old radio in one shot – perhaps the most obvious example where Allen’s name and just listing the cast are enough to excite fans of his latest work. Lastly, while Twilight Time has been designing their own striking cover art, they recognized the beauty of the original poster art which reflected the film’s tone, era, and one of many stars using a simple design that unlike today, does not involve big actor heads.
Woody Allen films released by Twilight Time include Love and Death (1975), Interiors (1978), Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Radio Days (1987), and Crimes and Misdemeanors(1989), and the Allen starring in the Red Menace satire The Front (1976).
© 2014 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review