Woody Allen’s second film Take the Money and Run is the first true ‘Woody Allen’ film, after the curio that was What’s Up, Tiger Lily? In addition to being on directing and writing duties, Allen plays the “destitute and in love” Virgil Starkwell, who attempts to lead a life of crime in order to provide for his beloved wife Louise (Janet Margolin), and his essentially unsighted son. Stylistically the film is a mockumentary, chronicling Virgil’s life of crime after the fact, including interviews with the key players such as Virgil’s parents and former teachers.
The character of Starkwell is a classic, bumbling criminal who ensures that everything that could go wrong does. At times, the humour veers wonderfully into the surreal and absurdist, the high point of which is a bank robbery which culminates in a mass discussion between Virgil and the staff over whether his handwriting says gub or gun. This is a deeply silly film as evidenced by another scene where the soap gun Virgil has crafted whilst in jail bubbles and froths as he attempts to escape in the rain. This style of humour precursors the work of the Zuckers in their iconic TV show Police Squad and The Naked Gun films; and I suspect this early Allen film was a big influence on them. Just like those later examples Allen opts for the more is more approach to humour. Barely a 30 second patch of film passes without at least one attempted joke, if not more. The result is that not all of the jokes entirely (or at all) work, but enough of them do that the ones that fall flat are easily forgotten. However this seeming excess in the approach to humour taken by the film is balanced by a script full of delightfully wry moments, which provide much of the richest humour found in the film.
To witness the assured refinement that was last year’s best original screenplay Midnight in Paris, reinforces the fact that this is a very early Woody Allen film. The script has its inspired moments of dialogue and satire, but is also raw and rough around the edges. Despite this, the streak of originality that has always marked Allen out is readily apparent here. The film does tire a little in the latter half as it moves a little away from its emotional heart of Virgil’s relationship with Louise. And the total lack of any real mention of or interaction with his son is a real conspicuous absence. The stylistic conceit of the mockumentary is also pushed aside a little in the film’s second half which is to the film’s detriment.
Take the Money and Run, despite its shortcomings, is an extremely funny film. Already, at this point in his career, Allen’s goofy, nerdy sort of everyman shtick and individual filmmaking style, that he continues to hone to this day, are readily and joyfully apparent.
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