Interiors (1978): Woody Allen’s Bergmanesque Melodrama, Starring Geraldine Page and Diane Keaton

United Artists (Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe Production)

Inspired by the work of Ingmar Bergman, Woody Allen’s “Interiors” is the soul-searching, gloomy tale of one troubled upper middle-class family, whose members are plagued by all kinds of anxieties and self-doubts. It’s also one of Allen’s few self-conscious and ultimately derivative works.  The main reason to see this film is Geraldine Page’s stunning, deservedly Oscar-winning performance. (See below).

At the time, critics charged that this somber psychological drama, devoid of the slightest hint of comic relief, was Woody Allen’s homage to his hero, Ingmar Bergman. The movie was made between the hit comedy “Annie Hall,” which won the 1977 Oscar and the stylized black-and-white serio-comic meditation on love, “Manhattan” in 1979, both superior works to Interiors.

Who are the members? The mother, not too subtlely named Eve (Geraldine Page) is a shaky interior decorator who goes through a nervous breakdown, when her long-time marriage collapses. The father, Arthur (E.G. Marshall), an aging wealthy lawyer, has left Eve and has taken with Pearl (Maureen Stapleton) a warm if a bit vulgar Jewish woman.

As is the norm of such plays and films, there are three Chekhovian daughters: Flyn (Kristin Griffith) is a self-centered TV actress; Renata, a successful poet-writer (Diane Keaton), married to a frustrated hack novelist, Frederick (Richard Jordan); and Joey (Mary Beth Hurt), the youngest sibling, still lives with her mother and dates Mike (Sam Waterston). Arthur’s announcement that he’s about to marry Pearl throws the unit off balance, and the daughters rush to their mother’s side to help her with her crisis, only to realize that each has a bundle of her own to deal with.

It’s no accident that the psychiatrist is Jewish. The movie contrasts two subcultures, the insular WASPish family and the heartfelt but simple and crass Jewish, and it’s disappointing that the usually astute writer Allen employs such broad clichs.

While the disruption of comfortable stable and bourgeois life occurs by accident, the obsession with surfaces and appearances, the moral rigidity in the face of changing conditions, and the despair and insecurity beneath surface are depicted as inherent problems of upper-middle-class New York.

Beginning with the title, and continuing with the pacing and pregnant looks, “Interiors” is not of the few pretentious pictures Allen has made. And the movie wears its ideology and symbols on its sleeves, as in the all-too-obvious scene, in which Pearl breaks a precious vase, an idea that Allen may have borrowed from Douglas Sirk’s melodramas of the 1950s.

Allen’s tribute to Bergman is both thematic and stylistic. Note how Allen, assisted by cinematographer Gordon Willis, positions his actors against white or blank walls, and how they each engage in long, self-absorbing monologues that are directly addressed at the camera. In a few years, Allen would work with Bergman’s photographer, Sven Nykvist.

Allen would deal more effectively and with humor with similar structure and characters in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” in 1986.

The costumes were done by Joel Schumacher, who began as an interior decorator and wardrobe designer, before striking on his own as a director in the 1980s.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 5

Director: Woody Allen

Actress: Geraldine Page

Supporting Actress: Maureen Stapleton

Screenplay (Original): Woody Allen

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Mel Bourne; Daniel Robert

Oscar Context

“Interiors” lost in each of its five categories. The Director Oscar went to Michael Cimino for “The Deer Hunter”; Actress to Jane Fonda in “Coming Home,” which also won Original Screenplay; Supporting Actress to Maggie Smith in “California Suite”; and Art Direction to “Heaven Can Wait.”


Eve (Geraldine Page)

Arthur (E.G. Marshall)

Renata (Diane Keaton)

Flyn (Kristin Griffith)

Joey (Mary Beth Hurt)

Frederik (Richard Jordan)

Pearl (Maureen Stapleton)

Mike (Sam Waterston)

Judge Bartel (Henderson Forsythe)


Produced by Charles H. Joffe. Sirected and Written by Woody Allen. Camera: Gordon Willis Art Direction-Set Decoration: Mel Bourne; Daniel Robert. Editing: Ralph Rosenblum. Costumes: Joel Schumacher.

Running time: 93 Minutes