By Chaz Lipp

Purple Rose of Cairo cover

Specialty label Twilight Time has slowly been filling in some of the gaps in Woody Allen’s filmography where Blu-ray upgrades are concerned. The company specializes in limited run (usually 3,000 copies) editions of titles that might not otherwise find their way to the Blu-ray market. They’ve previously released Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Radio Days (1987), as well as Allen’s acting-only outing, The Front. Up next is Love and Death (1975). Last month they issued Allen’s 1985 jewel The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Mia Farrow is at her most touching as Cecilia, a struggling waitress who finds solace and escape at the local cinema amidst the Great Depression. Her lay-about husband Monk (Danny Aiello) treats her poorly. He won’t even accompany her to the movies, even when she’s excited about the latest exotic epic, The Purple Rose of Cairo. The film-within-a-film stars Gil Shepherd as adventurer Tom Baxter. Cecilia is so enraptured she keeps watching it again and again, until Tom Baxter himself appears to notice her. He steps right off the screen and into the movie theater where he and Cecilia embark on a chaste romance.

Allen takes this conceit and runs with it, spinning off all manner of comic invention. Jeff Daniels plays both the naïve Tom Baxter (who tries to pay for a dinner tab with stage money) and the insecure actor Gil Shepherd. Once he’s informed that the fictional version of himself is running around New Jersey, Gil becomes deeply concerned about what ill effect this could have on his burgeoning career. Meanwhile, Gil’s co-stars are stuck on screen, unable to carry on the film without him. In a prescient imagining of we now recognize as modern “reality TV” shows, curious moviegoers turn up at the cinema just to watch the cast interact with one another, basically just being themselves. At the center of it, Cecilia falls in love with both Tom and Gil, and they with her.

If you’ve been acquiring the Twilight Time Woody Allen releases, you already know what to expect in terms of presentation. As with the aforementioned titles, Purple Rose hasn’t undergone any kind of restoration. Gordon Willis’ dusky cinematography looks, quite frankly, a little shabby here. Fine detail is wanting and the image is frequently speckled by print debris. It’s not a poor presentation, just far from a knockout – though when compared to the old DVD edition, the improvement is undeniable. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 soundtrack is a simple affair that, while a bit quiet, offers crystalline dialogue. There’s an isolated music track offered in DTS-HD MA 2.0.

Funny, romantic, and deeply melancholy, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a timeless Woody Allen masterpiece. For ordering information, visit Screen Archives.

Chaz Lipp

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