The Purple Rose of Cairo

I’m at a stage in my movie-watching life where I only want to watch movies under 100 minutes. It’s a bit strange, admittedly, but I’ve grown tired of the bloated two-and-half hour running times that plague everything from the latest Transformers Crap-o-Rama to the earnest indie flick that just wants to be a movie about people living, y’know? Films under 100 minutes don’t have time to waste a frame, and that makes their narratives tight, lean, and effective (unless we’re talking about contemporary comedies, which usually means they only have 30 minutes of plot and 60 minutes of filler). This just makes The Purple Rose of Cairo all the more fantastic because it manages to plug in a heartfelt love-letter to the movies in the space of 82 minutes that most movies wouldn’t be able to accomplish with double that time.

I’ve only just begun to notice that there are Woody Allen movies and then there are movies by Woody Allen. The Purple Rose of Cairo fits into the latter category – where there is no nebbish and neurotic “Woody” character dominating the plot and the film stands firmly on its own with the themes and ideas it’s trying to express. I would argue that the recent Midnight in Paris is also a movie by Woody Allen rather than a Woody Allen movie, and it has similar elements to The Purple Rose of Cairo in that they both rely on fantasy as a narrative device.

Mia Farrow plays a lonely waitress in Depression-era New Jersey who only finds pleasure in her existence when she’s sitting in the local movie theatre. Her husband, Danny Aiello, is a brutish lout who spends his days playing cards and throwing pennies with the other unemployed men and whistling at attractive women as they walk by. On one particularly bad day, Farrow walks into the theatre to watch the latest film – The Purple Rose of Cairo – and spends five screenings of the film admiring the romantic character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) as he adventures through Egyptian tombs and ends up sweeping a duchess off her feet. And then during another screening of the film, Baxter is distracted by Farrow in the audience, falls in love with her, and exits the screen and enters the audience to be with her – much to the chagrin of the other characters who can’t get through the movie without him and can’t go into the “real world” with him.

The best part is that theres no explanation for why a movie character like Tom Baxter can leave the film and enter the “real world” – much like there is no explanation in Midnight in Paris for why Owen Wilson can go back into the 1920s. It just happens, and that’s that.

The film ends with a bittersweet climax, and in the silence you can almost hear Humphrey Bogart say: “We’ll always have the movies.”

Grade: A

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2 Responses to The Purple Rose of Cairo

  1. Nostra says:

    Haven’t seen this one.

    Interesting take to watch movies beyond that length. I actually have the feeling that since Lord of the RIngs it’s ok to make long movies (or maybe it was already like that after Dances with Wolves). It sometimes makes it so hard to just quickly watch a movie. I don’t always have time to sit and watch something that takes 2+ hours.

  2. Modest Movie says:

    Purple Rose is a great movie – highly recommended.

    At the moment, devoting 2+ hours of time to a movie is too much for me – I have too much to do to waste my time with a movie that may be merely “okay” to schedule an afternoon off.

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