Love and Death hasn’t looked great on previous home video releases, with a particularly rough, hazy-looking DVD release a number of years ago. Let it be said upfront, Twilight Time’s presentation is splendid. Love and Death is, of course, a Napoleonic period piece with more lavish costumes and action set pieces than probably any other Allen production. As such, it’s a pleasure to report that Ghislain Cloquet’s cinematography has simply never looked better. Though there are a few minor print flaws visible here and there, this is a remarkably sharp transfer that uncovers a previously-unseen level of detail. The internationally-shot film was a decidedly low-budget affair, considering its relatively ambitious production design, but we finally get a home video presentation that does it justice.
As for the film itself, I think it’s fair to point out that the past 40 years have not been entirely kind. The irreverent send-up of classic Russian literature still has its share of riotous moments, mixing clever sight gags and wordplay with high brow references to Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. But even at a tidy 85 minutes, the film manages to feel a tad tedious once it edges past the halfway mark. There wasn’t a whole lot of anarchic satire in cinemas to compete with in those days and its madcap (and highly accessible) zaniness made it (like previous Allen films) a popular hit. It certainly marked another artistic progression for Allen at that point in his relatively new directing career, but it suffers from a bit of the same scattershot, hit-and-miss feel as most of his “early, funny ones.”
However, it’s still mostly classic Woody, who stars as the runty intellectual Boris Grushenko—an accidental war hero after being forced to enlist in the Russian Army. Diane Keaton is effervescent as the flitty, pseudo-philosophical Sonja, the apple of Boris’ eye. Structurally, the introduction of their plot to assassinate Napoleon (James Tolkan, aka Principal Strickland in Back to the Future) perhaps comes a bit too late. It might sound contradictory, but as a series of gags and riffs, Love and Death is mostly killer (who doesn’t love the bit where Napolean oversees the creation of the dessert named after him?). But when taken as a complete narrative, it flops around sloppily, making its 85 minutes feel far longer than they should. That said, this is an important part of the Woody Allen filmography and the new Blu-ray is a must own for any fan.
In addition to the strong transfer, Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presents the soundtrack as a crystal clear, unfussy DTS-HD Master Audio lossless mono mix. As expected for a Woody Allen movie, there aren’t really any special features included outside of Twilight Time’s customary isolated music track and a theatrical trailer. Film historian Julie Kirgo contributes another of her excellent liner notes essays.
Woody Allen fans won’t want to delay on this one, with a limited run of the Love and Death Blu-ray available exclusively through Twilight Time’s distributor Screen Archives.