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Woody Allen’s PBS mockumentary

He’s none-too-subtly patterned after “Hanoi” Henry Kissinger

Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story: Woody Allen B.Z. (Before Zelig)
Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story: Woody Allen B.Z. (Before Zelig)

My original intention was to cover a couple of Woody Allen’s middle-to-modern funny films. Then I happened across this hilarious, never-broadcast, half-hour PBS mockumentary on YouTube. I hope you enjoy this Holy Grail of hilarity half as much as I did.

— Scott Marks

Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1972)

Woody Allen’s savage political satire does for incongruously intercut documentary footage what What’s Up, Tiger Lily? did for dubbing. I had all but given up on seeing this obscure bit of Allenalia. Clad in a decidedly non-Ralph Lauren three-piece suit, Allen stars as the eponymous solipsist, the second most powerful man in America. He’s none-too-subtly patterned after “Hanoi” Henry Kissinger, and the president won’t make a move without first consulting his trusted advisor. (Even Mrs. Nixon is not allowed to kiss her husband goodnight without first kissing Dr. Wallinger.) It plays as an exercise in anarchy, typical of the director’s early work, wherein fathers die in childbirth and preventive detention — criminals are jailed before crimes are committed — is the law of the land. The production was sandwiched between Bananas and Play It Again, Sam, and it would be over two decades before Allen would again subject his work to network abasement. Fearing they might lose government funding, PBS buckled under pressure from Nixonian bullying, and at the last minute, pulled the show. Familiar faces from his “early, funny pictures” abound, including Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton, and his era’s premier presidential look-alike, Richard Dixon.

Watch it here.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Many of Allen’s early, funny alter egos underwent strict analysis. But over the years, his protagonists seem to have shifted their agents of psychic self-delusion — from rich doctors to witch doctors. A medium predicts love for Tom Baxter in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Danny Rose’s flaky flame seeks solace in clairvoyance. Something tells me there was a fortune teller in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (I couldn’t sit through it again to confirm), and the police dub the murderer in Scoop “The Tarot Card Killer.” You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is Allen’s definitive statement on soothsaying. Not that we needed cinematic confirmation: Allen told the New York Times, “To me, there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful.”

The romantic roundelay commences with psychic advice dispensed by a quack (Pauline Collins). Her prognostications soon begin disrupting the lives of a bitter divorcee Helena (Gemma Jones), her daughter Sally (Naomi Watts), and her son-in-law Roy (Josh Brolin). Alfie (Anthony Hopkins, brilliantly standing in for WA without so much as a stammer) abandoned Helena in mid-mid-life crisis and married Charmaine (Lucy Punch), the first hooker/retired porn star looking for a sugar daddy that came his way. A little Lecter (and a lot of Woody) emerges as Alvy — I mean, Alfie — blames his ex for allowing herself to get old. As for Roy, he despises his mother-in-law with a near-Ralph Kramden intensity. The med school grad who became a one-hit novelist is deep in the throes of writer’s block, and Helena’s frequent unannounced appearances drive him batty. In order to take the pressure off their marriage, Sally purposely sends mom to a psychic she knows is a fraud. Meanwhile, Allen actually borrows a page from Bobcat Goldthwaite’s World’s Greatest Dad: in order to help his career, Roy decides to peddle a deceased friend’s manuscript as his own.

After years of aping Bergman and Fellini, Allen booked passage to England and entered his Hitchcock phase. Here, he still can’t quite shake The Master’s influence, and Roy begins a voyeuristic rear-window romance with his beautiful, soon-to-be wed neighbor (Freida Pinto).

Lucy Punch’s Charmaine acts as a dual reference to characters past. Her exterior may be a lot more curvaceous, but Punch’s brash, outgoing trophy gal basically serves the same function as Maureen Stapleton’s Pearl in Interiors. Both characters brought life (and in Stapleton’s case, color), upsetting the balance of the otherwise serious proceedings.

When we hear the reprise of Leon Redbone’s “When You Wish Upon a Star,” it abruptly becomes clear that our story is about to wrap, and it appears the old boy’s heart isn’t in it. God bless prolific Woody for averaging a film a year since first stepping behind the camera in 1968. But maybe the nebbish elder statesman should slacken his pace to three films every four years and concentrate more on pulling together loose threads. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger begins with an anonymous narrator quoting Macbeth, and the film is a fun ride right up until the end. Regrettably, by the time Allen’s sound and fury draws to a close, he idiotically fails to signify anything.

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Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story: Woody Allen B.Z. (Before Zelig)
Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story: Woody Allen B.Z. (Before Zelig)

My original intention was to cover a couple of Woody Allen’s middle-to-modern funny films. Then I happened across this hilarious, never-broadcast, half-hour PBS mockumentary on YouTube. I hope you enjoy this Holy Grail of hilarity half as much as I did.

— Scott Marks

Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1972)

Woody Allen’s savage political satire does for incongruously intercut documentary footage what What’s Up, Tiger Lily? did for dubbing. I had all but given up on seeing this obscure bit of Allenalia. Clad in a decidedly non-Ralph Lauren three-piece suit, Allen stars as the eponymous solipsist, the second most powerful man in America. He’s none-too-subtly patterned after “Hanoi” Henry Kissinger, and the president won’t make a move without first consulting his trusted advisor. (Even Mrs. Nixon is not allowed to kiss her husband goodnight without first kissing Dr. Wallinger.) It plays as an exercise in anarchy, typical of the director’s early work, wherein fathers die in childbirth and preventive detention — criminals are jailed before crimes are committed — is the law of the land. The production was sandwiched between Bananas and Play It Again, Sam, and it would be over two decades before Allen would again subject his work to network abasement. Fearing they might lose government funding, PBS buckled under pressure from Nixonian bullying, and at the last minute, pulled the show. Familiar faces from his “early, funny pictures” abound, including Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton, and his era’s premier presidential look-alike, Richard Dixon.

Watch it here.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010)

Many of Allen’s early, funny alter egos underwent strict analysis. But over the years, his protagonists seem to have shifted their agents of psychic self-delusion — from rich doctors to witch doctors. A medium predicts love for Tom Baxter in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Danny Rose’s flaky flame seeks solace in clairvoyance. Something tells me there was a fortune teller in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (I couldn’t sit through it again to confirm), and the police dub the murderer in Scoop “The Tarot Card Killer.” You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is Allen’s definitive statement on soothsaying. Not that we needed cinematic confirmation: Allen told the New York Times, “To me, there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful.”

The romantic roundelay commences with psychic advice dispensed by a quack (Pauline Collins). Her prognostications soon begin disrupting the lives of a bitter divorcee Helena (Gemma Jones), her daughter Sally (Naomi Watts), and her son-in-law Roy (Josh Brolin). Alfie (Anthony Hopkins, brilliantly standing in for WA without so much as a stammer) abandoned Helena in mid-mid-life crisis and married Charmaine (Lucy Punch), the first hooker/retired porn star looking for a sugar daddy that came his way. A little Lecter (and a lot of Woody) emerges as Alvy — I mean, Alfie — blames his ex for allowing herself to get old. As for Roy, he despises his mother-in-law with a near-Ralph Kramden intensity. The med school grad who became a one-hit novelist is deep in the throes of writer’s block, and Helena’s frequent unannounced appearances drive him batty. In order to take the pressure off their marriage, Sally purposely sends mom to a psychic she knows is a fraud. Meanwhile, Allen actually borrows a page from Bobcat Goldthwaite’s World’s Greatest Dad: in order to help his career, Roy decides to peddle a deceased friend’s manuscript as his own.

After years of aping Bergman and Fellini, Allen booked passage to England and entered his Hitchcock phase. Here, he still can’t quite shake The Master’s influence, and Roy begins a voyeuristic rear-window romance with his beautiful, soon-to-be wed neighbor (Freida Pinto).

Lucy Punch’s Charmaine acts as a dual reference to characters past. Her exterior may be a lot more curvaceous, but Punch’s brash, outgoing trophy gal basically serves the same function as Maureen Stapleton’s Pearl in Interiors. Both characters brought life (and in Stapleton’s case, color), upsetting the balance of the otherwise serious proceedings.

When we hear the reprise of Leon Redbone’s “When You Wish Upon a Star,” it abruptly becomes clear that our story is about to wrap, and it appears the old boy’s heart isn’t in it. God bless prolific Woody for averaging a film a year since first stepping behind the camera in 1968. But maybe the nebbish elder statesman should slacken his pace to three films every four years and concentrate more on pulling together loose threads. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger begins with an anonymous narrator quoting Macbeth, and the film is a fun ride right up until the end. Regrettably, by the time Allen’s sound and fury draws to a close, he idiotically fails to signify anything.

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Comments
4

I used to think Woody Allen was funny until it came out that he's a despicable child molester. When he's cuffed and hauled off to prison where he belongs maybe I'll tune in. I prefer more desirable Hollywood men, or at least a sense of decency...

June 4, 2021

When last I checked, Allen has never been charged with a crime. He's a lot of things, but a child molester isn't one of them.

June 4, 2021

The rich and famous get away with things all the time that the rest of society would go to prison for. Even every day people are never charged with certain crimes .-- including murder. We can agree to disagree.

June 4, 2021
This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.
June 5, 2021

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