Everybody has a need to laugh, and on several occasions, Woody Allen can be the cure. One of the greatest parts of Allen’s work is that he has been influenced by so many of the greatest comedians of all time, and many of his films borrow from all of these extremely hilarious people. In his 1973 film, Sleeper, Allen reaches way back, starting in the silent era, in an attempt to get laughs with his facial expressions and physical stunts in addition to his always-brilliant dialogue. As the film continues, the viewer get a comic recap from all the different people who influenced Allen in his own career.
Sleeper opens in the year 2173, and a group of scientists have found a pod that contains a man from the past, Miles Monroe (Woody Allen). The scientists discover that Miles has been frozen in this pod for 200 years because he didn’t wake up from a routine surgery, and the doctors froze him in hope of one day finding a cure. The scientists awake Miles and try to convince him to help the “underground” in order to overthrow the current government leader.
Even though the plot is ridiculous, it doesn’t matter. The beauty of Sleeper is not in the believability of the plot, but rather the ingenuity of the script and the cleverness with which Allen accomplishes his comedic scenes. It is obvious to see the influences of Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, Buster Keaton, Benny Hill and Harold Lloyd in every scene. Sleeper is a fitting tribute to the comedic stars that Allen admired while he was growing up. I typically wouldn’t consider Woody Allen to be a physical comedian, but for Sleeper he had to rely more on physical abilities than usual. Luckily he was able to accomplish the physical comedy easily.
While watching Sleeper today, I was struck by how odd it is to think of Woody Allen as a young filmmaker. This was only his fifth directorial movie, and although extremely funny, it lacks the “quality” touch that he gained over the next few years. At this point in his career he was still just in it for the laughs, and there were plenty of those.
An entertaining side note in Sleeper comes when Allen is talking to a machine and the machine begins to talk back, but the voice is that of Douglas Rain (HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey). It is strange that even today his voice is chilling to hear.
In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked Sleeper as the 80th Best Comedic Movie. It is often hard to rank movies on these kinds of lists, but judging from the many times I laughed throughout my viewing, and how hard I laughed at times, Sleeper is much higher on my personal list of comedic films.
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