Woody Allen's sentimental reminiscence about the golden age of radio. A series of vignettes involving radio personalities is intertwined with the life of a working class family in Rockaway Beach, NY circa 1942. Written by
Scott Renshaw <email@example.com>
Well, waddaya know, Woody does have a heart after all . . .
In preface, let me say that I was born at the tail-end of the "golden age of radio," but just in time to experience a touch of its magic and the hold it had on households night after night in that pre-TV era. Add to that a favorite aunt who had worked in radio for years on the West Coast and who regaled her nephew with story upon story, which in turn led to the years I later spent in radio (luckily, prior to the "formula radio" days). It all adds up to my absolutely having to go see "Radio Days" when it first came out, despite the fact that I'd never been the world's foremost Woody Allen fan. Too much of his work, for me, lacked that indefinable but oh so recognizable element of "heart."
Well, I was wrong about Woody. This film shows it.
Autobiographical -- or perhaps semi-autobiographical -- in nature, "Radio Days" evokes the time when people returned "to those thrilling days of yesteryear," and for whom, quite probably, it was equally thrilling to contemplate the magic of a box in their living room that could cause them to "watch" the stories unfold in their minds. "Remotes," or on-the-spot broadcasts transported them to the scene of unfolding tragedies or triumphs in a way that newspapers never could (and which TV, for all its advantages, rarely matches).
And yet the film, for all its authenticity in recreating studio practices (watch, for example, how the actors drop completed script pages onto the floorrather than turning them and risking a tell-tale rustle of paper), isn't really so much about radio itself as it is about the people who listened, as personified by one raucous, cantankerous and loving Brooklyn family. Beautifully evoked, particularly by Julie Kavner (Mother), Michael Tucker (Father), and the incomparable Dianne Wiest (as the perenially lovelorn Aunt Bea), it is their reactions to what they hear on the radio -- whether listening breathlessly to the war news (at a time when the end result was anything but certain) or Bea's abandonment in the middle of nowhere by a panicked suitor as Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast takes hold -- that bring to life the era and the power of that medium.
Standouts? The whole cast is perfect, but for me, in addition to those previously mentioned, I have to cit Mia Farrow's portrayal of the dim-bulbed Sally White, who transforms herself with the aid of speech lessons into a radio personality. (For that matter, catch Danny Aiello as a less-than-brilliant hitman, particularly his scenes with Dina DeAngeles as his mom.)
Criticisms? One: At the end of a poignant scene in which young Joe has finally discovered what his dad does for a living, Allen insists on falling into some standby "schtick" in his voiceover. (I guess he couldn't resist; thankfully, it doesn't ruin the moment.)
Ultimately, of course, it is the era itself that this film celebrates. Faithfully, and lovingly, it is recreated with a skill that points up its absurdities at the same time it makes one hopefully nostalgic. And, if you're not very careful, you wind up falling hopelessly in love with this funny, obscure Brooklyn family.
And to the end of my days, I'll always wonder whether poor Aunt Bea ever did find her "Mr. Right" . . .
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