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Miles Monroe (Woody Allen), the proprietor of the Happy Carrot Health Food Restaurant in Greenwich Village, goes into the hospital for a routine ulcer operation and wakes up 200 years later in a totalitarian society where he is considered a dangerous subversive. A twentieth-century update of the Rip Van Winkle legend, Sleeper (1973) was Woody Allen's fourth film and a major turning point for him. Unlike his earlier comedies which were loosely structured plots held together by a string of jokes, Sleeper was Allen's first attempt at a tightly scripted narrative with fully developed characters. Still, there are plenty of Mack Sennett-inspired chases, sight gags like Miles slipping on a giant banana or battling a giant chocolate mousse, and funny pot shots at MacDonald's, Richard M. Nixon, and Norman Mailer.
The idea for a science-fiction comedy came to him while he was shooting the 'sperm' sequence for his parody of Dr. David Reuben's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). The initial plan was for a three-hour movie with an intermission; the first part would be set in the present and the second half in the future. But Allen quickly realized the scope of the project was too overwhelming and focused solely on the futuristic element.
The special effects required for the film would soon become the most difficult part of the production and create considerable tension on the set due to Allen's exacting standards. All the bubble-topped cars operated by levers, mechanized props, and stunt gags led Allen to comment at one point, "This is a movie about wires." Other technical challenges were faced in scenes involving the robot factory, the gadget-filled house of scientist Dr. Melik, and the future farm with its 12 foot-high vegetables. One of the most visually impressive scenes - a fantasy sequence with Woody as a white pawn on a vast chess set - was later cut for reasons of length along with a scene where Woody performs magic tricks to impress his girlfriend Luna (Diane Keaton).
Monterey, California, the Mojave Desert, and Denver, Colorado were among the locations used for Sleeper (the first choice, Brasilia, had been ruled out) and the anachronistic music score is by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the New Orleans Funeral and Ragtime Orchestra featuring Allen on clarinet. Sleeper is also notable as the first collaboration between screenwriter Marshall Brickman (Annie Hall, 1977) and Allen. And in case you're wondering, costume designer Joel Schumacher is the same guy who directed Batman and Robin in 1997.
When Sleeper opened commercially, it received the best reviews to date of any of Allen's films and firmly established Woody and Diane Keaton as a great comedic team. It is also one of the few films you'll see where Allen actually laughs on screen. In this case, it's the scene where Miles, as a robot servant, gets aroused by a metal ball known as "The Orb."
Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Marshall Brickman, Jack Grossberg, Charles H. Joffe, Jack Rollins (executive), Ralph Rosenblum
Screenplay: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Cinematography: David M. Walsh
Editor: Ron Kalish, Ralph Rosenblum
Production Design: Dale Hennesy
Art Direction: Dianne Wager
Music: Woody Allen (uncredited), Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Cast: Woody Allen (Miles Monroe), Diane Keaton (Luna Schlosser), John Beck (Erno Windt), Mary Gregory (Dr. Melik), Don Keefer (Dr. Tryon).
C-88m. Letterboxed. Close captioning.
by Jeff Stafford