The title of Woody Allen’s 1985 film The Purple Rose of Cairo refers to the movie-within-the-movie, a sleek and sophisticated black and white romance, made to divert audiences during the Depression.
The story focuses on Celia (Mia Farrow), who is in an abusive marriage with Monk (Danny Aiello) – an idle gambler who hasn’t worked for two years – and supports them both by working as a waitress.
Her only escape from her sad, humdrum existence comes when she visits the cinema, which provides a temporary refuge from real-life and harsh reality. When Cecilia is in a darkened theatre watching a high society comedy of the period all of her troubles are temporarily forgotten.
One day as she watches Purple Rose for the fifth time, the hero – an explorer called Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) – addresses her directly and comes down from the screen to enter her life.
Baxter soon embarks on a romance with her while learning all about reality. Meanwhile, Gil Shephard (Jeff Daniels again), the actor who plays Tom Baxter in The Purple Rose Of Cairo, duly turns up on the scene, concerned about the potential harm Tom Baxter could do to his career with his actions.
Cecilia is soon involved in a love triangle with Tom and Gil and must make a difficult decision – literally choosing between fantasy and reality.
It is not the first time that Allen has played with this illusion/reality concept, or with the thin dividing line between film fantasy and fact, but never with such warmth or technical aplomb.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Purple Rose of Cairo lies in the interactions between the fictional Tom Baxter and the real world. He tries to pay a bill with stage money and is bemused that cars don’t start of their own accord. He also keeps expecting a fadeout whenever he kisses Cecilia.
Michael Keaton was originally cast as Tom/Gil but Woody Allen decided he was too streetwise and contemporary for a 1930s depression-era piece and replaced him with Jeff Daniels several days into the shoot.
Tom Baxter/Gil Shepherd