Why do we still care about "Annie Hall," 40 years after its release (on April 20, 1977)?
Because it's a cinema landmark, the romantic comedy that created the template for nearly all the rom-coms that followed. It was also a landmark film for Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. It made them both Oscar winners, and, even with its dated 1970s cultural references, it's still one of the funniest, truest, most bittersweet movies ever made about why people fall in and out of love.
That "Annie Hall" became so beloved was a miracle, considering its troubled production history. Here's how "Annie Hall" went from self-indulgent disaster to instant classic.
1. How autobiographical is the film? Well, let's start with the fact that Keaton's given last name is Hall. (She assumed her mother's maiden name when she joined the Actor's Equity union, where there was already a Diane Hall.) And Annie was one of Keaton's nicknames.
2. Also, like her character, Keaton broke into showbiz via a nightclub singing act, and she was an accomplished amateur photographer.
3. Like his character Alvy Singer, Woody Allen grew up in Brooklyn (about four miles away from Alvy's childhood home under the Coney Island rollercoaster), and he did become a successful stand-up comic and writer. He also had two failed marriages under his belt when he met Annie -- er, Diane.
4. Keaton met Allen when she auditioned for his 1969 Broadway comedy "Play It Again, Sam." She won the female lead opposite Allen (roles they reprised in the 1972 film), and they quickly became a couple. 5. Their romance was over after a year or so, but they remained close friends; all eight of the movies they made together, including "Annie Hall," came after their break-up.
6. Allen has insisted, however, that "Annie Hall" is not drawn from his and Keaton's lives. "The stuff that people insist is autobiographical is almost invariably not," Allen said in 1987. "It's so exaggerated that it's virtually meaningless to the people upon whom these little nuances are based. People got it into their heads that 'Annie Hall' was autobiographical, and I couldn't convince them it wasn't."
7. The original screenplay, by Allen and writing partner Marshall Brickman, bore little resemblance to the finished film. For one thing, Allen's suggested title was "Anhedonia," a psychiatric term for the inability to feel pleasure. (Imagine that on a marquee.) Brickman's were no better: "It Had to Be Jew," "Rollercoaster Named Desire," and "Me and My Goy."
8. Also, the plot was a lot more ambitious. Part of it had Annie and Alvy investigating a murder, a plot strand that Allen eventually abandoned but rewrote 16 years later, when he and Keaton reunited to make "Manhattan Murder Mystery."
9. There were many other fantasy sequences that didn't make the cut, including time-hopping visits to the Garden of Eden and Nazi Germany, parody sequences inspired by such movies as "Angel on My Shoulder" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," a trip to hell guided by Richard Nixon (a sequence Allen rewrote for "Deconstructing Harry"), and a Monty Python-esque basketball game between the New York Knicks and some famous dead philosophers.
10. Keaton had more faith in the script than even Allen did. "I knew that it was fantastic. I couldn't wait to do it," she recalled in 2003. "Woody had a lot of worries about it. He thought it was going to be a 'Mary Tyler Moore' episode... He didn't trust it. It was a real leap for him. It was a big moment for Woody and he had to be scared. But I wasn't."
11. A few future stars had blink-and-you'll-miss-it roles. Jeff Goldblum was a Los Angeles party guest who's in a crisis because "I forgot my mantra." Beverly D'Angelo played a TV actress in the sitcom for which Rob (Tony Roberts) is dubbing a laugh track. Future "Charlie's Angels" star Shelley Hack was half of the cheerfully-shallow young couple Alvy stops on the sidewalk. And Sigourney Weaver made her screen debut as Alvy's movie-theater date at the end of the film.
12. Oh, and the man in the park that Alvy jokes is the winner of the Truman Capote lookalike contest? That's no lookalike; it really is the "Breakfast at Tiffany's" author.
13. There's also a two-scene appearance by a pre-fame Christopher Walken, as Annie's hilariously disturbed brother Duane. His name is misspelled "Wlaken" in the closing credits.
14.Entertainment Weekly published a wonderful interview with Russell Horton, who played the annoying professor in line at the movie theater (above), the one whose pontifications about Marshall McLuhan Alvy shuts down when he pulls the real McLuhan out of nowhere. Horton -- whom you may know better as the voice of the Trix rabbit in the cereal commercials -- recalls that Allen had originally wanted to make Federico Fellini or Luis Buñuel appear (Horton's character was spouting nonsense about Fellini, too), but the European art-film directors both declined to be in Allen's movie. The gag still worked with the Canadian media scholar, even though, after 17 or 18 takes, McLuhan still stumbled over his dialogue. "He had one line, and he kept blowing it," Horton recalled.
15. There's no instrumental score in "Annie Hall." All the music is pre-existing songs, overheard at parties, on car radios, or sung by Keaton as part of Annie's cabaret act.
16. Annie's costumes, consisting largely of oversized but elegant menswear from Keaton's own wardrobe, spawned a fashion trend, yet they almost didn't happen. Allen said that his costume designer, Ruth Morley, disapproved of Keaton's choices, but he recalled telling Morley, "She's a genius. Let's just leave her alone, let her wear what she wants."
17. Allen famously welcomes improvisation on his sets, and "Annie Hall" was no different. Much of the spontaneous clowning in the lobster-cooking scene (which was the first scene in the shoot) was truly spontaneous. So was the gag where Alvy sneezes away a fortune's worth of cocaine (pictured). Allen and editor Ralph Rosenblum had to lengthen the scene after test audiences laughed so long that they missed the next lines of dialogue.
18. Allen and Rosenblum rescued the sprawling film, whose rough cut ran nearly 2 1/2 hours, in the editing room, slashing most of the fantasy sequences and flashbacks and making the Annie-Alvy romance the backbone of the film. Even then, Allen didn't have an ending for the film; there was an awkward and glum scene of Annie and Alvy after their break-up, and then nothing.
19. It wasn't until Allen was riding in a taxi on the way to a test screening that he came up with an ending, jotting down some notes that evolved into the bittersweet, hopeful monologue that closes the film.
20. "Annie Hall" cost a reported $4 million to make. It earned $38 million in North American theaters, becoming the 11th biggest hit of 1977 and the fourth most lucrative of Allen's nearly 50 films. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $148 million today, making it the biggest-grossing hit of Allen's career.
21. "Annie Hall" was nominated for five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress. It won all but Best Actor.
22. Allen wasn't present to receive his two trophies; he chose not to attend the Academy Award ceremony because it conflicted with his long-standing Monday night gig playing Dixieland clarinet at Michael's Pub in New York.
23. Allen was still unhappy with having transformed his ambitious, psychological screenplay into what he felt was a conventional romantic comedy. Shortly after its Oscar sweep, he referred to "Annie Hall" as "a very middle-class picture that appealed to people because it reinforced middle-class values."