Woody Allen's feature-film debut, Take the Money and Run, a mockumentary that combines sight gags, sketchlike scenes, and standup jokes at rat-a-tat speed, looks positively primitive compared to his mature work. Primitive, but awfully funny. Allen plays Virgil Starkwell, a music-loving nebbish who turns to a life of crime at an early age and, undaunted by his utter and complete failure to pull off a single successful robbery, continues his unbroken spree of bungled heists and prison breaks even after he marries and raises a family. Narrator Jackson Beck, whose stentorian voice of authority makes a perfect foil for Starkwell's absurd exploits, lobs one droll quip after another with deadpan seriousness. Though spotty, Allen tosses so many jokes into the mix that it hardly matters and when they hit they are often hilarious: the chain gang posing as cousins to their old-woman hostage ("We're very close," Virgil explains to a dim cop), arguing with a dotty movie director who is supposed to be their cover for a bank robbery, Virgil's escape attempt with a bar of soap. Allen spoofs decades of crime films, everything from I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang to Bonnie and Clyde, but you don't have to know the movies to enjoy this goofy, sometimes clumsy, but quite clever comedy. --Sean Axmaker
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