Part Midsummer Night's Dream (the magic supplied by visions through a spirit glass) and part Smiles of a Summer Night (Bergman's source material provides the basic plot and ensuing couplings), it's a gentle satire on male sexuality and frustration. Allen handles the angst with the lightest of touches. He plays a Wall Street broker who spends his holidays inventing flying machines (they work, with telling consequences). He and his wife (Mary Steenburgen) are increasingly depressed by their ailing sex life. Cue the arrival of weekend guests: crusty academic (Jose Ferrer) and beautiful blue-stocking fiancée previously in love with Allen (Mia Farrow, of course); and insatiable doctor (Tony Roberts) with his latest squeeze, a nurse (the excellent Julie Hagerty). Eighty minutes of unravelling, discovery and renewal follow, accompanied by a Mendelssohn sound track. This is one of Allen's most treasurable pictures.
On the DVD: A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy is presented in widescreen that recaptures the pleasure which greeted the setting of this most pastoral of Allen's films on its first release; it really does glow with summery light. The standard stereo soundtrack is perfectly acceptable. Extras include the original theatrical trailer and multiple language soundtracks.--Piers Ford
The basic story is simple. Leopold (Jose Ferrer-a wonderful performance), a pompous philosophy professor from middle Europe visits Andrew's (Allen) and his wife's house for the last day of his bacherlorhood with his attractive and very much younger wife-to-be Ariel (Mia Farrow). Andrew's friend, the lascivious doctor Maxwell (Tony Roberts) joins them with his latest aquisition Dulcy (Julie Hagerty). None of these relationships is working; there is a great deal of soul searching, arguing, seductions...the normal Allen fayre. At first this seems quite bizarre, as we are so used to seeing this played out against a New York background; it seems alien in this lush rural setting. Allen is, mysteriously, both a Wall Street banker and an eccentric inventor (somewhat like Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). His inventions include an early flying machine which plays its part in one attempted seduction. All this is enough to unsettle the viewer as you're not quite sure what genre this is-comedy, romance,fantasy, drama.
But if you stay with the film long enough, the mind spends less time juggling with the surface matter and starts to be seduced by the atmosphere. There is at the heart of this film the issue of life being what we make of it; the cold professor gradually realises that there may be more to life than what science alone can explain.
The countryside is beautifully shot by cinematographer Gordon Willis (responsible for Allen's Manhattan..) and the magical score using Mendelssohn's music adds to the enchanted feeling of this movie. The tale ends magically, and quite suddenly, and then you realise you want to see it again; not a masterpiece but an enjoyable little gem.
The transfer to DVD is fair-not as sharp as some, and my copy had some graininess to it. The sound is basic mono. (For goodness sake don't let the disc continue after the final credits as you will then be bombarded with the copyright warning in umpteen languages which you can't stop. Hit the stop button as soon as you see 'An Orion Pictures release').
For some of us this film has a special place in Allen's output, and is an essential purchase. But given the basic nature of the disc-there's just a trailer as an extra feature-this disc is overpriced. This film is twenty years old. MGM, put it out at under a tenner please.
But the film remains a little gem.
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