This week the departing Zac Davis brought us his very last Cinema 1544 film (well, he’s always welcome to come back…!) with Woody Allen’s early mockumentary Take the Money and Run. Given previous features of Annie Hall and the Fourth Annual Winter Marathon, this moves Woody Allen, at least temporarily, into the top slot of the Cinema 1544 director count – having been responsible for five of our (thus far) 242 films, which is good for 2.1%. (I say “temporarily” because the frontrunner for next week’s selection would push another director into the 5-film echelon.)
But before the film, Zac wanted to show an MST3K short – one that was at least somewhat related to the theme of the film. I pointed him to one of my favorites:
It’s a short about a high school student who gets caught cheating on a test. His life tumbles down around him – he brings disgrace upon himself and his family, he gets kicked out of student council, and he even drags his poor girlfriend down with him. It’s a perfect storm, and who would be surprised if he didn’t turn out like the hero of our feature film…?
Take the Money and Run is going to be a pretty difficult film to synopse, because it’s a very early mockumentary wherein not a whole lot happens plotwise.
The subject of our documentary is Virgil Starkwell, known for being an incredibly inept criminal. His childhood was naturally difficult – he was generally disliked, the other kids had a penchant for stomping his glasses into the ground (a habit he grows so accustomed to he eventually takes it up himself), and he was consigned to the difficult task of playing cello in the marching band.
Virgil naturally turns to a life of crime, but his efforts to rob a bank are thwarted when his stick-up note has a number of spelling errors in it and the tellers prefer to consult over what the note actually is intended to say rather than giving Virgil any money. He is caught uneventfully and sent to prison.
An attempt to escape prison by carving a fake gun out of a bar of soap and disguising it with shoe black gets him almost all the way to the prison gate, but fails when the rain turns the gun to suds. Still, Virgil eventually gets out of prison and continues his life of small-time crime.
Somehow, some way, he meets and manages to work his way into the heart of the beautiful Louise, and perhaps Virgil’s own voiceover would best introduce the relationship:
I was so touched by her that by, I dunno, after fifteen minutes I wanted to marry her, and after half an hour I completely gave up the idea of stealing her purse.
Virgil and Louise do marry, and eventually have a child which completely disappears from the narrative (as the prop department apparently lost the doll) but Virgil has no way of supporting his family and thus returns to his life of crime.
He is caught at another bank robbery, escapes a chain gang, and finally holds up a childhood friend who ends up being a police officer. (Maybe that’s not even the right order that things happened in…it’s all rather arbitrary.) All the while, his parents, disguised to hide their shame, argue about whether he was truly a bad seed and anything else they can think to argue about. Virgil, for some series of failed crimes or another, has been given 800 years at the end of the film, but with good behavior he thinks he can get out in half of that.
Take the Money and Run is Woody Allen’s first “real film” as a director – one has to take a least a glance askance at the funny but only partial directorial effort behind “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” – and while it’s amusing, it is sadly forgettable. As you can see I’m only about a week out of seeing it and the plot such as it was is already a blur. It’s the sort of film that you can turn on at any point, watch ten minutes, get several yuks, and then switch the channel without any hesitation about missing the end of the film. There’s a place for films like this, and a channel that showed nothing but would be extremely welcome on my cable feed. For a real-life example, it’s the exact opposite of something like “The Silence of the Lambs”. One day I was looking for something to watch, saw that “Lambs” was about to start, and flipped to the channel, intended to let the first 5-10 minutes roll by as I searched for something else in the mini-guide. I got sucked in and had to watch the whole thing. Couldn’t put it down. And that is definitively not what Take the Money and Run is.