Woody Allen’s love of New York and movies is legendary. Many times over Woody has incorporated these two loves into his films. As a consequence, Woody films are not only entertaining works of art, but have becomes historical documents of a time gone by. Woody’s location shooting on the streets of New York is well known and many of the locations; stores, buildings and cinemas are sadly no longer in existence. They are gone, destroyed for many reasons; old age, bankruptcy, outgrown their usefulness or ever worst…progress!
Over the past several decades New York’s classic movie theaters have pretty much been decimated! At one time there were many, many theaters and now the few that are left standing have been turned into churches, bingo halls, furniture stores, flea markets, left vacant or torn down. In their place today we have the cold, bland multi-plexes of modern day movie going. At one time there were well over thirty movie theaters in the Times Square/Broadway/42nd street area of midtown. Now there are two multiplexes on 42nd Street and not one movie theater on the Broadway/7th Avenue crossroads replaced instead by Corporate America’s candy land of shops from Disney to Hershey’s to Swatch and others symbols of modern day consumerism. Once the center for the arts in America (stage, screen, television, music, nightclubs, etc.), Times Square has been turned into an glittery outdoor mall for tourist.
Fortunately, thanks to Woody Allen, many of the movie theaters that once graced New York can still be seen or at least glimpsed at in his movies. My list here is not comprehensive, but I believe I cover most of the cinemas Woody has shown in his films, from Broadway to the Upper West Side and Upper East Side of Manhattan to Brooklyn.
Broadway Danny Rose
During its glory days when Broadway/Times Square was the home of some of the grandest and most beautiful of movie palaces, the Rivoli theater was one of the most palatial of them all. The theater opened in 1917 and closed in 1987. During those 70 years, the Riovli had long runs with some of the grandest, large scale of Hollywood’s offering’s including “Cleopatra,” “West Side Story,” “The Sand Pebbles” and “Around the World in 80 Days” which ran for 103 weeks. By the time the Rivoli appeared in “Broadway Danny Rose,” the theater had seen better days. Like many large theaters it was twinned and reduced to showing films like “Halloween III” and “Q” as we see in Woody’s film where he and Nick Apollo Forte are crossing Broadway with the Rivoli in the background. Later in the same year “Broadway Danny Rose” was released, the theater was renamed the United Artists Twin.
The Purple Rose of Cairo
Looking to escape the dreary life of the 1930’s Depression, Cecilia (Mia Farrow) spends her free time watching movies at a local theater called the Jewel. While the film take place in New Jersey, Woody commandeered the Kent Theater on Coney Island Avenue in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn for both the exterior and interior shots. The theater is still open today with four screens.
Crimes and Misdemeanors
In one of Woody’s best films, his character, documentary filmmaker Cliff Stern, spends much of his spare time watching movies. In one scene he takes his niece to the Bleecker Street Cinema in Greenwich Village. The theater was located at 144 Bleecker Street and was known for its idiosyncratic series of film showings. In 1964, it showed the 8mm Zapruder film which played along with David L. Wolper’s documentary “A Thousand Days: A Tribute to John F. Kennedy.” The Greenwich Village address has a history of famous residents. Prior to the opening of the theater Mori’s restaurant was located there, immortalized by photographer Berenice Abbott in a 1935 photo. Many years later, after the theater closed, it was the home of one of New York ‘s most unique video stores, Kim’s Video Underground.
The theater can also be seen in “Desperately Seeking Susan.”
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Metro cinema has a long history going back to at least the early 1930’s when it was known as the Midtown Theater. Since then, new owners have come and gone, the name changing to the Metro. The films shown ranged from first run, to second runs, repertory, eventually sliding down to porn before being restored and twinned by Clearview Cinemas bringing it back to mainstream films. Still, in the 2000’s it closed and reopened a few times before closing for good in 2005.
In the film, Mickey, (Woody Allen), is in a despondent mood thinking of suicide. He goes to see a movie at the Metro, the Marx Brothers classic “Duck Soup.” We hear Woody in voiceover as the camera cuts back and forth between Mickey sitting in a balcony seat and the black and white comedy classic on screen.
“Oh Fredonia, oh don’t you cry for me…”
Husbands and Wives
In “Husbands and Wives,” the 68th Street Playhouse is visible. It was a small theater, less than 400 seats, located on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 68th Street. Woody’s first directed effort (ignoring What’s Up, Tiger Lily as an oddity) “Take the Money and Run” premiered there on August 18th, 1969 and was the only theater to pick up the film where it played exclusively until it became an unexpected hit. The photo above is not from the movie but a shot I found on line.
Manhattan Murder Mystery
In “Manhattan Murder Mystery” the interior of the Queens theater where Diane Keaton is kidnapped and the film’s ending shootout were actually shot in Manhattan at the Victory theater on 42nd street. The film was made prior to the restoration project of 42nd street began. Today, the theater is known as the New Victory focusing on live shows for the entire family. It remains one of the oldest operating theaters in New York.
Play it Again, Sam
This is an abnormality in Woody’s filmography. The film is based on a play Woody wrote and starred in on Broadway. Originally set in New York, the film’s location was changed to San Francisco due to a strike by New York’s film unions at the time. At the beginning of the film we see Woody sitting in a San Francisco theater watching “Casablanca” and then leaving the theater. I have been unable to identify the theater or even if it’s a real theater, though I suspect it is an actual San Francisco theater.
“Annie Hall” is a small goldmine of memories filled with New York movie theaters including one of my own favorites, the Beekman theater, which was located at 65th street and 2nd Avenue on the Upper East Side. In the film, Alvy is waiting outside the theater for Annie to show up and is approached by an annoying fan (“I’m here with the cast of The Godfather) who just will not go away until he causes a scene. Fortunately, Annie shows up and they hurry inside the theater only to find out the film has already started. Being the purist, or the neurotic that he is, Alvy cannot get himself to go and see the film once it has begun.
They decide to go “The Sorrow and the Pity” which is playing at the New Yorker Theater at 88th street and Broadway on the Upper West Side which would have meant a trek through Central Park by Taxi. We’re spared the mundane and find them in line waiting, at the theater, for the next show to begin. Behind Alvy we hear a pretentious gentleman pontificating on the works of Fellini and Beckett eventually making his way to his thoughts on Marshall McLuhan. Alvy breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience this guy does not know what he is talking about and what do you do when you get stuck in line with a guy like this. When the man comes forward to defend himself, Alvy brings out from behind a larger advertising sign, Marshall McLuhan.
Upon his return from Los Angeles, separated now from Annie, we see Alvy leaving the Paris theater (still operating as the only remaining single screen theater in New York), located on 58th street, right across the street from the Plaza Hotel.
At the end of the film, Alvy runs into Annie one more time at another Upper West Side theater, the Thalia, like the New Yorker, one of the great repertory theaters in their day. They greet outside the theater, both on dates. Alvy’s tall date was played by a still unknown Sigourney Weaver.
There is a quick glimpse of another theater in the film with the name of the Plaza. The thing is, I first thought it was the Plaza theater that was located on 58th street near Madison Avenue but after further investigation the marquee is all wrong. It could be another theater and the name was changed similar to what was done in “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” Admittedly, I don’t know. The first photo below is a shot from the film. The second photo is the actual Plaza theater that was located on 58th Street.