Tomorrow night’s New York Film Festival world premiere of Woody Allen’s new film Wonder Wheel coincides with the 29th anniversary of the arrival of another serious-minded Allen study of disappointed people at crossroads in their lives, Another Woman (1988). Interestingly, as Julian Fox observes in his 1996 study Woody: Movies from Manhattan, “the origin for this story was a comedy idea which Woody had some years before – the story of a man living in a room with thin walls who overhears a woman talking to an analyst about what troubles her. Discovering that the woman is beautiful and, having been a party to her most intimate secrets, he contrives to meet her, becomes her ‘dream man,’ solves her problems and makes her wishes come true.” Later on, when returning to the idea, the older and more seasoned filmmaker decided on a more serious bent, fashioning it around the character of an eminent yet emotionally encased philosophy professor named Marion Post, looking back on a lonely, unconnected life, the film came together brilliantly when the always magnetic Gena Rowlands was cast as Marion. Fox continues: “Marion, in this version, said Woody, is a woman ‘who has kept everything personal in her life totally blocked out’ but finally discovers she can no longer do so. The things she is suppressing, like ‘the sounds of her inner turbulence, start literally to come through the walls to speak to her.’”
“In this film Woody takes up, most directly, the issue he began exploring in Annie Hall and Manhattan,” Richard Schickel asserts in Woody Allen: A Life in Film, “the ways in which very bright and articulate people avoid emotional involvement by devoting themselves to ideas – to opinion-making and opinion-mongering. He is very good on this subject, and, in a way, very brave on it, for if he has a core American audience the people of this class are at its center. They do not pay their money to be affronted. That said, it must be added that Another Woman is somewhat undone by the fact that its self-absorbed and entirely humorless characters tend to push us away from the kind of involvement we want to experience at the moves. This is somewhat mitigated by Rowlands’ subtle playing. She believes she is a warm and caring figure and is dismayed to discover that other people – aside from a stepdaughter [Martha Plimpton] with whom she exhibits genuine warmth – do not see her so. Still…the movie is easy to admire and hard to like.” However, with a host of precisely drawn characters who crack the chilly façade of Marion’s world played by a outstanding cast, the tightly knit 81-minute movie, extraordinarily shot by Sven Nykvist on autumnal New York locations, still fascinates, as the audience accumulates the puzzle pieces of Marion’s past and present relationships by way of sleuthing whether or not she has a shot at making a meaningful change in her life. Mia Farrow plays the troubled patient whose overheard anxieties transfix Marion; Ian Holm is Marion’s distant husband; Gene Hackman portrays the warm-spirited writer whose past and present professions of love for Marion challenge her; a frail John Houseman (who would die two weeks after the film’s release) is Marion’s demanding father and Harris Yulin is her frustrated brother whom Marion overshadowed in the family dynamic; and Blythe Danner and Sandy Dennis portray friends whose true feelings toward Marion make for startling wake-up calls. With such an extraordinary ensemble (plus Philip Bosco, Frances Conroy and David Ogden Stiers) on view, Marion’s latter-day journey toward self-discovery in Another Woman takes on the force of a smoldering volcano on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.