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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1984)

"I just met a wonderful new man. He's fictional, but you can't have everything."
- Cecilia (Mia Farrow)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: October 10, 2001

Stars: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels
Other Stars: Danny Aiello, Dianne Wiest, Van Johnson
Director: Woody Allen

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language, mild sexual situations)
Run Time: 01h:21m:54s
Release Date: November 06, 2001
UPC: 027616860477
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B+A D-

DVD Review

The Purple Rose of Cairo, reportedly Woody Allen's favorite of his films, is, more than anything else, a love story. The pertinent parties, however, are not a man and a woman, but a woman and the art of motion pictures. Allen has crafted a bittersweet comic fable that illustrates a film's power to transport an audience; to, for two short hours, eliminate all of life's problems and provide an escape.

Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a woman living in New Jersey in the 1930s; a New Jersey entrenched in the worst of the Great Depression. Cecilia fares no better than the cityóshe's married to Monk (Aiello), gruff, unemployed, controlling, and abusive. Her only recourse is to go to the movies, which she does, nearly every day after work. The films transport her, and she can talk of little else. She becomes so enamored with one, the titular "Purple Rose" that she sees it four times in a matter of days. So many times, in fact, that she literally catches the eye of one of the on-screen characters, Tom Baxter (Daniels). Tom magically walks off the screen and into the real world, much to the shock of the other patrons (and the annoyance of the other characters in the filmóthey can't finish without him).

Clearly, The Purple Rose of Cairo can be lumped into the "fantasy" category, and it's a well-imagined fantasy at that. Allen's concept works because he runs with it. Once Tom is out, theater owners fear the incident could occur elsewhere, and the actor who played Tom, Gil Shepard (Daniels again) is called to reign in his screen creation. It is Gil's character that drives the latter portion of the film, as Cecilia is forced to choose between a perfect illusion ("I love you. I'm honest, dependable, courageous, romantic, and a great kisser," says Tom. But just because he's written that way), and reality in Gil ("You can't learn to be real. It's like learning to be a midget," he pleads).

Allen's script is full of the wonderful, dry dialogue he is known for, but never is it laugh out loud funny. A gloom hangs over the picture, perhaps because the outcome is inevitable. Allen recognizes the appeal of fiction as a comfort in times of despair, but he is illustrating the danger in forgetting reality.

Allen's direction is quite nice. He plays with the notion of the world of cinema vs. the real world, and the filmed-in-color "real" scenes are so drab and dreary that the bustling black & white world of the film within a film is somehow more vibrant and colorful. Mia Farrow is timid, stuttering, winsome, and loveable in her role. Jeff Daniels aptly switches between hopeless romantic and jaded Hollywood cynic. And watch for Allen favorite Dianne Wiest as a hooker in a very funny encounter with Tom.

Admittedly, I am not very familiar with Allen's body of work, but I found The Purple Rose of Cairo to be a charming commentary on the magic of movies. As war looms, it is more important than ever that people have comforting diversions, the ability to escape into a fantasy world. Allen warns us not to get lost on the way.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Though the print shows a bit of wear here and there, overall The Purple Rose of Cairo looks quite nice on DVD. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the image looks good in both the black & white and color scenes. Colors in the "real world" portion are rather flat and lifeless (as was the intent), and the look has been preserved. The black & white scenes (filmed with a slight purple tint) also look very nice, with clear contrasts and an intentional grainy look. Overall, the black level is fine, as is shadow detail. Fine detail is acceptable. This isn't the type of disc you demo your system with, but the unique stylistic shooting style has been transferred perfectly to disc.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track has been restored quite nicely; this is one of the best I have heard. Most importantly, the dialogue is always clear, with a nice full soundóvery well supported. Dick Hyman's jazz score is likewise nicely presented, with good fidelity and a decent amount of low frequency sound. There is no audible hiss either. This is one of the cleanest mono tracks I've reviewed.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: As with all Woody Allen films, the only extra for this one is the trailer, here presented in full-screen. I do, however, appreciate the return of English subtitles to MGM releases.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Incorporating elements of humor, bittersweet romance, and social commentary, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a typically strong cinematic outing from Woody Allen. It's not a strict comedy, but it does feature some great Allen dialogue. Few films are able to portray the magic of movies so well: their powers to transport us, to create their own realities. This is a favorite of many Allen fans, and it's well worth a look.


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