The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello & Diane Wiest
Released by: Twilight Time
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
As The Great Depression takes hold of the country, an unhappily married New Jersey waitress (Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby) turns to the magic of the movies for escapism. When her favorite movie star (Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom) emerges from the screen, a charming romance ensues. Sweet and enchanting, The Purple Rose of Cairo co-stars Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing) and Diane Wiest (Edward Scissorhands).
Delicately straddling the line between reality and fiction, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a tender love letter to cinema akin to Ed Wood and Matinee. Critically applauded but, financially stunted at the box-office, Woody Allen’s tragi-comedy speaks to the average day dreamers quietly suffering in their daily lives but, rejuvenated by the alluring glow of the silver screen. Mia Farrow headlines as Cecilia, an oppressed, overworked wife and waitress, constantly abused by her unfaithful, unemployed husband (intensely portrayed by Danny Aiello). Cecilia’s escape is at her local movie house where Hollywood’s endless tales transport her to dreamlike states where her favorite actor, Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels), melts her heart with his talents and good looks. Farrow’s wide-eyed, childlike enthusiasm easily relates to those who care deeply for cinema and are as affectionately moved by its sweeping images. When Shepherd’s latest film, The Purple Rose of Cairo debuts, Cecilia finds herself returning to encore shows only to witness Tom Baxter, Shepherd’s onscreen persona (also played by Daniels), leaping off the screen and entering Cecilia’s reality. As Baxter lacks real world skills and Cecilia’s desperation to rid herself of her depressing lifestyle becomes clear, the two connect and fall hopelessly in love. Through all its genuine magic and emotional chemistry perfectly delivered by Farrow and Daniels, Allen injects heaps of playful humor from disgruntled moviegoers less impressed with a movie star stepping through a screen and more concerned with being ripped off. In addition, Baxter is understandably confused when a working girl (Diane Wiest) invites him to her brothel for an “experimental adventure” leading to an adorably hilarious exchange.
As word reaches the Hollywood big shots and Gil Shepherd himself, the pack head to New Jersey to contain the possibility of endless Tom Baxter’s escaping screens. Genuinely sweet and determined to be more than a supporting actor, Shepherd is quickly taken by Cecilia’s kindness and admiration for his talents. Before long, Cecilia finds herself in a confusing love triangle where two men, one real, the other fictional, are vying for her love. As our hearts are invested as much as Cecilia’s, the difficult option of choosing between her fantasies or reality is a heart-rending, bittersweet sendoff that equally delights our imaginations and forces us to confront the imperfect complexities of life. Delightful and enduring, The Purple Rose of Cairo could very well be Allen’s finest effort and one that wears its adoration for romance and movie magic proudly on its sleeve.
Twilight Time presents The Purple Rose of Cairo with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Gorgeously shot by Cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather), colors, or lack thereof, are relayed nicely while, the transfer bears only minor instances of flakes and speckles. Closeups aren’t drastically sharp but do offer suitable detail that appease. Overall, The Purple Rose of Cairo maintains a natural, filmic appearance that delivers considerably. Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Purple Rose of Cairo projects clear dialogue with no issues to speak of. Expectedly, the mix never charges with much authority but, does offer an appreciated boost with the loud horn section at the Copacabana. Relatively light, special features included are an Isolated Score Track, Original Theatrical Trailer (1:37), MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06) and a 6-page booklet bearing stills from the film and another spot-on analysis and appreciation for the film from Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo.
Remarkably acted and achingly moving, The Purple Rose of Cairo speaks to the dreamers whisked away to exotic lands of adventure and romance from the unspooling of film reels. Farrow and Daniels could hardly be more perfect with their intoxicating chemistry and Allen’s witty handling of dialogue carving out the film’s optimal quality. Twilight Time delivers Allen’s 1985 gem with a filmic video appearance and fitting sound mix while, special features unfortunately fall on the lighter side, Julie Kirgo’s latest essay is as always, enriching. Breezy at only 82 minutes, The Purple Rose of Cairo is essential viewing for anyone swept away by the magic of movies and the enchanting spell they cast. Fade out.
Available now in a limited edition of 3,000 units, The Purple Rose of Cairo can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.
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