American Film


By Steve Siporin

A few days after Christmas in 1971, I was called to work as an assistant director for one day of retakes for a feature film called PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM (1972). It was a Paramount film directed by Herb Ross, starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. Woody had originally written "Play It Again, Sam" for the Broadway stage and had starred in the Broadway production, enjoying a popular success. His inspiration for the play had been the classic Warner Bros. film CASABLANCA (1942), which won the 1943 Academy Award® as Best Picture and starred Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Woody's title, PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM, came from Ingrid Bergman's often-parodied, supposed line in the original film.

When Paramount bought his play for the movies, Woody was signed to write the screen adaptation and to play the leading role as he had done on Broadway. The role he had written for himself was the typical Woody Allen character his public loved to watch: an ineffectual little man who for all his posturing never seems to get the girl he wants. The character is a movie buff with a particular fondness for the romantic, tough guy style of Humphrey Bogart in CASABLANCA (1942). In his fantasies, Woody wishes that he could be as successful with women as his idol Bogart. And who better to tutor him in Bogart's style and technique than Bogie himself. To that end, whenever Woody needs some advice about the women in his life, the ghost of Humphrey Bogart appears, played in a dead-on impersonation by actor Jerry Lacy, complete with a Bogart-like trench coat and slouch hat. Bogie's ghost can only be seen and heard by Woody, not by any of the other characters in the film.

Among the retakes to be shot was a take-off of the final scene in CASABLANCA on the tarmac of an airport. In the 1942 film, directed by Michael Curtiz, Bogart as "Rick" has just said goodbye to his true love "Ilsa" played by Bergman. He watches hard-eyed as she boards the plane that will fly her and her husband "Victor," played by Paul Henreid, out of the movie Casablanca's World War II intrigue and into the safety of the free world at a time when real intrigue festered in the real city of Casablanca in Western Africa's Morocco.

Heroic Bogart stands alone in the misty airport as the airplane takes off. As the plane rises to the safety of the air, Conrad Veidt, as the villainous German officer, arrives. Realizing that Ilsa and her husband have flown away he attempts to make a phone call to have the plane turned back. When Veidt pulls a gun so does Rick, whose bullet kills Veidt. With Veidt dead, Claude Rains, as the corrupt French officer, utters the classic line, "Round-up the usual suspects," because he doesn't want Rick to be arrested. As the movie ends, Bogie and Rains, now buddies in crime, walk off together into the airport mist, friendly enemies.

In the movie PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM, the last scene also occurs at a misty airport. Woody has just said farewell to the woman he loves, Diane Keaton, who is flying off to her true love. Like Bogie in CASABLANCA, Woody, standing alone on the tarmac, knows that he has made the right choice, allowing the woman he loves to go to the man she loves. At that moment, the ghost of Humphrey Bogart appears beside Woody. The film cuts from a single shot of Woody to a "two-shot" of Woody and Bogie's ghost. Then, just like Bogart and Rains in CASABLANCA, Woody and the ghost walk off together into the airport mist as "The End" credit comes up. It was from the single cut of Woody to the"two-shot" of Woody and Bogie's ghost that the retake was needed to accommodate a dialogue change between Woody and the ghost.

The night before the retake was to be filmed, Paramount's costume department discovered that the tweed sports coat Woody had worn in the scene was 3,000 miles away in Woody's New York City bedroom closet. On most films, actor's wardrobe is provided by the production. If the film is modern dress, the costume designer goes shopping for new clothes appropriate for the character. If the wardrobe is for an historical time other than the present or has special requirements, it is rented or made-to-order. Usually, when principal photography is completed, all the clothes purchased or made specifically for the film are stored in the studio's wardrobe department to be used in a future film or to be available if a retake is needed for the film where it was originally worn. On occasion, especially in a modern-dress film, actors often supply their costumes from their personal wardrobe. That's what Woody had done.

The tweed sports coat Woody had chosen to wear in the final scene had a distinctive weave with an unusual combination of colors. The wardrobe master said there was little possibility of finding a duplicate jacket in Hollywood in time to double for the missing sports coat 3,000 miles away.

No problem, the producer said. The company wasn't filming the airport retake until after darkness that evening. With the three-hour time difference between east and west coasts, there was still enough time to fly Woody's sports coat from New York to Hollywood on a commercial jet liner. So, at 7 a.m. Pacific Time, the producer telephoned Woody's assistant in New York and explained the situation. Arrangements were made. The tweed coat was scheduled to be shipped air freight on a non-stop flight that would arrive at the Los Angeles International Airport no later than 5 p.m. Pacific Time. The production office would have a studio car and driver waiting at the airport to pick up the jacket, then drive it across town to the Burbank Airport where the company would be shooting the retake. The jacket should be in the hands of the wardrobe man no later than 6:30 p.m. That was at least a half hour before the retake was scheduled to be filmed.

At 4 p.m. the film crew was arriving at the Burbank Airport, unloading equipment and setting up for the retake on an unused airstrip off to the side of the airport. The set up for the scene wasn't very complicated and would be accomplished quickly, according to Owen Roizman, the cinematographer. But at 5 p.m. the sports coat was not arriving at the Los Angeles Airport as anticipated. There had been a mix-up and the jacket had not been shipped on the expected jet. It was to arrive on a later plane due at LAX shortly after 7 p.m. our time. If this situation had occurred when we were in the midst of principal photography with many scenes left to shoot, the director, Herb Ross, would have found some other scene in the schedule to shoot while we were waiting. But all that was left was this one retake with Woody wearing that darn tweed jacket!

So the company began improvising. Instead of taking the customary on-location half-hour dinner break, the company was given a leisurely full hour to dine. After dinner, a light drizzle began. It was perfect for the scene, but meant that the cinematographer had to readjust the lighting he had already set up. Great! More legitimate work to fill the waiting time. He ran the scene several more times with the stand-ins. Finally, there just wasn't anymore vamping that could be done. The cinematographer said he was ready. That meant only one thing. Bring in the actors.

As the second assistant director, I went to Woody's dressing room trailer, parked some 200 feet away, to tell Woody we were ready for him on the set. Visiting Woody was his second wife, actress Louise Lasser, known for her TV series MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN, a late-night comedic take-off on daytime soap operas. Woody asked me for the tweed sports jacket. I told him that it still hadn't arrived. As an assistant director when the director calls for an actor it is my responsibility, my duty to bring that actor to the set. No excuses! Thinking quickly, I said, "Woody, Herb wants to rehearse the scene, run the dialogue a few times, check the camera moves, even without the jacket!"

Woody understood. He shrugged his shoulders and obligingly came along. As we walked the 200 feet from his trailer to the set, to my alarm, a small Piper Cub airplane came taxing towards us. This wasn't supposed to happen. The air traffic controllers had been directing all air and ground traffic away from our work area to avoid the possibility of an accident. Still, the Piper Cub headed straight for Woody and me, its lights shining on us. We walked faster.

With its wheels screeching, the Piper Cub came to a sudden halt five yards away from us. A small door on the passenger side opened. A man I'd never seen before hopped out and ran towards us. He was holding something. It was Woody's tweed sports coat. As though he were a valet dressing his master, he held the jacket out for Woody. Woody turned, slipped his arms into the sleeves, adjusted the fit, then walked onto the set, dressed in the correct wardrobe, ready to shoot the retake.

The scene was rehearsed one time. Filmed! All departments signaled thumbs up! Smiling, the director Herb Ross called a wrap! Amazing! At the precise moment in time that the jacket was finally needed, the precise moment when the company was finally ready to film the retake, it all came together! Woody's tweed jacket arrived! Not a moment too soon! Not a moment too late! Hollywood magic at work!

Many would think that the cost of hiring the Piper Cub to fly the needed jacket from the Los Angeles airport to the Burbank airport where we were filming was an extravagant waste of money and typical of Hollywood excesses. But it was far cheaper for the studio to pay for the small plane than having to reschedule the shoot for another day and having to pay the actors and the entire crew, including me, yet another day's salary.

Many years later in 2003, the Burbank Airport was officially renamed the Bob Hope Airport, in honor of the comedian and movie star, a long-time resident of nearby Toluca Lake. Hope had died at the age of 100 earlier that year. He had stored his personal airplane for many years at the Burbank airfield. The official ceremonies renaming the airport occurred December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight.