Saturday, December 8, 2012

Top 5: Woody Allen Performances in Other People's Films

Woody Allen is a big talent.

Edging towards the end of his career, he undoubtedly has already earned his place among the great entertainers of all time. His plays, films and books, and directing, are all among the most elite bracket that these disciplines have ever produced..

He's also a fine comic actor, as witnessed by any number of performances from his own films. Less highlighted are his straight acting performances in other people's movies, which form an eclectic mixture of lead and cameo, mainstream and independent.

Today's list picks 5 of his best acting efforts, from films that weren't his own.


As Woody has gotten older, a growing number of well known actors (John Cusack, Kenneth Branagh, Owen Wilson among them) have portrayed Woody-ish characters in his films, so it's fun to see Woody playing this same type of character in another director's movie. The 1989 Paul Mazursky comedy Scenes from a Mall teamed Woody with Bette Midler as a long term married couple coming to grips with middle age. And while the film never worked as well onscreen as those two names looked next to each other on paper, you do still get to see our boy with both a surfboard and a ponytail,something that you definitely won't see anywhere else.


The only film on this list that Woodyphiles may - may, I said - not know intimately is this low budget comedy from 1998, written and directed by actor Stanley Tucci. Tucci stars alongside Oliver Platt as a pair of long term friends and hopelessly inept actors who get involved in a series of old school, screwball style antics. Towards the beginning of the film they audition, terribly, for a play, performing for the director played by you know who. And while Woody is only onscreen for two minutes, he still gets a chance to have a quick whack at producers and the whole 'money' side of showbiz.


A pretty good animated film with one absolutely inspired casting decision; Woody playing an ant in a kids animated film sounds like something that just couldn't possibly be true. The fact that it works so well is down to the Woody's ability to get in any number of gags aimed at his usual favorite targets while still playing a broadly comic part for a young audience. The opening, above, with echoes of Manhattan, still makes me laugh every time; ' When you get down to it, erm, handling dirt is, you know, not my idea of a rewarding career.'


No sign of Daniel Craig and Dame Judy in this one, the original swinging sixties take on Casino Royale, with the world's most famous secret agent played for laughs. Lucky that Woody appears to deliver a few then, as his scene as Jimmy Bond, 007's nephew, is about the only funny thing in an otherwise dire, bloated turkey.


On a much more serious topic, but still witty, is Woody's leading role in Martin Ritt's 1976 drama about the tragic affects of anti Communist blacklisting in 50's Hollywood. And Woody delivers one of the finest performances of his career as he is perfectly cast as a nebbish (what else) roped in to 'fronting' for some of his friends, blacklisted writers with mild Communist sympathies. His showdown with the House Un-American Activities Committee, excerpted above, is a genuinely great film sequence.

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