Take the Money and Run, by Woody Allen (1969)

Take the Money and Run is a 1969 comedy film co-written by, directed by, and starring Woody Allen. It is an early mockumentary, chronicling the life of Virgil Starkwell, a bungling petty thief. His entry into a life of crime at a young age, his crime spree, his first prison term and eventual escape, the birth and growth of his family, as well as his eventual capture at the hands of the FBI are some of the notable events depicted. Allen initially filmed a downbeat ending in which he was shot to death, courtesy of special effects from A.D. Flowers. Allen’s editor, Ralph Rosenblum (in his first collaboration with Allen), reputedly convinced him to go for a lighter ending.

This film was the first to be directed solely by Allen. (He had wanted Jerry Lewis to direct originally; when that didn’t work out, Allen got the notion to direct it himself). Woody Allen’s decision to become his own director was partially spurred on by the chaotic and uncontrolled filming of Casino Royale, in which he had appeared two years previously.

Take the Money and Run marked the first time Woody Allen would perform the triple duties of writing, directing and acting in a film. The hysterical and almost slapstick style is similar to that of Allen’s next several films, including Sleeper and Bananas.

This film is presented as a documentary on the life of an incompetent, petty criminal called Virgil Starkwell. It describes the early childhood and youth of Virgil, his failure at a musical career, and his obsession with bank robberies.

The film was shot on location in San Francisco. It was also filmed at San Quentin State Prison. One hundred San Quentin prisoners were paid a small fee to work on the film. The regular cast and crew were stamped each day with a special ink that glowed under ultra-violet light so the guards could tell who was allowed to leave the prison grounds at the end of the day.

The film uses a voice over narrative and interviews with his family, friends and acquaintances. Take the Money and Run is Mel Brooks-like in structure and gags, but definitely Woody Allen at his comical best. It’s not his greatest picture by any means, but perhaps the best of his early slapstick flicks. This movie is very much like his innovative Zelig (1983), a black and white docu-spoof about a fictional chameleon.




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