Sleeper (1973): Woody Allen’s Funny, Witty Spoof, Co-Starring Diane Keaton

Sleeper, Woody Allen’s highly inventive parody, spoofs the sci-fi movie genre, classic dystopian novels, and of course screwball and slapstic comedy (from the silent and sound eras).

This film followed such light and forthy–essentially plotless–comedies as Take the Money and RunBananas, and Everying You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.

Made five years after “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Sleeper” not only parodies Kubrick’s seminal picture; there’s a cameo by Douglas Rain as an evil computer, spoofing HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.” It also caricaturizes sci-fi books, such as George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

Stylistically, the movie alludes to, and borrows from,  slapstick silent comedy (Buster Keaton, Chaplin, slipping on a giant banana peel.), and, of course, the Marx Brothers whose work Allen has professed to admire.

An auteurist work, “Sleeper” was directed, co-written, and stars Allen, who for this picture also composed the soundtrack.

The plot?

Allen plays Miles Monroe, a jazz clarinet musician and owner of a Greenwich Village health food store, who all of a sudden finds himself in the future, circa 2173.

It turns out he was getting a treatment for ulcer in a New York hospital.  When the operation fails, the doctors  put him into the deep freeze.His first steps after waking from a long sleep is to stagger around like “Frankenstein.”

Miles is thought to be a subversive alien by the totalitarian regime, suspected of aiming to overthrow its dictator. To prevent his capture, he disguises himself as a robot.  The chase scenes that follow include some hilariously funny slapstick scenes, in which he outwits the cops, giant computers and robots—and practically every and any possible threat.

Miles’ romantic interest is the eccentric Luna Schlosser, a rich, pretentious intellectual, played by Diane Keaton, Allen’s muse and real-life companion at the time. Jointly, they try to kill the wheel-chaired dictator, who holds a white dog.

There are many sight gags, some of which physical in the manner of a silent comedy of Buster Keaton.  In what would become a prophetic image, the McDonald’s logo shows trillions of hamburgers sold

There are witty barbs aimed at contemporary issues and figures.  An observer remarks, “It’s hard to believe that you haven’t had sex for two hundred years.” “Two hundred and four, if you count my marriage, Allen corrects him,

“What ever happened to Norman Mailer?” someone asks.  To which Allen responds, “He donated his ego to science.”

“Sex and death. Two things that come once in a lifetime. But at least after death you’re not nauseous.”

Despite its necessarily fragmented nature, “Sleeper” is a tight, well-edited picture by pro Ralph Rosenblum.  Joel Schumacher, who designed the costumes for the film, later became a writer and a director on his own.

Intertextuality: References

In one of the film’s funniest moments, Woody Allen impersonates Blanche DuBois, the heroine of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire.  Set in the forest, the scene sees Allen’s Miles with Diane Keaton (as a man), explaining her that Blanche DuBois means in English “White Wood,” before reciting that lay’s most famous line, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Cast

Miles Monroe (Woody Allen)

Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton)

Erno Windt (John Beck)

Dr. Nero (Marya Small)

Dr. Orva (Bartlett Robinson)

Dr. Melik (Mary Gregory)

Rainer Krebs (Chris Forbes)

Dr. Dean (Peter Hobbs)

Jeb Hrmyhmg (Spencer Milligan)

Sears Wiggles (Stanley Ralph Ross)

Credits:

Produced by Jack Grossberg

Directed by Woody Allen

Screenplay: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman

Camera: David M. Walsh

Editor: Ralph Rosenblum

Music: Woody Allen

Production design: Dale Hennesy

Art direction: Dianne Wager

F/X: A.D. Flowers, Jerry Endler

Costumes: Joel Schumacher

Running time: 88 Minutes