The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

It’s no secret that movies were a favorite form of escapism during the Great Depression.  But for Cecilia (Mia Farrow), that idea is about to take on a whole new meaning.  Cecilia lives in New Jersey with Monk (Danny Aiello), her abusive, gambler, womanizer husband.  He’s out of work, but she and her sister work as waitresses — although Cecilia has a tendency to get more plates on the floor than on the tables.  The only thing that brings her real happiness is going to the movies.  When the local theater starts playing a movie called The Purple Rose of Cairo, she becomes obsessed with the movie.  The Purple Rose of Cairo is about an archaeologist named Tom Baxter, played by Gil Shepard (Jeff Daniels) who meets some socialites while they’re vacationing in Egypt and ends up joining them for a crazy weekend in Manhattan where he falls in love with a singer at the Copacabana.

Anytime something goes wrong in Cecilia’s life, she goes to see the movie again.  The fifth time she goes to see the movie, she’s surprised to notice something a little different about it: Tom begins to talk to her.  Not only does he start talking to her, but he walks right out of the screen and the two of them walk out of the theater together, leaving the audience and the other characters in the movie totally confused.  The two of them go off together and Tom reveals that he’s tired of living the same old story over and over again and wants to be out in the real world with her.  Of course, the real world is quite different from the movie world Tom knows, but that doesn’t matter since he loves Cecilia and Cecilia loves him.  Meanwhile, word of Tom walking out of the movie has gotten back to Hollywood and the film’s producer and Gil Shepard are in a panic about what to do.  They fly out to New Jersey to try to get Tom back into the movie, but while they’re there, Gil ends up running into Cecilia and also falls in love with her.  Eventually, Tom decides to go back into the movie, but he insists on taking Cecilia with him.  The two of them go on a wonderful date in the movie, but when it’s over, Cecilia has to decide between being with Tom or being with Gil.

I absolutely adored The Purple Rose of Cairo, it’s by far my favorite Woody Allen movie.  It’s funny, poignant, and wonderfully acted.  The scenes of the actors stuck in the movie after Tom left were absolutely hilarious.  Mia Farrow played meek, awkward, vulnerable very well and I loved Jeff Daniels in both his roles.  It was really a delight to watch him as the naive, happy-go-lucky Tom Baxter. If you’re a fan of classic films (which I’m assuming you are), you’re bound to love The Purple Rose of Cairo.

I hate to give away the ending of the movie, but I kind of like movies with endings that are a little open to interpretation.  Personally, just because I don’t want to imagine the worst possible scenario for Cecilia, I like to think it’s like that Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”  She might not get what she wanted, but hopefully she took a step toward a better life since she finally found the strength to do something she didn’t have the nerve to do before.

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6 comments

  1. I’ve loved this movie ever since I first saw it mumble years ago in film class. I wrote a paper on the platonic vs. arestotelian ideas in the movie. Got an A!

    Allen does nostalgia very well. If you haven’t seen Radio Days, I highly recommend it.

  2. Cheers for this– The Purple Rose of Cairo is my personal favorite Allen film. Ages ago, when AMC was still AMC, they did a (very smart) double feature: Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. was first on the bill, followed by THIS. I was only about 12 and didn’t really understand Cairo’s depth– I was just enraptured by its magic. Having revisited it as an adult, I am awed by Allen’s unsentimental sentiment– if that makes any sense!

    1. It’s hard to remember a time when AMC would play Sherlock, Jr. and The Purple Rose of Cairo back to back! I love that Cairo is a movie that can appeal to a 12 year old on one level and to an adult on a whole different level. Gotta love those movies that can grow with you.

  3. I still remember an interview where someone asked Woody Allen if anyone had suggested that he conclude the movie with a happy ending, and he replied, “That WAS the happy ending.”

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