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The Purple Rose of Cairo: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) movie poster The Purple Rose of Cairo

Theatrical Release: March 1, 1985 / Running Time: 82 Minutes / Rating: PG

Writer/Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Mia Farrow (Cecilia), Jeff Daniels (Ted Baxter, Gil Shepherd), Danny Aiello (Monk), Dianne Wiest (Emma), Van Johnson (Larry), Zoe Caldwell (The Countess), John Wood (Jason), Milo O'Shea (Father Donnelly), Deborah Rush (Rita), Irving Metzman (Theater Manager), John Rothman (Mr. Hirsch's Lawyer), Stephanie Farrow (Cecilia's Sister), Alexander H. Cohen (Raoul Hirsch), Camille Saviola (Olga), Karen Akers (Kitty Haynes), Michael Tucker (Gil's Agent), Annie Joe Edwards (Delilah), Peter McRobbie (The Communist), Juliana Donald (Usherette), Edward Herrmann (Henry), Glenne Headly (Hooker)

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The Purple Rose of Cairo, Woody Allen's 1985 comedy, is many things including a celebration of Hollywood's Golden Age filmmaking,
a send-up of show business, and an exploration of the relationship between viewers and movies.

Cecilia (Mia Farrow) loves going to the movies. It's an understandable escape for the New Jersey diner waitress, who is enduring the Great Depression with Monk (Danny Aiello), a no-good, out-of-work husband who spends his days gambling, drinking, and chasing women. A weekly fixture at her local theater, Cecilia is especially taken by the latest arrival, The Purple Rose of Cairo, a black and white film about well-off socialites going on adventures to exotic parts of the world.

After Cecilia catches Monk apparently cheating on her, she tries to up and leave him. But she has nowhere else to go and she soon loses her job over poor performance. She turns to Purple Rose, watching it again and again. On her fifth showing, the movie is different. Cecilia's favorite character, the wealthy adventurer Ted Baxter (Jeff Daniels), looks at her and addresses her in the middle of the movie. Then, he steps down off the screen and into the New Jersey movie house, where he leaves with Cecilia, each of them quite smitten.

Ted Baxter (Jeff Daniels) surprises castmates and moviegoers alike when he walks off the screen and into the theater in Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo."

This unprecedented occurrence confounds all. The other characters in the movie don't know what to do, their script having just been altered. Moviegoers demand refunds from the theater owner. He puts in a call to the film's producer at RKO, who is troubled by the implications not just for this film but the entire industry.

Meanwhile, Cecilia gets acquainted with Ted, a naif who knows only what he's encountered in the movie. Though his existence resembles that of a round-the-clock theater performer, Ted is the character who went searching for a fabled purple rose in Egypt. He claims to come from a wealthy Chicago family, but he knows almost nothing of our world. To him, God is the two screenwriters who penned the script. Nonetheless, the handsome, courteous Ted shows Cecilia a good time, one she needs right about now.

The actor who plays Ted Baxter, a separate and real person named Gil Shepherd (also Daniels), is as perturbed by this development as anyone in the business. His career was just starting to take off and now he's got a fictional double, a character he created, running around in New Jersey jeopardizing his reputation while he takes the blame. Gil travels to the Garden State. There, while Ted is led to a brothel where all the working girls are tickled by his naivetι, Gil begins charming Cecilia, who knows the difference but is pleased to be in the company of an actor she has admired and whose films she can quote by heart.

Movies provide Cecilia (Mia Farrow) with a much-needed escape from her Great Depression existence. Ted (Jeff Daniels) expects a fadeout as he gets affectionate with Cecilia (Mia Farrow).

Like most Woody Allen films, Purple Rose assumes the form of a romance. It crafts a love triangle out of this unhappily married moviegoer,
a fictional character getting a taste of freedom, and the concerned career-driven actor who portrayed him.

The show biz satire produces much entertainment. Allen has fun at the expense of vain, egotistical actors and panic-stricken executives. The conventions and terminology of the industry are used to amusing effect. Ted expects a fadeout after kissing Cecilia. He runs into trouble when trying to pay at a restaurant with his stage money. When Cecilia journeys into the black and white world of his film, she points out that the champagne they're being served is merely ginger ale.

The comedy is good-natured and Allen clearly delights in getting to pay tribute to the movies of his youth, from their handheld opening titles and their stagey squarish visuals to their notion of witty banter and stereotypical black housekeepers. It's hardly the first time Allen has worked in black and white (he did so a year earlier on the comparable Broadway Danny Rose and five years before that on Manhattan, to name two predecessors), but it is perhaps the first time that Allen could fully embrace and emulate old Hollywood style, something he's always displayed a fondness for in his nostalgic tastes.

Those scenes liken this film to 2011's Best Picture winner The Artist and it's far from the only great subsequent comedy you're reminded of here. Early repetition recalls Groundhog Day, another romantic comedy grounding its fantasy elements in mundane reality. The existential nature of the plot also evokes The Truman Show. Allen's film is not as brilliant as any of these. It's not quite as creative and its ideas raise more questions than it can answer. But it's still a smart, thought-provoking, and endearing comedy. There's even a touch of prescience, as critical moviegoers sticking behind in the theater following Ted's exit are temporarily diverted by the cast's convenings in a way comparable to surveillance-type reality TV.

The Purple Rose of Cairo earned Allen an Academy Award nomination for Original Screenplay, a category that was recognizing him almost as frequently as he was releasing a movie on his still-upheld one-film-a-year schedule. He would lose this one, but win the following year for Hannah and Her Sisters, a Best Picture nominee that also gave him another Best Director nomination. Purple Rose did win the Best Screenplay honor at the Golden Globes, where original and adapted scripts compete against each other. The Globes' Musical or Comedy designation yielded three additional nominations for the film and its two leads, Farrow and Daniels, who shines in his first role following 1983 Best Picture Oscar winner Terms of Endearment.

Though arguably not among Allen's best known or most frequently celebrated works, Purple Rose is very highly regarded by the public, a small portion of which ranks it ninth among all Allen-directed films on IMDb. Like many an Allen movie, this one recently made its way to Blu-ray from Twilight Time, the boutique label who licensed it exclusively from MGM in the usual limited run of 3,000 copies.

The Purple Rose of Cairo: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Marketplace Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (Isolated Score)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 20, 2015
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as MGM DVD (November 6, 2001)
and in The Woody Allen Collection DVD Set 3 (November 6, 2001)


The Purple Rose of Cairo is presented in its 1.85:1 original theatrical aspect ratio on Blu-ray. The picture is not without some concerns. Colors seem a bit pale, but then that might be inevitable for a film set during the Great Depression. The element is clear and displays very good detail. There are, however, some small imperfections throughout: white specks and black scuffs that only appear for a frame or two but will catch the eye of those scrutinizing playback on a large enough display. There's also a little more grain in the split-screen shots in which Daniels is doubled, a visual effect that holds up impressively.

The 1.0 monaural DTS-HD master audio is true to the original design (Allen only recently started making films with multiple channel soundtracks) and largely without incident. Though you likely won't need them without a hearing problem, English SDH subtitles are nicely included, should you want to check on something, like the spelling of Gil's real name (Herman Bardebedian).

The Purple Rose of Cairo's theatrical trailer features the same marquee as its one-sheet. The Blu-ray's menu makes further use of the apparently new cover illustration.


The Blu-ray kindly includes The Purple Rose of Cairo's original theatrical trailer in HD (1:37),

which is the best you can expect to get from a catalogue Woody Allen movie. The preview does demonstrate how much better the feature presentation looks. There is also MGM's 90th Anniversary trailer (2:06, HD).

Under Set Up, we also find an isolated score track in 2.0 DTS-HD master audio, a standard bonus feature only at Twilight Time. It seems bizarre to watch a Woody Allen movie with the dialogue taken out, but there is the option for those inclined to enjoy the musical selections of Allen and his occasional composer/music supervisor Dick Hyman.

The basic, static menu simply adapts the cover art. The company's full and fast-growing catalogue through February 2015 is presented as a navigable gallery, which is now helpfully divided by year of Blu-ray release. The BD does not let you set bookmarks, but does resume unfinished playback without hassle.

The final extra is found inside the standard keepcase. No surprise to Twilight Time collectors, it is an 8-page booklet nicely illustrated with old marketing art and publicity stills. The main attraction, of course, is another film-specific essay from in-house historian Julie Kirgo, who does not disappoint as she celebrates the film while trying to make sense of its mix of critical acclaim and commercial disappointment. Among its delights are the revelations that Daniels replaced Michael Keaton, amicably let go of after ten days of filming, and that Allen has called Purple Rose his favorite of his films.

The amusement park may be closed for the season, but Cecilia (Mia Farrow) and Ted (Jeff Daniels) can still enjoy each other's company there.


Twilight Time makes another Woody Allen movie available on Blu-ray in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Undoubtedly one of the filmmaker's better works, it's an interesting celebration of yesteryear cinema and of moviegoers' attachment to what they see. The Blu-ray meets the expectations set by the discs the company has given the director's other films. The feature presentation could be a little better, but it still must represent a significant gain over DVD and the extras, while few and relatively minor, complement the film nicely. Although those building Woody Allen Blu-ray collections will need no incentive to pick this up, those more selective should find this to be one perhaps the most watchable and enjoyable Allen film that Twilight Time has handled to date.

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Related Reviews:
Mia Farrow: Broadway Danny Rose • Crimes and Misdemeanors • Radio Days • New York Stories • Rosemary's Baby
Jeff Daniels: Arachnophobia • The Squid and the Whale • The Newsroom: The Complete First Season • Looper • The Lookout • Mama's Boy • Away We Go

Written and Directed by Woody Allen:
Magic in the Moonlight • Blue Jasmine • To Rome with Love • Midnight in Paris • You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger • Whatever Works • Annie Hall

Hugo • The Rocketeer • Galaxy Quest • The One I Love • Ruby Sparks
1980s on Blu-ray: The Postman Always Rings Twice • Time Bandits • Clue • "Crocodile" Dundee

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Reviewed February 5, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1985 Orion Pictures and 2015 Twilight Time and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.