Classic Movie Reviews by Chuck Kuenneth MPHS Jan 66
"Love and Death" is beautifully photographed and could easily have been a serious drama. But the movie is comic, "though" visually many scenes begin with what looks like a dramatic historical scene. Then as dialog is presented the realism and drama fly out the door. Here for example is the beginning of the scene that introduces Napoleon. Seen from the rear he turns around, and yes, it is Napoleon in a lavish palace. He is perturbed...
Napoleon: No…No…No…No…It's not what I had in mind. It should have more cream between the crusts and no raisins.
Chef: But the last thing you said was raisins!
Napoleon: NO!…If this pastry is to bear my name it must be richer…MORE cream! My spies tell me that my illustrious British enemy is working on a new meat recipe which he plans to call Beef Wellington!
Chef: It will never get off the ground!
Napoleon: We must develop the Napoleon before he develops Beef Wellington! The future of Europe hangs in the balance.
Thus the serious beginning swiftly becomes comedy. As with my other 20 favorite movies, "Love and Death" never fails impress me as fresh and deserving to be watched again and again. Well, at least for me. Some of the gags are a bit corny but they serve to remind me that this film comes from a man who was previously a standup comedian and he keep the humor flowing at a rapid pace. In fact, Woody Allen's delivery of lines and monologues reminds me of the best work of Bob Hope in his films from the 1940s.
In "Love and Death" Woody Allen throws together an assortment of styles, ideas, and concepts which are perfectly edited by Ralph Rosenblum into what I still today consider an absolutely delightful masterpiece. I think my overwhelming enthusiasm for the film results from a writer/director/actor choosing this subject to fuel a comedy. What is "this" subject? In this case it is Tolstoy's "War and Peace" but as told by a romantic coward, Boris Grushenko, played by Woody Allen. Much of the humor comes from Allen's references to other movies and directors. A lot of Ingmar Bergman's famous imagery is used for comic effect, but I suspect not everyone will identify it as such, or appreciate it. The homage to the faces of the two women in Bergman's "Persona" jumps out at many viewers, as does the image of death in hooded cape, carrying a scythe from "The Seventh Seal". This last image was used in most posters for the film. Having been a student of Roger Ebert for three years before seeing "Love and Death" the first time, and constantly seeing "cinema classics", viewing this movie hit my comic funny bone with a sledge hammer! It was like seeing those classics, but turned inside out, upside down and having seltzer spritzed in their collective cinematic faces.
As with "Red River", music plays a major role. Woody Allen has worked selections of Sergei Prokofiev compositions to highlight scene intent and in general to give the movie a Russian "feeling". As with "Red River" and a vast majority of my favorite films, music is a prominent element. Music not only gives a scene a certain feeling and emotion, but can seamlessly link individual film cuts into one intense whole. Music is used as a major element in a majority of Woody Allen films. In "Radio Days" the whole concept of the movie lends itself to contemporary songs and music constantly being played. Also, in "Manhattan", George Gershwin's wonderful music takes center stage. The music of Prokofiev is a major melodic element in "Love and Death".
Boris Woody Allen
Sonja Diane Keaton
Anton Harold Gould
Natasha Jessica Harper
Young Boris Alfred Lutter III
Napoleon James Tolkan
(The quad photo is from my movie still collection. These four images of Woody Allen in four chapeaux were sent to newspapers and magazines in the hope they would be printed in connection with the release of the film.)