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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/31/02

The Purple Rose of Cairo
1985 (2001) - Orion (MGM)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Purple Rose of Cairo Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C-/C/D+

Specs and Features
82 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English, French and Spanish (DD 2.0 Mono), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"I want what happened in the movie last week to happen this week; otherwise, what's life all about anyway?"

It is the Great Depression, and Cecilia (Mia Farrow) is an unhappily married woman without money, without a job, but most importantly, without love. The only joy in her life is visiting the small New Jersey town's movie house, and a week never goes by without her going to the movies. One week, a film called The Purple Rose of Cairo rolls into town, and Cecilia loves it so much, she sees it five times in three days. The story of high society folk has captured her imagination, and the character of "Tom" (Jeff Daniels) has captured her heart.

But in the middle of one performance, Tom notices her from the screen, and leaves the film to run away with her. He confesses his love to her, and he captivates her. Though unknowing of the ways of the "real" world, he is charming, brave and practically perfect. Unfortunately, he left in the film in the middle of it, stranding the characters without a plotline. Word soon gets to Hollywood that the character has left the print, and the film's producer, star and other big wigs run to the small town to find the character before any damage can be done.

By accident, Cecilia meets Gil, the actor who plays Tom. Although initially wanting to just get Tom back in the film, Gil soon becomes smitten with Cecilia. Though Gil has flaws, such as vanity and greed, he also promises Cecilia a life more pleasant than the one she lives in. Now, she's forced to choose between a real man and a pleasant fiction.

The Purple Rose of Cairo perfectly captures the Great Depression from Cecilia's point of view. It's not just that the country is having a hard time, it's that she is having a great depression of her own. It's easy to connect with her character because it's so easy to connect with her desire to enter the fantasy world (and to be with "Tom" when she's forced to decide), as I'm sure we've all wanted to enter a film of our own at one time or another.

This film's genius comes from the fact that while Cecilia is swept off her feet by Tom, she knows in her gut that she'll never be completely happy with him. She, and the film, doesn't pretend that while he appears to be the perfect guy, that there is one thing that Tom can never offer her. He lives in a world with champagne and nights on the town, and because his film was written that way, that's all that there is. You can't live in a fantasy world, but at the same time, reality is going to be painful.

For the DVD release of this under appreciated classic, the disc is somewhat disappointing, although it's on the same level as the other Woody Allen releases from MGM. The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen, in its original aspect ratio (1.85:1). Scenes in the "real world" look drab, while scenes in the "film world" are very soft. This is intentional, but the there is definitely a noticeable level of compression in the video transfer. Details blur, backgrounds become blocky and the entire transfer has a fair amount of dirt on it. The audio fares about as well as a mono track can. Dialogue and the other audio elements are clear, but are entirely not involving if you're used to big surround sound mixes. We are also given a full-frame theatrical trailer.

Winner of a BAFTA for Best Film and nominated for an Oscar for its screenplay, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a great lighthearted romance - among Woody Allen's best. The disc may leave a little to be desired, but sometimes the films speak for themselves.

Graham Greenlee
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