They All Laughed – DVD Review

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Peter Bogdanovich

Audrey Hepburn….Angela Niotes
Ben Gazzara….John Russo
Patti Hansen….Sam
John Ritter….Charles Rutledge
Dorothy Stratten….Dolores Martin
Blaine Novak….Arthur Brodsky
Linda MacEwen….Amy Lester
Colleen Camp….Christy Miller
Elizabth Pena….Rita

Moon Pictures & HBO Home Video presents They All Laughed. Screenplay by Peter Bogdanovich & Blaine Novak. Running time: 115 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theatrical release August 14, 1981. DVD released Oct. 17, 2006.

The Movie:

There’s one simple rule you learn about producing in film school: Never play with your own money. You’d be amazed how many people lose their fortunes and houses because they self-financed their dream movie. These filmmakers always point to success stories such as Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. They are the exceptions. Here is the ominous tale of They All Laughed. Dorothy Stratten, the movie’s star and director Peter Bogdanovich’s girlfriend was murdered by her husband (a crime depicted in Bob Fosse’s Star 80) during post-production. The major studios felt uncomfortable releasing a romantic comedy that starred a slain Playmate of the Year. Bogdanovich paid millions to buy and distribute the film. His risk was rewarded with a visit to bankruptcy court. His stock as an iconic director plunged. Most people now only know him as Dr. Melfi’s shrink on The Sopranos.

Did the film bomb because Stratten’s death was too painful for people to laugh near her? Or was that just the polite thing for people to tell Bognovich instead of pointing out that the film just doesn’t work? According to the DVD box, Quentin Tarantino calls this movie, “a masterpiece.” Is this a film that deserves a second chance like Office Space?

The plot centers on a trio of detectives tailing suspected unfaithful wives throughout Manhattan. The snoops hope that the women are the cheating kind since they want to be next in line. Gazzara immediately wants to hook up with Audrey Hepburn. John Ritter attempts to induce comedy by bumbling after Stratten. And shaggy haired Blaine Novak wants to bang any woman that he rolls past on his skates. There’s not much of a story beyond the pursuit except Collen Camp’s attempt to be a country music queen in the Big Apple.

I’m not quite sure who are the “They” that laughed, but I wasn’t one of them. The humor just doesn’t work. There’s supposedly a comic love scene between Ritter and Camp in her apartment. But there’s zero chemistry. Ritter delivers a half speed table read of the script. He had better timing and chemistry on Three’s Company when he woke up in the bed with Mr. Roper. Camp’s energy and timing is wasted.

There’s only three reasons to endure this film. Stratten did have an innocent beauty that the camera adored. If you were moved by her tragic life in Star 80, you’ll be impressed by her performance in the film. She was capable of more than Galaxina. Gazzara is the second reason. He’s neighborhood suave as the private eye that wants to expose Audrey Hepburn to his bedroom. He tries his hardest to look gruff, but he’s cute as he woos. Gazzara’s an actor that I’d watch read the phonebook. The Manhattan directory would make a better script than what Bogdanovich composed. The final reason is Hepburn roaming around Manhattan two decades after Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But instead of being a mature Holly Golightly, she looks like a Yoko Ono impersonator with her short hair teased up into curls and a pair of massive sunglasses.

They All Laughed isn’t a case of a film coming out at the wrong time. My date knew nothing of Stratten or Bogdanovich. She found it boring, confusing and frustrating. That’s not what a masterpiece of romantic comedy should do to its viewers. For those who know about the history of this movie, you’re bound to feel pity instead of laughter as the end credits roll.

The DVD:

The Video:

The film is anamorphic 1.85. The print is rather clean.

The Audio:

The soundtrack is in English 2.0. The subtitles are in French and Spanish. Bogdanovich’s commentary track show how much he really like talking about his movies.

Special Features:

Director to Director: A Conversation Between Peter Dogdanovich and Wes Anderson (27:14) has the man behind Rushmore softballing questions. Bogdanovich claims this is his favorite film. The juicy part of the interview discloses that Gazzara and Hepburn were in the middle of an affair while making the film.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for They All Laughed
(OUT OF 10)