on 31 March 2013
It's hard to call Radio Days a straightforward movie. It's more small interwined ancedotes from a forgotten era. Based around real radio reports and a New York Jewish family during the late 1930s, early 40s.
It's a lavish production and director Woody Allen really sets up the atmosphere in this his love letter to the old glourious days of radio.
The movie is very short for an Allen film, scraping to just over 80 mins, but there is plenty to enjoy here. The dialogue as ever in an Allen film is top drawer.
For the film itself, Allen had the plot and this could well have been a two or three hour epic, perhaps following the young boy through his years. It stops well short of that, and ends quite suddenly. It would be easy for the passing viewing to wave this effort off with 3 stars. However if you're a fan of Allen's best work and indeed if you yourself remember those radio days then this is wonderful stuff.
One cannot see in say 50 years time, a director reminisicng over his family watching SKY TV, and that is the huge difference between the quality that Radio Days can provide and the me me me generation of today.
“I wonder if future generations will ever even hear about us. It's not likely. After enough time, everything passes. I don't care how big we are or how important are our lives.”
Radio Days is Woody Allen’s Amarcord, a gloriously sentimental series of vignettes from the golden age of radio that formed the background to his childhood years in the 40s, be it drama, music, gossip or adventure shows. It’s the kind of film that’s at once highly episodic yet flows beautifully, anchored by the hopes, dreams and petty arguments (“You’re telling me the Atlantic is a better ocean than the Pacific?”) of Allen’s family – Michael Tucker’s father who never says what he does for a living, Julie Kavner’s mother who never lets him forget she could have married Sidney Slotkin but loves him anyway, Dianne Wiest’s aunt who dreams of being married but keeps on meeting Mr Wrong, the young Allen (Seth Green) who’ll turn to crime to afford a Masked Avenger Secret Compartment Ring as well as assorted relatives. There’s a huge ensemble cast of past and sometimes future members of Allen’s stock company and character players - Mia Farrow’s cigarette girl, Tony Roberts’ quiz show host, Diane Keaton’s singer, Jeff Daniels’ actor as well as Danny Aiello, Robert Joy, Kenneth Mars, Wallace Shawn, Mike Starr, Tito Puente, Larry David, Lee Erwin, Kitty Carlisle, Mercedes Ruehl, Larry David and many more – almost all of whom get to make an impression no matter how brief their screen time.
At once a celebration of the way that radio could unite the country across the class divide and a loving peek at the reality behind the curtain, it ends on a bittersweet note with no happy endings but no tragic ones, just an acknowledgement that even the happiest of times and memories eventually fade: as Allen’s narrator wistfully concludes, “I've never forgotten any of those people or any of the voices we would hear on the radio. Though the truth is, with the passing of each New Year's Eve, those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer.”
The vignettes are often funny – particularly when involving burglars, hitmen and their mamas, miming to Carmen Miranda songs or the disastrous consequences of tuning in to Orson Welles’ notorious broadcast of War of the Worlds while on a date - the random memories, often of moments that are special simply because they’re so typically ordinary that they perfectly evoke a time and place, that various songs always summon and there’s a magical visit to Radio City Music Hall in the days when cinemas were palaces complete with servants at your beck and call rather than a bored part-timer tearing tickets for half a dozen screens while carrying on a conversation. And it’s easily the most handsome looking of Allen’s films thanks to gorgeous Oscar nominated design by Santo Loquasto (the rooftop set overlooking New York’s mechanically animated advertising signs is a particular gem) and cinematography by Carlo Di Palma that at times recalls Fellini before he got larger than life (the beach shots in particular recall Il Vitelloni).
MGM/UA's DVD release offers an okay transfer with a trailer the only extra. Thankfully, Twilight Time’s limited edition US Blu-ray is a big improvement on the DVD release and does both justice though, being a Woody Allen film, extras are limited to a brief trailer, isolated score and booklet.
on 24 July 2009
If you are into vintage radio and the sounds of that era then this is the film for you. It has a magical quality and very funny in the way it shows a way of life long gone. The fashions,cars and interior designs of the places visited are so well shown it is a visual book on how to create the look for your own dreams.
When I first saw Radio Days in the cinema on first release in 1987 I thought it light and inconsequential, an overly nostalgic and indulgent Woody Allen film which fell beneath the greater achievements of earlier efforts such as Manhattan (1979) and the previous year’s Hannah and her Sisters. Watching it again almost three decades later I realize I was wrong for this is one of Woody’s funniest, most ambitious and most successful films. It amounts to a fresco on Jewish American society as he charts his own fictionalized working class childhood growing up in Rockaway Beach, New York City in the late 30s/early 40s, the Golden Age of Radio. The inspiration, as is so often the case, comes from the great Italian director Federico Fellini. Woody had already riffed on 8½ (1963) in Stardust Memories (1980) and the much later Sweet and Lowdown (1999) does a similar thing on La Strada (1954). Radio Days is Woody’s Amarcord (1973) no less with the plot-less narrative fancifully drifting over a series of events loosely connected by a narrator to evoke a particular time and place. Where Fellini’s narrator is a cynically maligned local historian who addresses the camera directly and is pelted with objects and abuse from off-screen, Woody stays firmly behind (and in control of) the camera and provides his own witty narrative in the voice of the grown up Joe looking back fondly at those long lost radio days. The America we see is the traditional two-tiered one of the haves and the have-nots.
The have-nots are the young Joe’s (Seth Green) under-achieving family which provides a group of beautifully etched out characters played to perfection by a committed cast. There’s the radio-fixated mother (Julie Kavner) who berates Joe for listening to the radio too much whilst arguing with her taxi driver husband (Michael Tucker) over everything from lack of money to the size of oceans. Then there’s fish-obsessed Uncle Abe (Josh Mostel) who is turned into a pork-eating glutton on Shaboss by the communists living next door and his long-suffering wife Aunt Ceil (Renée Lippin) who’s grown tired of “filleting his flounder.” Also in the household is poor Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest) who’s desperately looking for a flounder of her own to fillet and marry, but who winds up with a string of losers in a series of hilarious gags – one dumps her on a lonely road having been scared by the radio story of a Martian invasion while another turns out to be gay and yet another married. The humor flowing between these characters is incredibly rich and varied especially as linked together with Joe’s childhood tales – scamming collection box donation for the founding of Palestine so he can buy his long sort-after Masked Avenger Pendent only to have his ears boxed by the local rabbi and both his parents all at once, appending an erect carrot to a snowman’s nether regions only for it to torn away and bitten (ouch!) by an officious woman, and then spying out at sea for Nazi U-boats only to get distracted by his school teacher visable through a window dancing naked to the radio in her room.
The haves are the stars of the radio as exemplified by Roger and Irene (David Warrilow and Julie Kurnitz) having breakfast and chatting about the latest shows and society gossip, who was at the Copacabana last night, what they were wearing and so forth. Joe’s voice-over narrative takes in a number of gem-like vignettes centering on CMs (one for a laxative - “Why not relax the Relax way?”), game shows, sports personalities (my favorite is Kirby Kyle, the baseball player “with heart”), radio dramas featuring especially Biff Baxter (Jeff Daniels) and the Masked Avenger (Wallace Shawn – “Beware evildoers wherever you are!”) and on rags-to-riches stories such is the one about the cigarette girl Sally White (Mia Farrow) making it big courtesy of an affair with Roger (“I can’t leave my wife, our ratings are too high!”), a mafia hit man’s (Danny Aiello) change of heart and voice-training lessons. Watch carefully and we catch cameo appearances by Tony Roberts (as an emcee) and Diane Keaton (as a singer) which spice up the feeling of watching the privileged set at play, but as shown by Sally's slip of accent from fake cultured tones to genuine high pitch squeaky vulgarity, the film never lets us forget that the distance from failure to success may seem huge, but really it isn’t and of course Woody sides with the low achievers who are pictured as happier than those who have made it materially, the latter still all street-level at heart only with added stress brought on by added pretense.
Aside from Woody’s hilarious voice-over narration the thing that really gels the film together are the songs which as ever with this director are supremely well-chosen with everything from Glenn Miller to Cole Porter and from Tommy Dorsey to Arty Shaw. Highlight for me is Bea doing Carmen Miranda with dad and Uncle Abe accompanying. As much as the film is a portrait of a society, it is also a poignant requiem for lives now forgotten, for who now remembers any of the characters from the radio of this period? Some of the songs live on, but the personalities have all gone, the advent of TV in the 50s having wiped the memory of a nation. This film may be short on running time, but it’s epic in theme as it succeeds in portraying a time and a place to perfection. The quiet loving nostalgia and unassuming tone may fool us into thinking this is indulgent navel-gazing contemplation, but its circumference is surprisingly vast. It doesn’t have the set-piece visual beauty of Amarcord, but I take this film’s unpretentious humor over that film’s ‘comedy’ any day of the week. Compare the two families on view and there’s no question which is the warmer, the truer and the most moving on a basic human level. The vignette about Joe’s family reacting to Polly Phelps the girl who gets stuck down a well says it all really. Woody Allen was at his peak in the 80s, and Radio Days turns out to be a highlight among other highlights. As a caveat, it also happens to be Mike Leigh's favorite Woody Allen film. Warmly recommended.
What a wonderful, wonderful, film this is. It is definitely one of Woody’s very best and I would rate it in his top five – having seen most of his middle to top rated movies.
The nostalgia of the 1930’s simply flows from the screen and pours over you – the whole thing is so very atmospheric, but also a superb feast for the eyes. It captures those ageless fashions when tailors were tailors! I just love the men’s & women’s fashions of the 20’s, 30’s & 40’s. The film won BAFTAS for Costume design & Production design. You are simply transported to that age – with the sets, the clothes and the music – Cole Porter and a lot of the big bands / orchestras of the period, there are 45 short tracks in the film!
The film is one of Allen’s more ‘Jewish’ films and it flows with his great little sketches and wonderful humour - the local kids nick Mum’s teeth and play hockey with them, as they haven’t a puck, and they’re about the right size!
Mia Farrow plays one of her best cameo roles for Woody Allen here, and looks just great, and rather sexy have I have to say - as the ‘cigarette seller,-a la ‘Trixie,’ from the ‘Rocky Horror Show.’ The way the film is screened as a 'life at home' period piece also reminded me of Terrence Davies, ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives.’ Like a few Woody films, this one barely broke even and yet it's possibly a lot of people's favourite 'WA' film?
I have Just one disappointment! This classic is out on Bluray in America.. But not here …(hears head thumping against a wall and a mature male crying!)
on 23 February 2015
A rambling, episodic hymn to the delights of the radio, giving Allen plenty of scope to indulge in his usual angst-ridden musings on sex, family, guilt, duty and growing-up. Not up there with his best, but a charming minor piece that is studded with fine performances and a persuasive period feel. It's a jolt to realise how much the radio served as a unifying, shared experience for family back in the day, particularly now as television begins to lose it's centrality in the household. The typical modern American or British family no longer eats, plays, listens or watches together as a unit anymore. It's hard not to think of that as a loss. Allen certainly seems to think so.
on 8 January 2011
This is my absolute favourite Woody Allen film. I would recommend it to everybody. True its a series of anecdotes, but what funny anecdotes. Buy it!!
on 4 May 2007
Rarely does a motion picture capture an era with such nostalgia and reverence, as Woody Allen's "Radio Days". Set in New York City as World War 2 breaks; "Radio Days" captures the mood of the times through the music, drama, news, sports - and even the commercials that entertained and informed listeners in the days when radio ruled the media roost. Seen through the eyes of a young Jewish boy and his extended family in working class Brooklyn, the movie is really a series of well crafted vignettes, based on fact mixed with fiction. Some are hilarious, some touching, but always entertaining and filled with the great "Swing" music of the era. As usual, Allen's ensemble of actors deliver terrific turns as they recreate those great old days. Mia Farrow, Diane Wiest, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker, and Seth Green are standouts, while Woody Allen narrates as only he can. A triumph in every respect, "Radio Days" will leave you, as the final scene does; longing for a more innocent time, while sadly knowing it is gone forever.
Woody Allen's 1987 film Radio Days is a marvellous (autobiographical, but fictional) account of 1930s/40s life in New York, focusing on Allen's recollections of the effect radio had on the lives of his (fictional) family. The film, which is quite light on defined narrative, comprises a number of beautiful set-piece sequences and vignettes, all accompanied by a selection of the most typical pieces of the music of the time - such as Just One of Those Things, In The Mood, American Patrol and Night and Day.
Although Allen does not actually appear in the film, his boyhood character does, played by Seth Green as the character Joe. Joe's parents are superbly played by Julie Kavner and Michael Tucker, who are 'poor but happy' as they struggle to raise Joe, and aspire to be like the stars of the radio that they listen to every day. As you might expect in a Woody Allen film, there are some superb running, and one-off, gags, such as Joe's father never revealing to his son what he does for a living (until Joe happens to hail a cab one day to find it being driven by his father), or the argument between Joe's parents over which ocean is the greater - the Pacific or the Atlantic.
Major roles are also given to two Allen regulars. Mia Farrow is excellent as the hat-check girl Sally White, whose ambition is to become a movie star or singer, but an ambition which tends to lead to her finding herself in compromising positions with a series of middle-aged male 'impressarios'. Dianne Wiest is also typically brilliant as Joe's Aunt Bea, who is constantly pursuing a fruitless search for love and marriage - in one typically hilarious scene, it is revealed to her that her target man's previous fiancee was actually a man!
Allen also casts some of his other regulars in more minor roles, such as Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Danny Aiello and Jeff Daniels.
For me, not quite up there with Allen's very best, but a beautiful, heart-warming film nevertheless.
on 7 April 2002
Radio Days is another of Woody Allen's wonderfully warm and affectionately nostalgic films.
Excellently put together (and featuring a quality cast), the characters are brought to life by a witty script rich with Woody's unique trademark humour.
The only problem is that it's so enjoyable that it passes all too quickly.
A film that leaves you with a warm feeling and wanting more of the same (just like Manhattan and Annie Hall).
Radio Days will not disappoint anyone who appreciates the genius of Woody Allen.