Woody Allen never stopped making “funny” movies, as some of his earliest fans complain. He just stopped making a certain kind of funny movie: wild, silly spoofs that might cross into Zucker Brothers territory if they were more slap happy with the visual puns and less intellectual and neurotic. 1975’s Love and Death brought an end to Allen’s goofy spoofs while finding the heretofore-undiscovered hilarity in Tolstoy, Bergman, and Eisenstein. Unlike those cats, Allen is willing to exploit the clownishness of falling in love with a woman who’d sooner marry your brother (or at least settle for a herring monger), going to war despite your pacifism only to get shot out of a cannon and decorated with medals for heroism, and dying (that is not a spoiler. This movie is called Love and Death).
Aside from the constant stream of jokes ridiculous (Woody’s inability to control the sword sheathed in his belt… the literal one) and very ridiculous (sex involving oven mitts, and possibly, a herring), Love and Death is great because the guy who wrote, directed, and starred in it was so generous with the humor. Almost everyone is very, very funny in this movie, which is not always the case for early Allen movies, and no one is funnier than Diane Keaton, who shuffles between melodramatic mannerisms (“Wheat!”) and scatter-brained naturalness with such ease that she seems like she’s improvising every line. Of course, no one improvises when they’re working from a Woody Allen script, and this is one of his most purely funny. His next one, Annie Hall, is really funny too, but with its pronounced melancholy and lack of crazed silliness, it marks a new, mature phase in his career. A lot of great art came out of that period, but you couldn’t always count on the kind of fun he whips out effortlessly in Love and Death.
Like all Woody Allen movies from this period, Love and Death looks soft, a bit grainy, and drab, though with its ornate interiors and pastoral exteriors, and Ghislain Cloquet’s refined cinematography, it is prettier to look at than most of his pictures. As always, Twilight Time’s new blu-ray maintains Allen’s aesthetic and merely suffers a scattering of white specks that will only irk the nit-pickiest videophiles. This disc includes TT’s standard isolated music track (so you can dig all that Prokofiev without getting distracted by the jokes) and a booklet essay by house historian Julie Kirgo. Get it on Screen Archives.com here.