Play It Again, Sam [1972]

Written for the stage and coherently opened up for the screen by veteran director Herbert Ross, Play It Again, Sam is closer to a conventional comedy than Woody Allen's more self-contained films, but his smart script and archetypal hero-nebbish achieve a special charm aimed squarely at movie buffs. Allen is Allan Felix, a film critic on the rebound after his wife's desertion trying to brave the choppy waters of born-again bachelorhood and struggling to reconcile his celluloid obsessions with the hazards of real-world dating. His apartment is a shrine to Humphrey Bogart, and it's none other than Bogey himself who materializes at strategic moments to counsel Allan on romantic strategy. He gets more corporeal aid from his married friends, Linda (Diane Keaton) and Dick (Tony Roberts), who try to orchestrate prospective matches and reassure him when those chemistry experiments explode. When Allan finds himself falling in love with Linda, the dissonance between fantasy and reality proves both funny and poignant--a precursor to the deeper emotionalism missing from the star's earlier directorial efforts that was soon to inform Allen's most affecting '70s comedies. It's also the start of his onscreen relationship with Keaton, further underscoring Allen's evolution toward a more satisfying contemplation of the friction between head and heart. --Sam Sutherland

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