BR: Take the Money and Run (1969)

November 16, 2017 | By

Film: Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  KL Studio Classics

Region: A

Released:  October 10, 2017

Genre:  Comedy / Mockumentary

Synopsis: Fake documentary / expose of Virgil Starkwell, an utterly inept bank robber, husband, and cellist.

Special Features:  Theatrical Trailer.




There’s a progression in Woody Allen’s early as he moved from screenwriter to director, after having penned TV scripts and making the leap to screenwriter with What’s New Pussycat? (1965), and although What’s Up Tiger Lily? (1966) is credited as his first directorial feature film, it’s still a recut film sporting a satirical dub track penned & supervised by Allen, with voice work by himself and a team of actors.

Take the Money and Run marked Allen’s true feature film debut in which he directed, starred, and co-wrote (with Mickey Rose) a mockumentary of a lousy thief and his recurrent incarceration and escape from penitentiaries, and although it has more than a few brilliant absurdist sequences and small bits, Take is really a forerunner to his masterwork Zelig (1983), one of the best fake documentaries that similarly chronicles a fake subject – a human chameleon.

Zelig is more of a doc using faux (but very convincing) archival footage and audio bits interwoven with interviews (some with real psychiatrists and philosophy figures), whereas Take does drift between fake doc, prison drama satire, and sketch comedy, which is perhaps why only certain scenes standout, and much of what surrounds them are one-liners and broad gags.

Allen’s Virgil Starkwell, a bonehead quickly arrested for ‘trying to take’ bank money during a delivery, and escaping prison by clumsy luck, and for a while masquerades as a cellist in a philharmonic. He quickly finds love with pretty girl Louise (Janet Margolin) and toys with a straight life until the need for cash leads him back to ill-conceived theft, culminating in the film’s highpoint: due to bad penmanship, his robbery note befuddles the clerk, who brings it to the attention of the manager; soon after Starkwell is swarmed by puzzled bank staff, with no consensus on whether the note reads “Gun” or “Gub.”

Starkwell’s escape from a chain gang is almost as absurd and funny, with the men pretending to behave normally in spite of being tightly tethered with leg irons, but faux interviews with his parents (Henry Leff and Ethel Sokolow) in mustachioed Groucho glasses are oft-repeated, and the satirical montages of Starkwell and Louise making love and cavorting on a beach pull the film out of its mockumentary mode, specially since Marvin Hamlisch’s music reaches a traditional generic lushness.

Take was an experiment of folding together multiple genres, but in retrospect Allen may have realized winks to the audience should be more subtle, and the illusion of a real subject requires a score that draws from traditional archival sources, hence the refined artifact quality of  Zelig.

Buried in the sketches are Louise Lasser and western character actor Roy Engel as the prison guard captain, both of whom would appear in Lasser’s iconic soap satire Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Also present is prolific character actor Lonny Chapman (The Birds) as a fellow gangman, and stentorian Jason Beck providing the grave crime-doesn’t-pay narration that glues many of the scenes together with absurd factoids. (Allen would bring Beck back  into the fold in Radio Days in 1987.)

Allen is very comfortable playing a schnook, but Margolin (David and Lisa, Morituri, Last Embrace) seems a little lost, perhaps a little confused as to what should be played straight or tongue-in-cheek, although she did appear in Allen’s Annie Hall (1977).

Hamlisch’s score may be lush and propulsive, but it’s also appropriately cheeky, swiftly shifting from serious to maudlin, romantic to ridiculous, and unlike his music for Allen’s Bananas (1971), it has yet to enjoy a commercial release.

Previously released on DVD by MGM, Take makes its Blu-ray debut via Kino’s KL Studio Classics line in a bare bones edition. The grain and print wear may add to the film’s mockumentary texture, but the source print is an indication this ABC Pictures production wasn’t especially well preserved.

Allen would craft a more precise mockumentary for PBS in the half-hour program Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971), and reunite with co-writer Rose for Bananas (1971). After a solid decade writing for hit TV sketch comedy shows (The Smothers Brothers Show) and sitcoms (The Odd Couple), Rose branched out once as writer-director in the meandering slasher film satire Student Bodies (1981), although an uncredited Michael Ritchie (The Candidate, Smile, Fletch) reportedly produced and co-directed some material.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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