-Allen got the idea for the film after reading an article about a gang of thieves who'd tunneled into a jewelry shop from a store they'd rented next door. Allen thought: What if the robbery didn't work, but they made a killing from the fake store they'd set up next door? [5]


-"I still felt I only had half a story," he explains. "So I started pondering, where do they go from there? They become millionaires. But they miss going to the dog track and watching TV. What they really want is a simple life, and the joy of having each other, which is exactly what they lose when they become rich, so all this sudden wealth makes them very unhappy." [5]


-Allen has had a fascination with criminals. "When I was a child I was always interested in crime," he says. "Other kids could give you baseball players' batting averages. I could do that, but I knew all the gangsters and their jail sentences too. In crime, you've got suspicion, tension, and there's always something at stake, which is a very good atmosphere for a comedian. It's as if you're always walking through a china shop where any wrong move can be very funny." [5]

-Released on May 19, 2000 [1]

-Runtime 94 minutes [1]

-Budget $18 Million, Gross $17 million [1]

-Production companies: DreamWorks SKG (as a DreamWorks release), Sweetland Films (presents) [1]

-Distributor: DreamWorks Distribution [1]

-Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1

-Small Time Crooks is the third of about ten different Woody Allen movies to have been called his ‘comeback.’ This time, Allen was poised to make a commercial comeback by scoring a deal with a major studio (DreamWorks), getting a wide release in late-Spring, and making a movie wholly devoid of anything that might be even remotely offensive or challenging. [2]


-Woody Allen's much-maligned residency at Dreamworks Pictures in the early years of the new millennium is generally viewed now as the nadir of his career, the low point for a once-great director who many critics had long since given up on anyway.  [7]


-However, though the first film of this period, Small Time Crooks, represents a clean break from the work Woody had been making in the preceding years, it's a fine, funny film when taken on its own merits. Certainly, this is the most straightforward the director had been since his "early, funny ones," and that's not necessarily a bad thing. [7]


-...this is the first time in many years that the comic known for his verbal wit allowed himself to fully indulge in more madcap setups. The result might feel like a bit of a step back, a nostalgic film that fits more comfortably in Woody's past than as a product of his mature career, but it doesn't make it any less funny. [7]

"Small Time Crooks " Screening Companion

The DreamWorks' Deal


-Small Time Crooks was Woody Allen's first movie in a deal of four with DreamWorks Pictures. [6]


- The deal covers only comedies. If Allen does more serious films first, he is free to shop them elsewhere. [6]


-The agreement comes in the wake of the ending of Allen's association with producer Jean Doumanian and her Sweetland Films which sold off domestic and foreign rights separately to the last seven Allen films. [4]


-Allen, whose darker, dramatic films generally are less popular than his funny ones, said he has a backlog of good comic ideas he plans to pump out. "I thought I ought to start making some of these ideas because I'm getting older, and who knows what could happen to me?'' said the 64-year-old director. "I don't want to have them lying around in my drawer as unrealized, unattempted great comic ideas that I never got to.'' [6]


"Certainly, our hopes are that Small Time Crooks will do more than 4 or 5 million,'' DreamWorks co-owner Jeffery Katzenberg said. "It's not as though we're counting on 30 or 40 million. If it goes into double digits, it'll be a success.'' [6]


-"Woody is one of the most singular filmmakers of our times," Katzenberg says. "And I think 'Antz' showed Woody how much fun he could have working with an ensemble of actors. We're being realistic; we don't expect him to make $100 million. But he makes movies on a very modest budget, and we think this is a moment in time in Woody's career where he wants to return to the style of comedy he was doing 25 years ago--broad, physical comedy." [5]


Even though Allen's U.S. fan base has shrunk in recent years, his films bring in nearly three times as much money overseas as in America. So if DreamWorks can simply return Allen to his 1995-era $10-million box-office plateau, he could turn a modest profit, thanks to his video and foreign sales. [5]


-DreamWorks is opening the movie in about 750 theaters, far wider than Allen's movies typically play. [6]-Impressed by Allen's voice work as the lead character in "Antz," which took in more than $90 million in 1998, the studio believes Allen can reach a wider spectrum of comedy fans if he's just handled right [5]


-DreamWorks put up $10 million of the $18-million budget for the film... The studio has even taken out a host of TV ads, including spots on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." ("You have to figure that a movie about someone that robs banks is perfect for 'Millionaire,' " says DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press.) [5]


-Determined to broaden Allen's audience, DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press flew to New York and persuaded the filmmaker to embark on a four-college tour. Allen reluctantly agreed: "Everyone else was doing something for the film, so I didn't want to be a louse." DreamWorks had no problems recruiting moderators: New Yorker editor David Remnick hosted an Allen appearance at NYU; Roger Ebert emceed at the University of Chicago; critic Jay Carr was the host at Harvard; and Andy Kaufman biographer Bill Zehme handled UCLA. [5]


-"In a way, 'Antz' was the most successful Woody Allen movie of all time," DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press says. "Tons of people went to see that movie that would never have been caught dead at a Woody Allen film. So we're selling 'Crooks' first as a comedy, second as a Woody Allen film. And we're putting it out at a time when there really isn't a movie for adults, because all the kids are off seeing 'Gladiator' and 'Road Trip.' " [5]



-The film's plot is very similar to that of the 1942 comedy Larceny, Inc. Allen has never commented on whether this was deliberate or if his film was in any way inspired by Larceny, Inc.. [3]


-Woody Allen places a large gumball machine in one of the opening scenes to create a link between his character, Winkler, and fellow inept criminal Virgil Starkwell from his other film Take the Money and Run. [1]


-The film contains several references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short story 'The Red-Headed League,' including the plot to break into a bank through the basement of an adjacent storefront and Frenchy's attempt memorize the contents of the dictionary. [1]

-Allen originally planned to shoot this film in black & white, but abandoned it at the last minute because it would’ve been too difficult. [2]


-The movie poster is based on an NYPD campaign from the 70s with the phrase "Never Give a Criminal an Even Break." [1]


-When Denny, Ray, Tommy and Benny first begin digging the tunnel, while discussing who can use the drill, Denny calls Ray (played by Woody Allen) Woody. [1]


-Woody Allen wrote Small Time Crooks, Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Hollywood Ending all at the same time. [2]


-Small Time Crooks was Allen's biggest hit since Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). [2]

Critical Reception


-Roger Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun Times: "Something has changed with Woody Allen the performer. I sort of feel guilty even saying this, but as an actor, he’s just not funny anymore. By now it would’ve been reasonable to call him one of cinema’s greatest working writers or directors, and he’s even a fully capable dramatic actor, but when was the last time one of his performances was truly hilarious? He’s had the benefit of good lines in many of his recent films, but Small Time Crooks is the first movie in which he’s aiming for pure, out-right physical humor, and failing. Allen was once the most popular stand-up comedian in America, but that part of him seems to have disappeared." [2]


-Stephen Holden for The New York Times wrote: "In this sweet, funny wisp of a movie, Mr. Allen shucks off his fabled angst and returns in spirit to those wide-eyed days of yesteryear, before Chekhov, Kafka and Ingmar Bergman invaded his creative imagination."


-J. Hoberman for the Village Voice wrote: "It's my pleasure to report that Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks doesn't pretend to be anything more than a well-executed caper. Eschewing payback, Allen's funniest, least sour outing in nearly a decade is a small movie with a tidy payoff...Hilariously designed, vibrantly shot, and deftly paced, Small Time Crooks is a conventional fable but a generous screwball comedy. The movie gives vulgarity a good name."


-Kevin Thomas for Los Angles Times wrote: "Handsome as all Allen films are, and it proceeds with the brisk, sophisticated air of throwaway confidence and lack of pretense that we expect from the contemporary master of grown-up comedy.

-Of course, any sort of comeback was not his intention [with this film]. Like all of his movies, I’m sure he made this the way he did because he just felt like it (with DreamWorks and headline-hungry reviewers cooking up the comeback angle). Regardless, the end result is both worrisome and encouraging. Worrisome because, for the first time, Allen is basically working with sitcom-level material, but encouraging because he’s pretty good at it. [2]


-Marjorie Baumgarten for the Austin Chronicle wrote: "A pleasant frolic, but fairly inconsequential in terms of the overall Allen output."


-Woody's sharp-tongued dialogue propels the film through the sometimes creaky structure of its second half: the drastic shifts and time-jumps in the narrative make it seem like an epic even at a trim hour and a half. The film especially shines, however, whenever Woody is paired off with the great comedienne Elaine May, who plays Frenchy's daft cousin. The chemistry between Woody and May is electric, and their scenes together are alive with the thrill of watching two fantastic comics bounce off one another. [7]


-Tracey Ullman got a Golden Globe nomination. [2]


- It was also one of the few later Allen films which did less [box office] outside the U.S. and Canada, and its global gross was $29.9 million. [3]


-67% Rotten Tomatoes rating

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