SLEEPER (1973)

Dir: Woody Allen - Cast: Woody Allen (Miles Monroe), Diane Keaton (Luna Schlosser), John Beck (Erno Windt), Mary Gregory (Dr. Melik), Don Keefer (Dr. Tryon), John McLiam (Dr. Aragon), Bartlett Robinson (Dr. Orva)

A nice combination of slapstick, social comment and Woody’s typical verbal sparrings (with reality, fantasy and Diane Keaton). Woody himself plays Miles Monroe, a clarinetist player and owner of a health food shop from 1973, who was put to a hibernation sleep after a small surgery went wrong; he wakes up 200 years later, when some overzealous scientists run a few tests with him. America has become a police state and because the scientists were members of the rebellion, Miles becomes a wanted creature, referred to as ‘the intruder’; the only way to escape: going undercover as Diane Keaton’s household robot!

Sleeper is more coherent than some of Woody’s other early efforts, which were shot in a tell-the-joke-and-run fashion. It’s the first of four movies he wrote with Marshall Brickman, the other three being Annie Hall, Manhattan and Manhatten Murder Mystery (that was written in the seventies but only brought to the screen two decades later). It's tempting to credit Brickman for the more coherent plot, but by this time Woody was also becoming a real film maker instead of a stand-up comedian making movies; the movie is well-crafted, and immensily helped by a great production design (the architecture of the future world is pure magic) and an energetic jazz score.

It holds up quite well after nearly forty years even if it it’s not always as funny and spirited as Woody (and his fans) might have thought back then. It’s a great idea, but it’s also one of those ideas that might have worked better on a shorter format: the comedy falls flat in the final twenty minutes or so. But if it works, it works marvelously. According to Woody himself, the comedy is a homage to two of his favorite comedians, Groucho Marx and Bob Hope. I’d say Chaplin (who’s hardly ever mentioned by Allen) was a source of inspiration as well.


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