Life inspires art


-Woody Allen’s female characters are often modeled after classic cinematic archetypes, but Farrow’s Hannah is a distinct creation. Family and interpersonal dramas, even the great ones, are typically stories about the interactions between individuals’ weaknesses and eccentricities. In a tumultuous family such as the one here, Hannah would be portrayed as the heroic, guiding light in a lesser director’s movie, but Allen instead looks at how quietly oppressive it can be to co-exist with someone without any recognizable human flaws. [2]


-It’s difficult to say whether Hannah is portrayed positively or not. Allen seems to look at her in reverence, but at the same time sympathizes with Holly, Lee and even Elliot in their struggle to relate to her and form a relationship that moves in two directions. [2]


-When Allen gave his completed script to Farrow to read, she was critical of it - something she had never been before, according to her. "To me," she said, "the characters seemed self-indulgent and dissolute in predictable ways." She also couldn't help but notice that there were some things in the Hannah screenplay that hit a little close to home. "It was my mother's stunned chill reaction to the script that enabled me to see how he had taken many of the personal circumstances and themes in our lives, and, it seemed, had distorted them into cartoonish characterizations," she said. "At the same time he was my partner. I loved him. I could trust him with my life. And he was a writer: this is what writers do. All is grist for the mill. Relatives have always grumbled. He had taken the ordinary stuff of our lives and lifted it into art. We were honored and outraged." [3]


-When the time came to cast the film, Allen told Farrow that she could play any part she wanted. However, he did have a preference. "...he felt I should be Hannah," said Farrow, "the more complex and enigmatic of the sisters, he said, whose stillness and internal strength he likened to the quality Al Pacino projected in The Godfather [1972]." Farrow agreed and began preparing for her role in the fifth film she would be making under Allen's direction. [3]


-Maureen O'Sullivan (Norma) plays the mother of her real life daughter Mia Farrow    [1]


-Allen’s future wife, Soon-Yi Previn, appears in the movie as one of Hannah’s daughters. [2]

Michael Caine


-For the part of Hannah's husband Elliot, Woody Allen originally wanted Jack Nicholson. He talked to Nicholson at length about it, but in the end the actor had to pass on Hannah, having already committed to making John Huston's mobster drama Prizzi's Honor (1985). [3]


-Allen subsequently turned to Michael Caine for the part. Caine had been a friend of Mia Farrow's for over 20 years, though he had never worked with her in a film. In fact, Caine had been the person who had originally introduced Farrow to Woody Allen in 1980 at Elaine's restaurant in Manhattan, so there was a special connection between them. "Using an English actor was not my first choice," said Allen in a later interview. "Because I wrote it for an American, I wanted an American. But I was very lucky to get Michael. Michael Caine, I've often said, is incapable of an unreal moment. He's just one of those actors who was born graceful in front of the camera and he's a truly, truly fabulous movie actor. I mean, he's got what you want for the movies, a complete ease and naturalness. Nothing ever seems like acting." [3]


-Other than those uncomfortable moments, Michael Caine found working on Hannah and Her Sisters to be a rewarding experience. He enjoyed being directed by Woody Allen for the first time. "Being an actor himself," said Caine, "Woody was wonderful to work with. He understood the problems and was very tolerant of them and he was a specialist in detail." [3]


-Caine found that making a comedy with Allen was serious business. "When people hear that I have worked with Woody they often think it must be a very amusing experience," said Caine, "but in fact the exact opposite was true. He was a very quiet and sensitive man who liked to work in a very quiet atmosphere, so even the crew on his pictures - who for the most part have worked with him many times, were the quietest crew with whom I have ever worked. The atmosphere on Woody's set was a bit like working in church...Like all comedy writers he doesn't say funny things, but listens to hear if you say something funny that he can use." [3]


Shooting "on-location"


-Shooting began on Hannah and Her Sisters in the Fall of 1984 in New York City. Woody Allen used Mia Farrow's real-life apartment on Central Park West as Hannah's home in the film. Farrow's real-life children were also used in the big family Thanksgiving scenes that bookend the film. With those details--along with having Farrow's real-life mother Maureen O'Sullivan playing Hannah's mother--it made the film something of a family affair, bringing a warmth and familiarity to the set. [3]


-Since Farrow and her extensive brood were actually living in Hannah's fictional apartment during filming, they had to do their best to go about the usual daily routine in a way that fit into the shooting schedule. "The place was pandemonium," said Farrow in her 1997 memoir What Falls Away. "The rooms were clogged with equipment. Forty people arrived at dawn crowding into any available space, our personal treasures were spirited away to who-knew-where. The kitchen was an active set for weeks...Some nights I literally couldn't find my bed...It was strange to be shooting scenes in my own rooms - my kitchen, my pots, my own kids saying lines, Michael Caine in my bathroom, wearing a robe, rummaging through my medicine cabinet. Or me lying in my own bed kissing Michael, with Woody watching...The commotion, and not being able to find anything, sometimes got me a little crazy. But the kids loved it." [3]


-Sometimes, according to Caine, things could get surreal under such circumstances. "When we got to the bedroom scenes, which were shot in Mia's real bedroom (although for propriety's sake I think we had a different bed), things became even more cozy until one day I wound up doing a love scene in bed with Mia in her own bedroom, and being directed by her lover!" said Caine. "This was nerve-racking enough but got even worse when I looked up during the rehearsal to find her ex-husband Andre Previn watching us from the other side of the bedroom. He had come to visit the children and found us all there. It took all my concentration to get through that scene!" [3]

-Released in United States February 7, 1986

-Runtime: 88 mins

-Production Company: Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions

-Distributor: Orion Pictures Corporation

-Rated PG

- Budget $16 million (estimated) [1]

-Gross: $14.7 million [1]

- Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1

-After nine years of dazzling originality and experimentalism, Hannah and her Sisters announces a new phase of Woody Allen’s filmography. The most confident and assured movie he’s made yet, it is the first film that is the unmistakable product of a master director. As its straight-forward title suggests, it is completely stripped of gimmicks and distractions; it is nothing other than the story of Hannah and her sisters. [2]


-Funny and poignant, intimate and complex, Hannah and Her Sisters is considered by many to be among writer-director Woody Allen's best and most richly satisfying films of his entire career. [3]


-Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) was described by Woody Allen as one of his "novels on film." And it is novelistic in style, in denseness and complexity of characters and story, even down to its chapter headings. The film portrays the lives and tangled relationships of Hannah, her two sisters, her parents, her husband and ex-husband, and assorted friends and relatives over the course of two years and three Thanksgivings. During that time, relationships begin and end, lives change, and life goes on. Allen told the New York Times that at first he "had a simple plot about a man who falls in love with his wife's sister." But re-reading Anna Karenina gave him the idea of experimenting with a novelistic style, intercutting and intertwining various stories.  [3]


-Hannah and Her Sisters was the first film in which Woody Allen depicted the warmth and life-affirming aspects of family life in one of his films as opposed to previous stories that centered around single characters or dysfunctional families (Interiors, 1978). It marked a turning point in his work towards a more mature level of complexity that began to show in his subsequent films. The film also offers a rare dash of optimism with the film's uncharacteristically upbeat ending. [3]


-The stories in the movie are all told within the context of Manhattan’s bourgeois elite, a demographic Woody Allen is obviously at home with. Allen has focused his attention on this demographic occasionally in the past (most notably Manhattan), but from now until the early ‘90s he’s almost exclusively interested in it. He’s often criticized for this perceived tunnel vision, and while it’s true that wealthy, neurotic New Yorkers are a seemingly unsympathetic section of the population, it should be appreciated that working in his comfort zone is likely what affords Allen the confidence to create many of the masterpieces he has. [2]

"Hannah and Her Sisters" Screening Companion



-Many of Hannah's scenes were filmed in Mia Farrow's actual apartment. Allen said that Farrow once had the eerie experience of turning on the TV to a chance broadcast of the movie thus viewing her own apartment on TV while she was sitting in it.   [1]


-According to USA Today, upon the film's original release, a movement was afoot to try to make Allen's script the first screenplay to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.   [1]


-Woody Allen was originally going to have a more downbeat ending, but the studios asked him to make it more upbeat.       [1]


-After actors Max von Sydow and Barbara Hershey finished filming their characters' break-up scene, the film crew gave them a standing ovation.   [1]


-There was an explicit lovemaking scene between Elliot and Lee that was shot and cut from the final version, according to Michael Caine. In his 1992 memoir What's It All About? he describes a heated scene between the two lovers in a boat. "I had never seen this before in one of Woody's films," he said, "and thought that by the time we came to shoot it, it would either be toned down or cut entirely, but it wasn't....we shot it, to the great embarrassment of both Barbara and myself, because although you couldn't actually see anything, the movements had to be realistic and we were both relieved when it was finally over. I was still worried that it did not really belong in the movie, and in fact Woody cut the whole sequence from the final film." [3]


-Lloyd Nolan never lived to see the release of the picture. He died about four months before it premiered.   [1]


-The trailer contains a scene not included in the final film: April (Carrie Fisher) and David (Sam Waterston) appear in an art gallery discussing a painting.   [1]


-Woody Allen has said that he was inspired to write this film after a chance re-reading of Tolstoy's novel "Anna Karenina"   [1]


-Four of Mia Farrow's real-life children appear in this film. Two appear as Hannah's son and daughter in the movie, while the other two (including Soon-Yi Previn, who Woody Allen would eventually marry in 1997) appear as young guests in the Thanksgiving scenes.       [1]



-Woody Allen seems to be living in the same apartment in Hannah and her Sisters that he was in Manhattan. [2]


-At 107 minutes, Hannah and Her Sisters was Woody Allen's longest movie up to that point in his career. [3]

-Brooke Shields was considered for the role of April, but she wasn't interested to play the part because she was attending at Princeton.    [1]


-This film marked the first time Woody Allen worked with cinematographer Carlo Di Palma. Allen usually used Gordon Willis, who had been the cinematographer on every one of his films since the Academy Award-winning Annie Hall in 1977, but he was unavailable for Hannah due to a scheduling conflict. Di Palma's excellent work on Hannah led to a new collaborative relationship with Woody Allen that would last over a decade. [3]


-Like many of Woody Allen's films, the soundtrack for Hannah and Her Sisters featured songs and music by some of America's greatest songwriters and composers. Among the tunes that can be heard in the background are "I've Heard That Song Before" by Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn (performed by Harry James), "I Remember You" by Victor Schertzinger & Johnny Mercer (performed by Dave Brubeck), "I'm in Love Again" by Cole Porter (performed by Bobby Short), and "You Are Too Beautiful" by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart. In addition, you can hear some of the cast members singing snatches of popular songs such as "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" sung by Lloyd Nolan and Maureen O'Sullivan or Carrie Fisher singing "The Way You Look Tonight" and Dianne Wiest singing "I'm Old Fashioned." [3]


-As usual on a Woody Allen film, re-shooting was the rule rather than the exception. A part of the budget was even set aside for this purpose, and only about 20 percent of the original script ended up in the film. Many completed scenes were discarded, such as an art gallery sequence with Tony Roberts and a fairly explicit sex scene between Hershey and Caine (Allen decided to cut it because he felt it was inappropriate for "a Woody Allen film"). The upbeat ending was one of the scenes that was added later. The original cut of the film ended with Elliot still in love with Lee despite the fact that she has married her college tutor but Allen recalled that this conclusion "was so down for everyone that there was a huge feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction every time I screened it." [3]


-[Spoiler] According to Mia Farrow, Woody Allen was never able to find an ending to Hannah and Her Sisters that satisfied him. He ended up giving the film an uncharacteristically upbeat ending, though it was a decision that he would never stop re-thinking. "I had written a different ending that was not as upbeat: Michael Caine's character is still hopelessly in love with Hannah's sister, who has married another guy because he couldn't bring himself to act, and he's stuck with Hannah and it's going to be a nothing marriage," Allen told Entertainment Weekly in 2008. "And I shot that ending. But when I looked at it, it was like the picture dropped off the table. It was negative, a downer. So I guided the thing instinctively to an ending where all the characters came out happy, and the picture was very successful. But I never felt positive about it. I felt I had a very poignant idea but finally couldn't bring it home." [3]

Critical Reception


-Hannah and Her Sisters was a rare instance of Woody Allen making a film that was both lavished with praise by the critics and loved by audiences as well. The film was one of his most profitable films at the box office. [3]


-With a box office gross of over $40 million, this film represented Woody Allen's most financially successful film until Match Point in 2005.       [1]


-Hannah and Her Sisters was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Supporting Actor (Michael Caine) and Best Supporting Actress (Dianne Wiest). Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest both won, as did Woody Allen for Best Original Screenplay. It was Allen's second win in that category - the first time had been for his 1977 Best Picture winner Annie Hall. [3]


-With its sharp dialogue, well-drawn characters and Chekhovian balance of comedy and pathos, the screenplay for Hannah and Her Sisters is one of Woody Allen's finest. It won him his second Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (the first was for 1977's Annie Hall). [3]


-Hannah and Her Sisters won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Comedy/Musical. It was nominated for 4 other Golden Globe awards: Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Michael Caine), Best Supporting Actress (Dianne Wiest) and Best Screenplay. [3]


-Woody Allen won the Best Original Screenplay Writers Guild of America (WGA) award for Hannah and Her Sisters. [3]


-"Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, the best movie he has ever made, is organized like an episodic novel, with acute little self-contained vignettes adding up to the big picture. Allen's writing and directing style is so strong and assured in this film that the actual filmmaking itself becomes a narrative voice, just as we sense Henry James behind all of his novels, or William Faulkner or Iris Murdoch behind theirs." - Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times [3]


-Like Annie Hall and Manhattan, Hannah and her Sisters is incredibly dense. Nearly every scene has something to recommend it, and over a dozen characters have a memorable scene or two (including Hannah’s dysfunctional but charming parents, and the vapid movie star who tries to commission a “big” painting from Frederic that will go with his ottoman). The star presence, combined with the film’s wide array of likable characters and abundance of melodramatic plot developments makes it easy to see why it was one of Allen’s biggest hits (and his last hit of any kind until 2005) — for pure, conventional entertainment value, Hannah and her Sisters is almost unbeatable. [2]


-Despite winning numerous accolades for it, the famously self-deprecating Woody Allen reportedly thought that the best film of 1986 was not Hannah and Her Sisters but David Lynch's Blue Velvet. In a 1987 interview with Tom Shales, Allen said, "I don't think Hannah is as good as Blue Velvet. The best picture of the year was Blue Velvet, in my opinion. I just liked everything about it." When Lynch subsequently received an Oscar® nomination as Best Director for Blue Velvet, he reportedly quipped to the press, "I'd like to thank Woody Allen." [3]


-As far as Woody Allen was concerned, there was nothing particularly special about Hannah and Her Sisters-- it was just another Woody Allen Fall Project. [3]


-91% Rotten Tomatoes rating

[1] –

[2] – “Every Woody Allen Movie” website

[3] – Turner Movie Classics