Musings on Mia's Movies
She was a star in her own right thanks to the TV series Peyton Place and the movies Rosemary’s Baby and The Great Gatsby. For nearly a decade, however, she took on a role that proved exhilarating for comedy fans, challenging at first but ultimately troubling for herself. Mia Farrow, who turns 71 today, became the inamorata of writer-director Woody Allen in 1980, and she would go on to make 13 projects with the filmmaker, several of which are available on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray and gave Farrow some of her juiciest acting opportunities. First came her free-spirited Ariel, who shifts the object of her affection in Allen’s Bergmanesque romantic recoupling roundelay A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), set in the fresh country air, a change for Allen to match the recently new romance in his life. Later, she mobbed up and showed heretofore untapped comedic flair on screen, playing the tough-talking Tina Vitale, mistress of one of the nebulously talented clients managed by the legendary Broadway Danny Rose (1984). Pronouncing her a “revelation,” The New York Times’ Vincent Canby exclaimed: “In tight pants, teased hair and dark glasses, screaming in fluent Brooklynese about Lou's rumored tryst with ‘a cheap blonde,’ Tina is hardly recognizable as Miss Farrow when Danny first meets her. The accent is perfect, and well sustained; the outfit is so brilliantly ghastly that it somehow makes her look all the more ravishing.” Then came another left turn into pathos and cinematic enchantment as The Purple Rose of Cairo’s (1985) downtrodden housewife Cecilia, awakened when her magnificent movie obsession results in a most literal suspension of disbelief. A charmed Canby continued his admiration of “the glowing, funny performance of Miss Farrow. It's as if this wonderful actress, in spite of her English stage credits and all of her earlier films, was finally awakened only when Mr. Allen cast her….” Soon afterward, she provided one of the funny throughlines of Allen’s shimmering, nostalgic Radio Days (1987) as the plucky, opportunistic Sally White, who improbably rises from nightclub cigarette girl to glamorous celebrity gossip columnist over the course of the movie’s wistful 84 minutes. The tightrope act that is Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) places Farrow’s documentary producer-in-training on the comedic side of this enthralling blend of satiric media skewering and unsettlingly serious moral compromises that all somehow works brilliantly. In Shadows and Fog (1991), their penultimate film together, Farrow is back in waif mode as a forsaken circus performer who meets up with hapless civil servant Allen in the stylized streets and alleyways of a fogbound city shaken by a serial killer. Each helps the other face their fears to find hope and new purpose at the end of a helluva spooky night. In early 1992, the Farrow-Allen connection came scandalously undone but the movies the partnership generated continue to glow in fabulous high-definition. TT will supply more enduring, endearing gems of the Farrow filmography in the months ahead.