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Radio Days: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

Radio Days (1987) movie poster Radio Days

Theatrical Release: January 30, 1987 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: PG

Writer/Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Danny Aiello (Rocco), Jeff Daniels (Biff Baxter), Mia Farrow (Sally White), Seth Green (Joe), Robert Joy (Fred), Julie Kavner (Mother), Diane Keaton (New Year's Singer), Julie Kurnitz (Irene), Renee Lippin (Ceil), Kenneth Mars (Rabbi Baumel), Josh Mostel (Uncle Abe), Tony Roberts ("Silver Dollar" Emcee), Wallace Shawn (Masked Avenger), Michael Tucker (Father), David Warrilow (Roger), Dianne Wiest (Aunt Bea), Woody Allen (Narrator - uncredited)

Buy Radio Days on Blu-ray exclusively at Screen Archives

Most of what we know about Woody Allen, we have learned from his movies. He rarely grants interviews and never records audio commentaries. Aside from the rare public statement or appearance, which it's typically taken nothing less than scandal or tragedy to prompt, Allen lets his films speak for him.
Still, that's enough to develop an understanding of the writer-director. His annual output of mostly comedies and romances clue us in to his proclivities for the past and jazz while illustrating a sense of humor informed by being a New York Jew.

Allen's 1987 release Radio Days seems as autobiographical as any of his films. It offers nostalgic memories of a childhood stretching from the late 1930s into the mid-1940s. That period is the one in which Allen came of age and he narrates the film unseen as the grown-up version of a young boy named Joe (played by the subsequently accomplished Seth Green).

In voiceover, Allen's Joe introduces us to his large family full of colorful personalities. They include Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest), whose standards keep her a spinster; Uncle Abe (Josh Mostel), a man who's always bringing home free fish from Sheepshead Bay; and Ruthie, a teenaged cousin (Joy Newman) who's always eavesdropping on next door neighbors via a phone party line.

Inconceivable! The heroic Masked Avenger is played by none other than the balding, diminutive Wallace Shawn. Woody Allen's young surrogate Joe (Seth Green) and friends get an eyeful from binoculars and an undressing neighbor.

The film unfolds as a series of vignettes, all of them involving radio in one way or another. Young Joe plans to use funds collected for Palestine to score the secret compartment ring of his favorite character, the Masked Avenger, an obvious stand-in for The Lone Ranger. That nosy cousin delights in lip-synching to Carmen Miranda with a towel on her head and bracelets abound. Uncle Abe confronts the neighbors for blaring music on one of the holiest Jewish holidays, only to have his faith shaken in the process. Joe and friends catch a woman dancing and undressing in front of her mirror who later shows up as their substitute teacher.

Some of the bits pull us away from the working-class Rockaway Beach family to spend time with the people they listen to. Of these radio stars, the one given the most attention is Sally (Mia Farrow), a shrill-voiced coat check girl who nearly loses her life after witnessing a mob murder at work but rises to singing laxative jingles and beyond, with help from some diction lessons.

There are also songs associated with memories: a neighbor's mental breakdown, a first visit to Radio City Music Hall to see The Philadelphia Story. There are fact-inspired episodes, from a variation on Orson Welles' famous panic-inducing War of the Worlds alien invasion broadcast to a girl's fall into a well that captivates the nation. There's even a diverting sports report about a baseball pitcher who loses his limbs and eyesight, but never his heart.

Cousin Ruthie (Joy Newman) entertains herself and her relatives (Michael Tucker and Josh Mostel) with a costumed lip-synching of Carmen Miranda. Cigarette girl turned coat check girl Sally White (Mia Farrow) rises to USO tour singer and prominent gossipist with the help of some diction lessons.

The whole film is a celebration of a medium that has never since had the same value or impact. It's also a celebration of the time that enabled radio to be a primary source of entertainment and news.
Allen's preference for past art forms and disregard for contemporary pop culture becomes more apparent with every film of his you see. He doesn't shy from setting films in the present-day (most of them are) and casting actors who are currently successful and popular. But his tastes in music and art are antediluvian, even for someone approaching 80.

Those tastes helped Midnight in Paris emerge as one of the most satisfying works of Allen's career. They also establish Radio Days as something sweet, charming, and significant. With every passing day, we lose more of the few people able to share first-hand experiences of living before and during World War II. This film preserves those experiences and presents them as an enchanting time. In truth, most of us come to regard the era of our upbringing as a golden age for civilization and culture. But Allen is able to take his youth and present it as a rich and magical era, while still acknowledging the poverty, prejudices, and major conflict it saw.

There is a minimum of cynicism on display here. From infidelity to the threat of murder to the loss of faith, topics are played for laughs and not any cause for concern.

Allen casually assembles a wealth of talent in his ensemble cast, including minor roles for subsequently notable entertainers like William H. Macy and Larry David as well as certain alumni from his films such as Wallace Shawn, Jeff Daniels, and Diane Keaton. Apart from his muse of the time, Farrow, who only slowly emerges as one of the film's biggest roles, Allen opts for actors of modest star power, who you nonetheless might recognize and are likely to appreciate: people like Michael Tucker ("L.A. Law"), Julie Kavner ("The Simpsons"), Josh Mostel, and Richard Portnow.

Though it opened in January, a month nowadays associated with subpar artless fare, Radio Days had no trouble staying in the minds of Oscar voters for a full year. It ended up with nominations for both Original Screenplay and Art Direction-Set Decoration, losing to Moonstruck and The Last Emperor, respectively. It practically goes without saying that this period piece feels like a Woody Allen film from any time and not like a 1987 comedy released amidst such films as Mannequin, Meatballs III, and Harry and the Hendersons.

Radio Days has become the latest Woody Allen film to make its Blu-ray debut in Twilight Time's Limited Edition Series in a print run of just 3,000 copies.

Radio Days: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA (Music and Effects)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Previously released on DVD (November 6, 2001)
and in The Woody Allen Collection DVD Set 3 (November 6, 2001)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Radio Days looks terrific on Blu-ray. Twilight Time hides the film's age thoroughly in this great 1.85:1 presentation which suffers from nothing more than the infrequent tiny white speck. There's grain throughout, but it doesn't often get heavy.

Though it doesn't give us much to say, the monaural 1.0 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is satisfying as well, with dialogue, music, and effects all staying crisp and nicely balanced.

The Radio Days' theatrical trailer's touting of its cast seems to be some big joke. Here today, gone tomorrow: the Twilight Time catalogue gives you updated availability of all the Blu-rays they've released over the past several years.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

If you've encountered another Woody Allen film on Twilight Time Blu-ray,

then you know exactly what to expect here.

For video extras, we get two previews: Radio Days' original theatrical trailer (1:28, SD), which consists entirely of naming cast members seemingly as some kind of joke; and a MGM 90th anniversary promo (2:06, HD).

The other on-disc inclusion is a Twilight Time staple: an alternate isolated music and effects soundtrack. This 2.0 DTS-HD MA track loses the dialogue and keeps everything else, a kind of cruel trick to play on a Woody Allen film. Nonetheless, should you desire to experience the film in this way, you now can.

The menus are a standard, silent affair, adapted from the cover art, which itself is recycled from previous MGM releases and the original poster art. As usual, Twilight Time includes a navigable gallery of their catalog. The Blu-ray lets you resume playback, but doesn't allow you to set bookmarks.

The final bonus is found inside the plain blue keepcase. Another Twilight Time standard, it's an 8-page staple-bound booklet, highlighted by a thoughtful essay from film historian Julie Kirgo knowledgeably celebrating the film.

Young Joe (Seth Green) and his parents (Julie Kavner and Michael Tucker) are starstruck at the sight of one of radio's Whiz Kids at a zoo.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The nostalgic Radio Days is one of Woody Allen's most charming and appealing comedies. You need little knowledge and appreciation for the era or medium to enjoy this diverting celebration of them.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray does not surprise but it does satisfy with a stellar feature presentation and a fitting handful of extras. Though it will set you back more than your typical catalog Blu-ray, this is a film that's easy to recommend.

Buy Radio Days exclusively at screenarchives.com

Related Reviews:
Directed by Woody Allen: Broadway Danny Rose Crimes and Misdemeanors New York Stories Annie Hall
More Woody Allen: Midnight in Paris Whatever Works Blue Jasmine To Rome with Love You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
1987 on Blu-ray: Spaceballs Ishtar Planes, Trains & Automobiles Good Morning, Vietnam Adventures in Babysitting
Mia Farrow: Rosemary's Baby The Last Unicorn | Dianne Wiest: Dan in Real Life Footloose
New: The Grand Budapest Hotel The Spike Lee Joint Collection, Vol. 1 The 400 Blows

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Reviewed July 13, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1987 Orion Pictures and 2014 Twilight Time, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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