Woody Allen and I have been joined at the funny bone ever since he invited me into his achingly neurotic comic world. Whether it was the early years of Woody romping around a field attached to a propeller or corralling lobsters in a New York apartment, I was hopelessly hooked. Here and there he engaged in assorted mayhem, but it is in his latest excursion, To Rome with Love, that he elevates farce to a yet unforeseen level.
Against the backdrop of breathtaking scenery, we meet Jerry (happily, Woody assumed the role himself, unlike palming it off to an unworthy acolyte as he did in Bullets Over Broadway. In that hysterical romp, a New York gangster is drawn into a theatrical quagmire and winds up rewriting the play). Anyway, Jerry, a retired musical impresario of less than great renown, arrives in the Eternal City, with his wife, to meet their daughter’s future husband and family. Lo and behold, the young man’s father, Giancarlo, an undertaker, possesses a magnificent operatic voice, but, alas, has a deadly phobia: He can only sing in the shower. Jerry, sensing an opportunity to redeem his reputation, goes about the business of convincing the man that he need not hide his genius from the public. Not if all it takes is a spritz of water.
And so, eventually, Giancarlo succumbs and meets, head on, his first challenge, a recording studio rigged so that he might sing from—where else—a shower. Giddy with success, Jerry next envisions launching Giancarlo on the concert stage. No need to wonder how this will be accomplished—Jerry will build him a shower from which he need expose little more than his voice to the audience. When all goes well, our impresario is inspired to seek ever greater heights. What is left but to conquer grand opera?
In this vein, Jerry proposes Pagliaccio, an opera within an opera. For our purposes, it is only important to know that the hapless Canio/Pagliaccio (sung by Giancarlo), has been cuckolded by his wife, Nedda/Columbine and that bad blood must become the order of Act III. Here, a gaudily painted donkey-drawn cart appears on stage. Within its small confines is—you guessed it—a shower from which, in a cascade of water and suds, Giancarlo shall magically transfix the audience.
But what of the operatic staple: revenge? Giancarlo cannot exit the shower. Therefore, it is incumbent upon his victims to run to him! First the fickle Nedda and then her lover, Silvio, both of whom meet their demise as Pagliaccio/Giancarlo sings, soaps, leans and finally pokes his knife over the chest-high shower door to deliver the coups de grace.
Absurd? Naturally. Hilarious? What else? But thumb through Woody’s oeuvre and I dare you to find a scene to equal it.
Which actors/directors/writers tickle your funny bone? Tell us in the comments!