Peter Bogdanovich’s The All Laughed is a classy, bittersweet film. It’s plot is pretty thin, but here’s the gist: a New York City private detective agency is hired to keep tabs on two women suspected of infidelity. Things get interesting when the gumshoes on the trail begin falling for their lovely targets.
The best part of this film is its cast. Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, John Ritter, Dorothy Stratten, Patti Hansen, Colleen Camp, Blaine Novak and George Morfogen all fit their parts so well, it’s not surprising to learn in the bonus material that Bogdanovich wrote the parts with exactly these actors in mind. Hepburn and Gazzara anchor this picture with a measure of class that’s so rare in films today. This was Hepburn’s final starring film role, and she’s as effortless as ever. Gazzara is old-school cool, making moments out of so many of his lines.
John Ritter is a great physically comedic presence in They All Laughed, as a lovesick and bumbling PI. Blaine Novak is a kooky ladies’ man who adds his own playful cool. And the women! Each one gorgeous and captivating in her own way, Audrey Hepburn included, this film is really all about appreciating these incredible women.
There is a lot of visual storytelling in They All Laughed, with plenty of complex scenes playing out with minimal dialogue, at least of the spoken kind. Non-verbal communication is a fine art on display in this film, from hand signals and knowing looks to subtle body language that accomplishes more than a few lines ever could. Making it all work is Bogdanovich’s strong direction and the fluid camera work, which weave together some great sequences.
While there isn’t a strong plot to speak of, this film is worth watching for a lot of reasons. It’s romantic, funny, sad, organic and unusual. It has a certain cult following, but I think that’s due more to the circumstances surrounding the tragic murder of Dorothy Stratten soon after production ended and it’s impact on the film’s box office success. What I mean is, They All Laughed deserves more mainstream recognition as a quality film.
They All Laughed – 25th Anniversary Edition is presented on a single disc, in 1.78:1 (16:9) widescreen format. Five seconds in, and you can tell its age. It doesn’t look bad, but minor film grain and washed out colours are present throughout. That said, the picture is consistent, with the exceptions mostly being a few scenes that look better rather than worse, among them parts of the roller rink sequence and a short scene in a bookstore.
The menus are ok, with a scrolling animation and music on the main menu only, and it’s a pretty lengthy loop.
This disc offers only one audio track, and it’s English 2.0. The audio has suffered more from age than the video has. Dialogue is always clear, but many of the outdoor scenes suffer, and there is on overall flat, subdued nature to the entire track. There is no score here, as the filmmakers instead went with songs playing on radios in cabs or live in clubs during the movie. The music plays on the front and rear side channels, but it just doesn’t sound full.
Audio is English only, with French and Spanish subtitles available.
Bonus material includes a special featurette entitled Director to Director: A conversation with Peter Bogdanovich and Wes Anderson, and an audio commentary by director Peter Bogdanovich.
The conversation between Bogdanovich and Wes Anderson is aptly named, because while it’s lead by questions from Anderson, it’s certainly more than an interview. Anderson responds to Bogdanovich with comments about his own experiences, and he also talks about ways the film has influenced him. We learn right away that They All Laughed is Bogdanovich’s favourite among his own works, and also his most personal. The discussion runs for about 29 minutes, and it covers a good range of topics, including Bogdanovich’s relationships with the actors, his writing and directing, and some production anecdotes.
The audio commentary is informative and interesting. The soft-spoken Bogdanovich has a lot to say about this film of his, and his comments added to my appreciation of the movie. There is some repetition of stuff covered in the featurette with Wes Anderson, but also a lot more insight. Bogdanovich explains a lot about how his own life and the lives of the actors – several of whom having been his close friends – influenced the story. He also makes his love for New York known, pointing out places in the film that are often gone now, from little joints only New Yorker’s would recall to the twin towers.
They All Laughed is billed as a romantic comedy, but it doesn’t really fit the category, especially not the formulaic genre it’s become today. It’s a film about people meeting, connections made, relationships begun and relationships ending. The DVD presentation is decent enough to not get in the film’s way, and insights from writer/director Peter Bogdanovich in the special features bring added value to this 25th anniversary disc.
Special Features List
- Director to Director: A conversation with Peter Bogdanovich and Wes Anderson, featurette
- Director’s audio commentary