Love and Death (1975)

“If it turns out there is a God, I don’t think that He’s evil. I think the worst you can say about Him is that basically He’s an underachiever.” I know it might be blasphemous, but I enjoy Woody Allen’s early comedies – particularly Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death – more than anything else he ever did (and that includes Annie Hall and Manhattan!). These films are filled with such an anarchic, Marx Brothers-style humor that appeals strongly to me. I feel like the alien in Stardust Memories who tells ‘Sandy Bates’ (Allen), “you’re a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.” Set in nineteenth-century Russia, Love and Death features Allen as cowardly soldier “Boris Dimitrovich Grushenko,” who inadvertently becomes a war hero after he is shot out of a cannon and lands on a tent full of French officers (not kidding!). Boris then marries his (rather reluctant) distant cousin “Sonja” (Diane Keaton), the recently widowed wife of an extremely dull herring merchant, and the two hatch a scheme to assassinate Napoleon (James Tolkan). Highlights include the absurd philosophical debates between Boris and Sonja (“… to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness”), the “hygiene play” before the soldiers head out on a three-day furlough, the infamous duel, Boris trying his hand at poetry with a homage to T. S. Eliot (“I should have been a pair of ragged claws …”), Boris dancing with the Grim Reaper as the credits roll, and, of course, the music of Sergei Prokofiev. There’s even a “Village Idiots Convention” thrown into the mix. The excellent supporting cast includes Harold Gould, Olga Georges-Picot, Zvee Scooler, Jessica Harper and Alfred Lutter (“Ogilvie” from The Bad News Bears) as “Young Boris.” Look for multiple references to Russian literature, as well as tributes to legendary directors such as Eisenstein and Bergman throughout the film. Tolkan portrayed high school principal “Gerald Strickland” in Back to the Future (1985) and also appeared in the film’s two sequels.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu