RADIO DAYS concludes with an observation warm and bittersweet: “I never forgot that New Year’s Eve when Aunt Bea awakened me to watch 1944 come in. I’ve never forgotten any of those people or any of the voices we would hear on the radio. Though the truth is, with the passing of each New Year’s Eve, those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer.” One of Woody Allen’s best movies is also one of his most ambitious, a endearingly funny recollection piece sealed in the amber glow of mostly happy memories from a mostly unhappy time. He wrote & directed and serves off-screen as narrator for this ensemble collage, rhubarb pie slices from his youth. Lovingly sentimental and sweet without becoming cloyingly false, the flow of characters and incidents are framed by the musical backdrop of more than three dozen hit tunes from the era, picked not just to evoke the time period but to fit the moods, manner and modus operandi of the individual characters.
Starting in 1938, covering a six-year period in the life of a young boy and his extended family, their friends and neighborhood, it delivers the personal adventures, arguments and accomplishments of that particular crowd and place but also, through the universal democratic medium of the radio, the way an entire people were linked, to personalities and events. The escapism, zest, daydreams and dramas of sports, soap operas, war bulletins, concerts, contests and tragedies came through the airwaves in a fashion that transformed impersonal distance to shared intimacy. Something about the wonders that issued from the little box pulled people closer together, unlike modern miracles of ‘communication’, instant gratification devices that more often serve to yank us further apart.
Michael Tucker and Julie Kavner are the spatting parents. Dianne Wiest is charming as effervescent, love-hopeful ‘Aunt Bea’, who can never find the right guy. Mia Farrow has the most purely likable of her comic turns among 13 Allen collaborations, as a nightclub tobacco salesgirl who hopes to get onto radio. 12-year-old Seth Green is a great fit for ‘Sam’/Woody as a kid.
“She’d be lost without her whole family around her all the time, and you should see ’em. They’re like some kind of tribe. They’re like the Huns.”
Though reviews were glowing, the beautifully produced $16,000,000 time capsule only made $14,793,000. Lit by Carlo di Palma’s warm-hued cinematography, the art direction was Oscar-nominated (Santo Loquasto was Production Designer), along with Allen’s superb screenplay; the valentine to the bygone deserved much better than 67th place at the box office.
“Who is Pearl Harbor?” The swarming cast includes John Mostel, Tony Roberts, Danny Aiello, Kenneth Mars, Jeff Daniels, Wallace Shawn, Todd Field, Kitty Carlisle, Don Pardo, William H. Macy and Larry David. Diane Keaton gets a swell bit, crooning Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice To Home To”. 88 minutes.
* Allen’s other movie that year was the downbeat drama September, which pretty much expired like February. Radio Days did share ’87 with some great comedies: Moonstruck, Raising Arizona, The Princess Bride, Broadcast News, Three Men And A Baby, Roxanne, The Witches Of Eastwick, Tin Men, Overboard, Born In East L.A., Three O’Clock High, Good Morning Vietnam and Planes, Trains and Automobiles And, hey, the maligned Ishtar had a good number of laffs in it, too.