Love and Death (1975)

PG | 85 or 89 mins | Satire | 1975

Director:

Woody Allen

Writer:

Woody Allen

Producer:

Charles H. Joffe

Cinematographer:

Ghislain Cloquet

Editor:

Ron Kalish

Production Designer:

Willy Holt
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HISTORY

As noted by the NYT review, the uncredited character “Death” is depicted as “a guy who wears a white sheet.” Intermittently throughout the film, Woody Allen as “Boris Grushenko” speaks to the audience directly and in voice-over narration. The lines of a poem Boris “writes” are from T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
       A 19 Nov 1974 DV news item reported that the budget for Love and Death was $2,600,000. The film’s closing credits stated that portions of the film were shot in Budapest, Hungary, with the assistance of Hungarofilms and Mafilms. According to HR production charts, studio production notes and other contemporary sources, the filmmakers spent several weeks shooting in Paris locations. The studio production notes found in the film’s file at AMPAS Library specified that the following historic Parisian buildings were used in the film: Old Russian Church on Rue des Russes, Chateau de Breuil, Chateau de St. Cyr, Chateau de Jambuille, Chateau de Madame Jounaint du Wast, Maison Lafitte and the Centre Franco-Americaine located on Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chaumiere Russe, a thatched Russian cottage at Les Mesnuls, was used as the Grushenko’s house. The production notes stated that location sites in the Buda section of Budapest included the opera house, the Castle Hill area and the old Buda port.
       As noted in several reviews, Love and Death is a satire on Russian literature, in particular, War and Peace and other works by Leo Tolstoy and of Fyordor Dostoyevsky. Although played for comic effect, tragic themes found in Russian literature that underscore the misery of life are ... More Less

As noted by the NYT review, the uncredited character “Death” is depicted as “a guy who wears a white sheet.” Intermittently throughout the film, Woody Allen as “Boris Grushenko” speaks to the audience directly and in voice-over narration. The lines of a poem Boris “writes” are from T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
       A 19 Nov 1974 DV news item reported that the budget for Love and Death was $2,600,000. The film’s closing credits stated that portions of the film were shot in Budapest, Hungary, with the assistance of Hungarofilms and Mafilms. According to HR production charts, studio production notes and other contemporary sources, the filmmakers spent several weeks shooting in Paris locations. The studio production notes found in the film’s file at AMPAS Library specified that the following historic Parisian buildings were used in the film: Old Russian Church on Rue des Russes, Chateau de Breuil, Chateau de St. Cyr, Chateau de Jambuille, Chateau de Madame Jounaint du Wast, Maison Lafitte and the Centre Franco-Americaine located on Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt. Chaumiere Russe, a thatched Russian cottage at Les Mesnuls, was used as the Grushenko’s house. The production notes stated that location sites in the Buda section of Budapest included the opera house, the Castle Hill area and the old Buda port.
       As noted in several reviews, Love and Death is a satire on Russian literature, in particular, War and Peace and other works by Leo Tolstoy and of Fyordor Dostoyevsky. Although played for comic effect, tragic themes found in Russian literature that underscore the misery of life are the basis of the story. Lines of dialog and plot points in the film mirror those in classic Russian literature and, in one sequence featuring Boris and his father, several lines of dialogue contain titles of nineteenth century Russian novels. The Russian theme is enhanced by the music of composer, Sergei Prokofiev, whose work is heard throughout the film.
       The film contains cinematic allusions to the works of other film directors, especially Ingmar Bergman, who presents a similarly shrouded death figure in The Seventh Seal and sexual trysts in Smiles of a Summer Night . Near the end of the film, the faces of “Sonja” and “Natasha” (Diane Keaton and Jessica Harper, respectively) are photographed together, one in profile and one looking forward, replicating a scene from Bergman’s 1966 film, Persona . As mentioned in a Telegraph (London) review, which also noticed an “occasional nose-thumbing homage ” to director Ken Russell, there is a humorous allusion to Russian director, Sergei Eisenstein, when a sexual encounter is juxtaposed with shots of a stone lion. The NYT review noted references to comedians, Groucho Marx and Bob Hope, and other filmmakers.
       Allen directed, starred in and wrote the screenplay of Love and Death . Much of the humor in the story, as noted by the WSJ review, is created “by introducing some farfetched and ridiculous association into a serious context.” Although the film is set in the early 1800s, anachronisms are used for comic effect, such as the presence of a Black drill instructor in the Russian Army, a reference to a conscientious objector and a “hygiene play” warning soldiers about venereal disease. During an elaborate battle sequence, scenes of fighting soldiers are interspliced with shots of sheep, cheerleaders and a vendor hawking “Red Hots” candy. Throughout the film, Allen’s nineteenth-century character wears his signature, modern glasses and suffers late twentieth century angst . A running joke within the film is the repartee between Boris and Sonja who have several reductio ad absurdum philosophical discussions about topics such as crises of faith, spiritual rebirth and the ethical implications of assassination, during which they increasingly introduce irrelevant comments until the logic is lost. In reference to these discussions, the HR review described the film as a parody of “all philosophers from Socrates to Spinoza.” Several reviews noted the chemistry between Allen and Keaton, and the HR review compared their screen relationship with Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance or Mable Normand. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
23 Jun 1975
p. 4790.
Daily Variety
10 Jun 1975.
---
Esquire
Jul 1975
pp. 79-83.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Oct 1974
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Feb 1975
p. 12, 19.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jun 1975
p. 3, 5.
Los Angeles Times
11 Jun 1975.
---
New York
16 Jun 1975.
---
New York Times
11 Jun 1975
p. 44.
Newsweek
23 Jun 1975.
---
Time
30 Jun 1975
p. 76.
Variety
20 Sep 1974.
---
Variety
11 Jun 1975
p. 18.
Village Voice
23 Jun 1975
p. 118.
Wall Street Journal
23 Jun 1975.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Head grip
Head gaffer
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Outside buyer
Standby propman
Set dresser
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Chief spec eff
Asst spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod supv
Asst unit mgr
Prod secy
Auditor
Accountant
SOURCES
MUSIC
Selections from The Love of Three Oranges , Alexander Nevsky and Lieutenant Kije by Sergei Prokofiev.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
1975
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 10 June 1975
Los Angeles opening: 11 June 1975
Production Date:
21 September 1974--late February 1975
Copyright Claimant:
Jack Rollins-Charles H. Joffe Productions
Copyright Date:
9 June 1975
Copyright Number:
LP44886
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Prints by De Luxe General; Camera & lenses by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
85 or 89
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24301
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Russia, in the early 1800s, meek and bespectacled Boris Dimitrovitch Grushenko is about to be executed for a murder he did not commit. While contemplating the events that led to his predicament, he acknowledges that death is inevitable and wonders if perhaps all of mankind is ultimately executed for uncommitted crimes. Boris recalls happy childhood memories at his family’s summer house: Boris’ life with his eccentric, extended family is idyllic, but at a young age, he morbidly imagines himself crucified on a cross. After the funeral of a neighbor struck by lightning, Boris has a vivid dream about many coffins standing upright in a field from which waiters exit and dance with each other. After that dream, Boris knows he will never be ordinary. In his first mystical vision, Boris meets Death and asks the shrouded figure what happens when people die. He asks if there are girls, but Death will only acknowledge that Boris is interesting, and promises to meet him again. As Boris matures, he grows to love his cousin, Sonja, with whom he has deep and convoluted philosophical conversations. She has many suitors and, although she claims she is looking for someone to exemplify the intellectual, spiritual and sensual aspects of love, she is secretly smitten with Boris’ boorish brother, Ivan. When Napoleon invades Austria, most of the local men are eager to join the army to fight the aggressor. Boris would rather write poetry, but everyone, including his parents and Sonja, shame Boris into enlisting. Before the men leave, Ivan announces his intention to marry Natasha. Feeling rejected, Sonja impulsively announces that she will marry one of her suitors, an eighty-one-year-old man who immediately ... +


In Russia, in the early 1800s, meek and bespectacled Boris Dimitrovitch Grushenko is about to be executed for a murder he did not commit. While contemplating the events that led to his predicament, he acknowledges that death is inevitable and wonders if perhaps all of mankind is ultimately executed for uncommitted crimes. Boris recalls happy childhood memories at his family’s summer house: Boris’ life with his eccentric, extended family is idyllic, but at a young age, he morbidly imagines himself crucified on a cross. After the funeral of a neighbor struck by lightning, Boris has a vivid dream about many coffins standing upright in a field from which waiters exit and dance with each other. After that dream, Boris knows he will never be ordinary. In his first mystical vision, Boris meets Death and asks the shrouded figure what happens when people die. He asks if there are girls, but Death will only acknowledge that Boris is interesting, and promises to meet him again. As Boris matures, he grows to love his cousin, Sonja, with whom he has deep and convoluted philosophical conversations. She has many suitors and, although she claims she is looking for someone to exemplify the intellectual, spiritual and sensual aspects of love, she is secretly smitten with Boris’ boorish brother, Ivan. When Napoleon invades Austria, most of the local men are eager to join the army to fight the aggressor. Boris would rather write poetry, but everyone, including his parents and Sonja, shame Boris into enlisting. Before the men leave, Ivan announces his intention to marry Natasha. Feeling rejected, Sonja impulsively announces that she will marry one of her suitors, an eighty-one-year-old man who immediately dies on the spot. Sonja then names a different suitor, the village’s herring merchant, as her intended. As the men march off to war, Boris has many problems settling into military life. At home, Sonja is soon unhappy with her marriage and takes a string of lovers. When Boris is given a three-day furlough, he attends the opera in St. Petersburg. There, Boris encounters the recently widowed Countess Alexandrovna, whose husband died trying to satisfy her passions. Disregarding the reputation of her jealous lover Anton, who has killed many of her admirers, the countess and Boris tacitly communicate their desires for each other across the opera house. After returning to the battlefield, Boris is one of fourteen survivors of twelve thousand Russians soldiers killed. That evening while burying bodies, Boris has another mystical experience, in which a dead man asks him to return an engagement ring he bought for his beloved. During another battle, Boris gets lost behind enemy lines and takes refuge inside a cannon. When the cannon is lit, Boris is shot into a tent filled with French generals who immediately surrender. Boris becomes a hero, but Ivan is killed when bayoneted by a Polish conscientious objector. At home, Sonja’s husband mortally wounds himself while cleaning his gun prior to a duel in defense of her reputation. After a few seconds of mourning him, Sonja decides one must move on and grieves with Natasha over the death of Ivan. The women agree that life is unbearable. Boris’ heroic return from war prompts the countess to show her patriotism by having sex with him, thus provoking Anton to challenge him to a duel. On the night before the duel, Boris visits Sonja and tells her that he is looking for a sign that proves God exists. Sonja’s argument, that God exists because people are made in His image, is unsatisfying, as Boris cannot believe God wears glasses. Although Boris expects to die in the duel, he confesses his love and asks Sonja to marry him if he survives. First, Sonja asks what his odds are, then searches her heart. Although she feels only platonic love for Boris, she considers that marrying him is a chance to be kind. Eventually, because she expects him to die, she accepts. The next morning during the duel, Boris attempts to hide behind Anton’s back, but Anton manages to shoot him in the arm. Boris would like to call the matter closed, but is told that he must shoot back. Refusing to do harm, Boris shoots his pistol into the air and suffers a second wound when his bullet falls from the sky. However, Boris’ merciful act prompts Anton to vow to join the church and devote the rest of his life to singing. Although shocked that Boris survived, Sonja marries him and eventually admits that her love is deeper than she thought possible. For Boris, these months are his happiest, until he is seized with a suicidal urge. Concerned, Sonja consults an elderly priest, but the formerly wise man has grown senile and provides no help. After an unsuccessful attempt to hang himself, Boris decides instead to be a great poet. Boris and Sonja hope to have a child in the spring, but their happiness is again jeopardized when French troops occupy Moscow. Filled with idealism, Sonja wants to assassinate Napoleon, but Boris is philosophically against the idea. Their discussion becomes an ethical argument that ends when Boris exhausts all his clichés trying to change her mind. Several days later they begin a journey to Moscow. At an inn on the way, they encounter Don Francisco and his sister, who are on their way from Spain to visit Napoleon. Sonja and Boris knock out Francisco and, impersonating the siblings, continue to Moscow, unaware that Napoleon’s advisors have hired a person resembling the emperor to act as a decoy for potential assassins. In addition, one of the advisors has secret plans to kill Francisco, in order to subvert a possible treaty with Spain. When Boris and Sonja arrive in Moscow, the false Napoleon attempts to seduce Sonja and, although she and Boris have the opportunity to kill him, neither can carry out the task. After a lengthy discussion about morality, they decide to flee, but then Sonja reminds Boris that Napoleon will kill half of Europe if not stopped. Meanwhile, another man shoots the imposter and escapes, and when Boris returns to do the killing, he is arrested for the murder. On the night before his execution, Boris has an angelic vision that informs him that he will be pardoned at the last minute. Finally able to believe in God, Boris is perky the next morning when taken to the firing squad. Despite the angel’s message, however, Boris is executed. At home, Sonja is commiserating with Natasha about love and suffering, when she sees Boris outside her window, standing with Death. Because Boris is dead, Sonja tells him she must move on, but assures him that he was her one great love. After Sonja returns to her conversation with Natasha, Boris soliloquizes about whether he has learned anything about life: He knows that the mind has noble aspirations, but the body has more fun. He believes that if God exists, He is not evil, just an underachiever. Boris suggests that death should not be considered the end, but a way to cut down on expenses. Regarding love, he advises that it is not the quantity of sexual relations, but the quality that counts, unless the quantity drops below every eight months. After saying goodbye, Boris dances along the river with Death. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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