Sunday, November 4, 2012

#811. Radio Days (1987)

Directed By: Woody Allen

Starring: Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Mike Starr

Trivia: When the Uncle goes next door to confront the communists, the man screaming about the plight of the "worker" is Larry David, who can be seen in a long shot

Woody Allen’s Radio Days is an often funny, sometimes poignant tribute to an era when radio ruled the airwaves.

Allen himself narrates, recounting the memories of Joe (played by a young Seth Green), who, as a 10-year-old growing up in Rockaway, New York in the early 1940s, spent many hours in front of his family’s radio, mesmerized by the exploits of such heroic characters as the Lone Ranger and the Masked Avenger. Joe’s house was a crowded place; along with his parents (Michael Tucker and Julie Kavner), he also lived with his Aunt Ceil (Renee Lippen) and Uncle Abe (Josh Mostel), his Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest), and his grandparents, all of whom had their own favorite radio programs, including one titled Breakfast with Irene and Roger (Julie Kurnitz and David Warrilow).

Radio Days also breaks away occasionally from Joe and his family to regale us with rumors and gossip about the various radio personalities, like how Roger, from Breakfast with Irene and Roger, was allegedly having an affair with a cigarette girl named Sally White (Mia Farrow), a ditzy blonde with a squeaky New York accent who dreamed of making it big as an actress. We follow Sally as she attempts to “break into” showbiz any way she can. Unfortunately, she isn’t very lucky, and at one point is nearly bumped off by a mobster (Danny Aiello) when she inadvertently witnesses a killing.

From a technical standpoint, Radio Days feels authentic; the settings, including Joe’s house in Rockaway and the night clubs and dance halls frequented by the stars of radio, look great. As for the stories that make up the film, many are downright hilarious, like when Joe is caught stealing money from the Jewish State of Palestine fund so he can buy a Masked Avenger Decoder ring (with Kenneth Mars making a brief appearance as the Rabbi who catches him in the act), or the time he and his friends were watching the skies, keeping an eye out for Japanese planes, and instead turned their binoculars towards a bedroom window to spy on a blonde dancing naked in front of her mirror.

Clearly an autobiographical film, with Joe standing in for a young Woody Allen, Radio Days may seem naïve when compared to some of Allen’s other ‘80s works (Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors). But then, naïve is exactly what he was shooting for, transporting us to a simpler time he harbors fond memories of, when, to forget the World War raging overseas, people would gather around their radios to laugh, cry, and be entertained. And on that level, Radio Days is a smashing success.


SJHoneywell said...

This is hands-down my favorite Allen script of his films that I've seen. I love Radio Days because it is nostalgic and it is viewed through rose-colored glasses. It's sweet and fun and funny.

Dave B. said...

SJHoneywell: Allen's output from 1975 (starting with LOVE AND DEATH) up to, and including, RADIO DAYS in 1987 was the most creative of his career. He got a little sketchy towards the end of the '80s (though CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS is a great movie), and the '90s were hit and miss, but during this 12-year period it was one great film after another. And, like you, I'd rank RADIO DAYS right up there with the best of them!

Nice to see he's having a resurgence of sorts in recent years!

Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment!

Mark Monlux said...

I loved the soundtrack to "Radio Days" so much that I had to go out and pick it up for my listening enjoyment.