-The first widely released "mockumentary." [1]


-Allen thought of using his then wife, Louise Lasser, for his leading lady (who is called Louise in the story), but she was a screen unknown. [3]


-One hundred San Quentin prisoners were paid a small fee to work on the film during the prison sequences. The regular cast and crew were stamped each day with a special ink that glowed under ultra-violet light so the guards could tell who was allowed to leave the prison grounds at the end of the day. [1]


Micil Murphy returned to prison for a role in the film. He had become an actor after being paroled from San Quentin in 1966 after serving five and a half years for armed robbery. [1]


-Co-scripter Mickey Rose appears as one of the men on the chain gang. [3]


-The film Virgil shows his gang ("Trout Fishing in Quebec") is listed as being a Rollings and Joffe production, the real-life producers of Woody Allen. [1]


-Virgil Starkwell's given birth date - December 1, 1935 - is, in fact, Allen's birth date. [1]


-Many of the cast members were non-professionals and were chosen because they would seem more authentic and real than character actors in the "documentary" approach Allen had in mind. [3]


-The "Spring Street Settlement House Marching Band," with which Woody Allen attempts to play cello in an early scene, was really the marching band of Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California, just north of San Francisco. The band had received an invitation to perform at Disneyland in a festival of high-school bands and the fee they received from the film helped to pay for their trip. [1]


-Another possible film reference in Take the Money and Run occurs in the soft-focus sequence of Virgil courting Louise. Scenes like that were becoming a staple in romantic dramas and even in television commercials, thanks to the popularity of such films as Claude Lelouch's A Man and a Woman (1966) and Bo Widerberg's Elvira Madigan (1967). According to editorial consultant Ralph Rosenblum, however, Allen's intention was not to parody these romances but to utilize their style. [3]

Before Woody Allen the Director


-By way of background to the genesis of this movie and the career it started, the filmmaker who has been a dominant force in American films for three decades started in the medium rather inauspiciously, failing a film course at New York University and dropping out after one semester. Woody Allen's distinctive comic take on life soon found its outlet in writing, first for television, then as a well-known stand-up on the Greenwich Village club circuit, records and college campuses. He made his feature film acting and writing debut with Clive Donner's farce What's New Pussycat? (1965). Shortly after, he took his first steps into filmmaking by writing new comic dialogue voiced by American actors and dubbed over the original soundtrack to a minor Japanese spy thriller entitled Kagi no Kagi; the result was What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966). He also co-wrote and acted in the James Bond spoof, Casino Royale (1967), a year after his first play, Don't Drink the Water, premiered on Broadway. His first film efforts as a director were two shorts he made for a 1969 Kraft Music Hall special featuring him and a young actress named Candice Bergen. [3]


F-or his first project, Allen set out to put on screen a comedy script he had written with his old friend Mickey Rose, one of several writers who also contributed to the script of What's Up, Tiger Lily?. [3]

-Allen and Rose had grown up together and worked in tandem, line by line, in the same room with one typewriter on which they would take turns putting down their ideas. Although he would work differently later, whether in collaboration or alone, the process with Rose was the beginning of what would become Allen's typical writing method, diving directly into the script from ideas in his head, working very quickly without treatment, synopsis or notes. [3]


-Right from the start of scripting Take the Money and Run, Allen was creating his now-familiar film persona. It was a refinement of what he had developed in stand-up and his first movie roles, that of a well-intentioned but ineffectual, clumsy, nervous person, a physical coward and a man who is driven by his desire for beautiful women. Allen's character evolved from similar traits in many of the classic film clowns, from Chaplin to Groucho to Bob Hope, but he gave it a contemporary urban edge. The script was tailored so specifically for his persona that in its initial drafts the character name was "Woody" instead of "Virgil Starkwell." [3]

-Allen was encouraged and supported in his pursuit of the project by Charles H. Joffe and Jack Rollins, who started out managing his writing career. They pushed him to follow his urge to perform his routines on stage. When he started Take the Money and Run, it seemed natural that they would function as his producers and help him develop as a filmmaker. However, they were a little wary of him trying to do too much with his first feature. Writing the screenplay and starring in Take the Money and Run was one thing but to also direct it seemed too ambitious for a first effort. Rollins, in particular, was afraid Woody would be perceived as an egomaniac. [3]


-After these first missteps, Rollins and Joffe had a change of heart and started shopping the project around with Allen attached as director. They eventually hooked up with a newly formed company, Palomar Pictures, a subsidiary of ABC that had backed Allen's Play It Again, Sam on Broadway. The company decided to give him the chance. With a small ($1.7 million) budget and assurances of creative control, he took the plunge. [3]

A Surprise Success


-Executives of Palomar Pictures, the production company that backed Take the Money and Run, sat stone-faced on their first screening of the finished product and didn't want to release it. Charles Joffe persuaded them to make two prints and let it open at the 68th Street Playhouse, a small art cinema in Manhattan, in August 1969. The film ended up breaking all records for ticket sales at the theater, and after some positive reviews, was given a wider release. [3]


-Playing on only 18 screens in 15 cities nationwide, Take the Money and Run performed quite well. It also was a surprise box office hit in Greece. [3]


-United Artist executives were so impressed by Take the Money and Run that they approached Charles Joffe with a deal substantially better than their original paltry rejected offer of $750,000. Joffe asked for a $2 million budget per film, total creative control once the studio green-lighted the idea, and a three-picture contract. The studio agreed. [3]

The Learning Curve


-This was the first movie that Woody Allen directed. His initial lack of either confidence or track record prompted him to initially ask Jerry Lewis to direct the movie, but Lewis was busy with his own work. [1]


-As a neophyte director, Allen admitted he sought very little help from more experienced filmmakers. "It never occurred to me for a second that I wouldn't know what to do," he said, and let the vision of the film in his head guide how to do it. He did have lunch with Arthur Penn who imparted some technical information (such as the process of color correcting shots) and some logistical details, but otherwise, he just dove in. [3]


-Allen may not have known much about directing, but he knew what he liked, so he showed his crew some movies that would make more concrete his abstract thoughts about what he wanted: Blow-Up (1966) for the use of color, Elvira Madigan (1967) for its lyrical romanticism, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) for its sympathetic prisoner-on-the-run theme, and The Eleanor Roosevelt Story (1965) for its documentary approach to a subject. [3]


Most of Allen's production team was chosen for him, but he did pick the costume designer, cinematographer and art director. A few weeks into production, however, he encountered problems with his choices and fired both the costumer and cinematographer. [3]

San Francisco was chosen for location work after it was decided that using the first choices, either New York or Florida, would add $500,000 to the budget. The city had to double for locations as widespread as New Jersey, Ohio, Baltimore and Georgia. [3]

Principal photography on Take the Money and Run began in the summer of 1968. Allen later said he was not nervous about his first day but was so excited about shooting on location in San Quentin prison that he cut his nose shaving that morning. The mishap can be seen in the prison scene in the movie. He and his team found the inmates there to be very friendly and cooperative. The prison authorities also eagerly welcomed the production but issued a warning: cast and crew were always to be accompanied by guards and if taken hostage, the gates would not be opened to secure their release. [3]


-Allen encouraged his cast to improvise, often shooting as many as three impromptu gags for each scene. [3]


Allen shot countless takes on Take the Money and Run and printed most of them because in his inexperience he assumed a good director must do many takes and protect himself with coverage from all angles. He continued the practice on his first few movies but then gained the confidence to do what felt more right to him - long takes, with little or no coverage and very few retakes. [3]


-After firing Fouad Said, Allen tried to hire veteran Italian cinematographer Carlo Di Palma, who had shot Antonioni's Red Desert (1964) and Blow-Up (1966), but Di Palma was not available. He eventually came to work for Allen nearly 20 years later on Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). He shot 11 feature films and one TV movie with Allen between that first assignment and Deconstructing Harry (1997). [3]


-Filmed for 10 weeks in the San Francisco area. Allen joked that it was a better place to spend the summer than Cleveland but, in reality, he knew that the city was compact enough to allow him and his crew to complete 87 moves in 50 days. His film crew knew that such a daunting schedule was more suited to the TV industry, where working till 10 or 11 at night was commonplace. But Allen completed the film without once working late, and several times he wrapped for the day at 4 o'clock. [1]


-Fouad Said, the film's original cinematographer, who was replaced a few weeks into production, had recently invented the Cinemobile for the TV show I Spy, a vehicle that facilitates the transport of equipment on location shoots. Using this device, Allen was able to shoot as many as six locations per day, three times the usual for a Hollywood film unit at that time. As a result, he brought the picture in nearly a half million dollars under budget and a week ahead of schedule. [3]

-Runtime: 82 minutes

-Released on April 28, 1971

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

-Distributor: United Artists

-Rated PG-13

-Budget: $2 million [1]

-Gross: NA

-Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1


"Take the Money and Run" Screening Companion

-Finally, after a couple of false starts, Woody Allen debuts as cinema’s greatest writer/director/actor. This is a lofty title, although there’s been virtually no one since the silent era to contest it. The list of great writer/directors is long and prestigious. The list of actor/directors is shorter, and the list of great writer/actor/directors is so short, you’d probably end up having to include Ben Affleck just to fill out a top ten. [2]


-Woody Allen's decision to become his own director was partially spurred on by the chaotic and uncontrolled filming of Casino Royale, in which he had appeared two years previously. [1]


-The first time Woody Allen performed the triple duties of writing, directing and acting in a film. [1]


The contract Allen had with Palomar Pictures gave him carte blanche to do what he wanted with Take the Money and Run, including final cut, setting the precedent for how he works to this day. "They never bothered me," he said. "It was a very pleasant experience. And from that day on I never had any problems in the cinema from the point of view of interference in any way."



-The real story of the Take the Money and Run production began after shooting wrapped. Allen's attempts to cut the picture together were, by all accounts, disastrous. One of the main problems was that he had chosen to end the film on a very downbeat note, having Virgil die a bloody death in a hail of gunfire, a la Bonnie and Clyde (1967). This was followed by a brief humorous scene at his funeral when his wife hears him whisper from below ground, "Get me out." But even this last gag couldn't undo the humorless effect of that violent death scene. [3]


-To test initial audience reactions to Take the Money and Run, Allen screened the rough cut for soldiers recruited from a USO club. Although he learned later from more seasoned directors that they always explain gaps, changes, and areas for future work in a rough-cut screening, at the time he just ran the film as is without comment. The young men at each of the screenings sat stone-faced all the way through. The worried producers turned for help to editor Ralph Rosenblum, who had cut Mel Brooks's acclaimed comedy The Producers (1968). [3]


-Rosenblum found Allen to be reserved, despondent about the problems with his film, but not at all arrogant or demanding. He admitted to not knowing what he was doing and followed Rosenblum's suggestions. [3]

-One of the first things Rosenblum did was to ask to see all the material that had been cut out. He found that Allen had removed many of his funniest bits. [3]

-Another Rosenblum touch was to rearrange the film. Since it was so loosely structured anyway, with many scattershot visual one-liners, he was free to use the documentary style to change the order and pace of the film to better effect. He split the interviews with Virgil's parents into several segments that he could go back to in order to have something to cut away to, a bridge between other sequences. [3]

-Rosenblum had Woody write new pieces of narration and voiceover to help bridge the disparate pieces. Allen displayed a virtuosic ability to go into a corner and whip out new pages in no time that fit perfectly with Rosenblum's suggestions. [3]

-The new editor (listed in the credits as editorial consultant) also identified the music as a key problem with the picture. He found that Allen had put gloomy music behind some of the scenes to emphasize his character's sad life. Rosenblum substituted new, upbeat music-a Eubie Blake ragtime piece here, a bossa nova there - to show Allen the improvement, and offered the advice to always cut with music, even before scoring was done. This aspect of the picture was also helped tremendously by composer Marvin Hamlisch, a former rehearsal pianist new to the business who amazed everyone with his ability to take suggestions and compose just the right piece of music in virtually any style in an astonishingly short period of time. [3]

-Despite their satisfaction with Hamlisch's work, everyone was driven slightly crazy by his personality. He would call constantly, obsessive and nervous, wanting to discuss the score, begging people to hear what he had immediately written. Sometimes he even insisted they listen over the phone, questioning what instruments they preferred to hear playing, asking for scenes to be extended to accommodate the motifs he had created. Hamlisch's melodramatic nature increased when he was around the calm and not very talkative Allen. At a recording session for the main title sequence, an original ballad with which Hamlisch was particularly pleased, Allen listened impassively, shrugged, and asked, "What was that?" The composer was so devastated that when Allen left the room, he lay down on the floor of the studio and wept. [3]

Critical Reception


-Vincent Canby for The New York Times wrote, “"The nicest surprise of Take the Money and Run is that it shows [Allen] has been able to compliment visually the word-oriented humor of the writer-performer. ... Allen has made a movie that is, in effect, a feature-length, two-reel comedy-something very special and eccentric and funny."


-Canby also wrote, "Like a nightclub monologue, the movie has a sort of loose-leaf form. You have a feeling that scenes and, perhaps, entire reels could be taken out and rearranged without making much difference in total impact, which is good because it all looks so effortless. Allen and Mickey Rose...have illustrated in fine, absurd detail the world that Allen has been talking about all these years."


-Roger Ebert for Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “In all fairness, maybe I hit Take the Money in the wrong mood. But I doubt it. You keep wanting the movie to be funnier than it is-but it isn't. A lot of reviewers think it's the comic masterpiece of the decade."


-Ebert continued, "Woody Allen's "Take the Money and Run" has some very funny moments, and you'll laugh a lot, but in the last analysis it isn't a very funny movie. It isn't really a movie at all. I suspect it's a list of a lot of things Woody Allen wanted to do in a movie someday, and the sad thing is he did them all at once....The blackouts before the credits are particularly good. And other scenes (notably Woody's tangle with a prison shirt-folding machine, and his escape attempt while chained to five other prisoners) are hilarious. But the editing should have been done more ruthlessly, to get rid of things that seemed funny at the time but aren't funny in the movie..."


-Every Woody Allen Movie website wrote, “The movie seemingly aims low — for goofy laughs — but there’s barely a minute that isn’t funny, good-natured and entertaining. Just like Spinal Tap, Take the Money and Run may not change the way anyone looks at the world or thinks about life, but it makes a convincing argument that, to be considered a classic, maybe it’s good enough to just be very, very funny.” [2]


-"Spiced up with a little of everything, it's clear that Allen intended Take the Money and Run as a showcase for his comical talents. Throughout he engulfs the camera in a torrent of passing jokes, good only for a laugh then disposed of without regret. These tend to stick to the traditional physical and visual lines established in other films of the genre, while Allen still places his personal spin on the proceedings. The contrast with his later, more cerebral, work is stark, though even here some of Allen's neuroses can be glimpsed in nascent form...Ultimately, Take the Money and Run is unsatisfying to audiences brought up on Allen's later works. It's full of good ideas but without the insight that has come with greater maturity, the movie's an empty ride. The chaos, satire and slapstick help of course, so overall perhaps Take the Money and Run is worth catching as a rare curiosity of Allen's formative years." - Damien Cannon


-Allen was nominated for both Male Comedy Performance and Male New Face in the Motion Picture Exhibitors' Laurel Awards, and the screenplay was nominated for Best Comedy by the Writers Guild of America. [3]


-90% Rotten Tomatoes rating

[1] -
[2] -

[3] – Turner Movie Classics

[4] - The Unruly Life of Woody Allen by Marion Meade