Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, A (Blu-ray Review)31 Aug, 2015 By: Mike Clark
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Stars Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Mary Steenburgen, Jose Ferrer.
By a presumed factor of incalculable thousands, the supporting cast of crickets, cicadas and other chirpers vastly outnumber and do their best to outshine the six human principals in Woody Allen’s pastoral light comedy from (in socio-pop terms) an eternity ago. This is another way of saying that Comedy was the actor/filmmaker’s first of 13 collaborations with Mia Farrow — back when Farrow had undeniable ethereal appeal and before she started to come off as someone you can imagine having 150 cats in her bathtub.
Before we even get to the idea of Gordon Willis working in the great outdoors, how about Woody in that same milieu? — a concept, to be sure. But come to think, Allen is long on record as being a baseball fan, which presupposes a willingness to get out of the apartment at least once in a while to savor also-pastoral outfield turfs and the smell of hot dogs (kosher). Indeed, the National Pastime even rates a couple references in the script here — one of them an aside about the Cubs, who were already around (along with a Tony Roberts antique roadster that steals at least one scene) during the presumed 20th-century mid-teens era when the story takes place. And so were the Katzenjammer Kids, whose acknowledgement proves that if you live long enough, it’s never out of the question that you’ll finally get to see Jose Ferrer alluding to that ancient comic strip on screen. It’s a rare departure from the incessant pomposity Ferrer’s character otherwise keeps unloading on his fellow guests when visiting the dream of a country home where Allen and his wife (Mary Steenburgen) reside.
Just as Smiles of a Summer Night represented a breather for Allen idol Ingmar Bergman in the mid-1950s following Sawdust and Tinsel and other more solemn masterworks that also had “Summer” in their titles, this homage launched Allen on a six-picture streak of relatively mirthful achievements (Zelig, still a total knockout, would be next). And not dissimilarly, Comedy came directly on the heels of, as Julie Kirgo mentions in another of her breezy liner-note essays, the super-serious Interiors, Manhattan (a comedy but not always the jokey laff-riot kind) and the once critically bludgeoned Stardust Memories (which I have a hunch may have improved with age). Aside from some minor players at the beginning, there are just three couples here, but don’t let that fool you: Allen-Steenburgen, Ferrer-Farrow and Roberts-Julie Hagerty soon begin shuffling the deck, especially once it turns out that houseguest Farrow was once an unrealized Allen fling. The women here all have semi-bohemian streaks, and, for the day, seem mighty liberated. Good.
Allen is Allen in wacky mode: independently well-fixed and spending his ample discretionary time tinkering with a variety of inventions whose common thread is any lack of practical application to any real person’s needs. The most successful (relatively speaking) is a pedaled flying machine with a rotating blade on the top, source of the movie’s best sight gag when airborne Allen tries to have a conversation outside a second-floor bedroom window while slipping slightly below the sill until he can pedal faster. Other lovers here are subtle about sneaking off for private trysts or at least tryst planning, and even seemingly proper Steenburgen has some history in her past that’s seriously compromising her marriage. In addition to the real-life Farrow launching her fatal on-screen relationship with Allen here, the other two actresses were at key points in their careers. Aside from her role as the mother in Milos Forman’s movie of Ragtime, this was Steenburgen’s first movie after winning the supporting Oscar for Melvin and Howard — and also the first feature for Hagerty following her memorable Princess-of-Wisp turn in Airplane!
This sweet if mild confection will always rebut those who note the Godfather-darkness of Gordon Willis’s entire body of work — all that exhibitors stuff about how his movies couldn’t play drive-ins because the long throw couldn’t illuminate an image. Willis’s bright work here is the full outdoor deal and visually harmonizes with the crickets. Also the soundtrack Mendelssohn, which in typically cool Twilight Time fashion gets isolated on a separate channel for purists.