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Love and Death

original film poster
Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Charles H. Joffe
Written by Woody Allen
Mildred Cram
Donald Ogden Stewart (uncredited)
Starring Woody Allen
Diane Keaton
Jessica Harper
Olga Georges-Picot
James Tolkan
Denise Peron
Harold Gould
Alfred Lutter
Howard Vernon
Cinematography Ghislain Cloquet
Editing by Ron Kalish
Ralph Rosenblum
George Hively
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) June 10, 1975
Running time 85 min.
Country United States
Language English

Love and Death is a 1975 comedy film by Woody Allen. Starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, Love and Death is a satirical take on Russian epic novels. Coming in between Sleeper and Annie Hall, Love and Death is in many respects an artistic transition between the two. It is the last of Allen's movies that tries to get as many laughs as possible, but contains a lot of commentary on philosophy, a balance which that Allen feels makes it one of his best and most personal films. Keaton and Allen, as Sonja and Boris, Russians living during the Napoleonic Era, engage in mock-serious philosophical debates.



Mikhail Nesterov's painting The Vision of the Youth Bartholomew (1890) might have served as influence for young Boris' own encounter with Death.

The dialogue and scenarios parody Russian novels, particularly those by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, such as The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, The Gambler, The Idiot, and War and Peace. The use of Prokofiev for the soundtrack adds to the Russian flavor of the film. This includes a dialogue between Boris and his father with each line alluding to or being composed entirely of Dostoevsky titles. Prokofiev's "Troika" from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite is featured prominently, for the film's opening and closing credits, and in selected scenes in the film when a "bouncy" theme is called for.

Some of the humour is straightforward; other jokes rely on the viewer's awareness of classic literature or contemporary European cinema. For example, the final shot of Keaton is a reference to Ingmar Bergman's Persona, the sequence with the stone lions is a parody of Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and the plotline involving the Countess, her jealous lover and his duel-gone-awry with Allen's character is an homage to Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night. Bergman's The Seventh Seal is quoted all throughout, and the Totentanz at the end is lifted entirely.

Allen pays tribute to the humor of the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope and Charlie Chaplin throughout this film. In one particularly funny portion of the movie, Allen and Diane Keaton parody a scene taken from Animal Crackers, a Marx Brothers film, which itself was a parody of a Eugene O'Neill play.

Plot summary

When Napoleon invades the Russian Empire during the Napoleonic wars, Boris Grushenko (Allen), a coward and pacifist scholar, is forced to enlist in the Russian Army, desperate and disappointed hearing the news that his cousin Sonja (Keaton) is to wed a herring merchant. He inadvertently captures a group of enemy soldiers, but to no avail, as the French army reaches Moscow immediately afterward. He returns and marries the recently-widowed Sonja (who really does not want to marry Boris, but promises him she will when she thinks he is about to be killed in a duel), a marriage filled with philosophical debates, and no money. Boris thinks that the French invasion of Moscow should put an end to the war. His narcissistic wife, angered that the invasion will interfere with their plans to start a family that year, conceives a plot to assassinate Napoleon at his quarters. Boris and Sonja debate the matter with some degree of philosophical double-talk, and Boris reluctantly goes along with it. Miraculously (or perhaps not), Sonja escapes arrest while Boris is not so lucky.


The movie is full of deliberate humorous anachronisms:

  • In a brief interlude, Boris works as a struggling poet, reading from a poem he eventually wads up and throws out he says, "I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas," a quote lifted from T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. ("Too sentimental," Boris decides as he throws out the poem.)
  • Boris (Allen) retains his trademark glasses despite their anachronistic absurdity; at one point Boris says to Sonja after a diatribe filled with exasperation and self-loathing, "Do you think God wears glasses?" and she replies, "Not with those frames!"
  • A vendor, complete with New York accent and attired as if he were at a ballpark, is selling "red hots" to soldiers during a battle. Allen's character apparently offers him a large-denomination currency, and he remarks, "Hey, you got anything smaller? I just started!"
  • A black Drill Instructor puts Boris through his paces. "You love Russia, don't you?" "Yes sir!" "I can't hear you!" "Yes sir!"
  • In the era in which the film is set, the motion picture had not been invented yet, so the Russian Army stages a short "Hygiene Play" on the dangers of venereal disease, after which Boris "reviews" the 30-second play in the verbiage of a modern theater critic.
  • Boris speaks to the audience: "There are some things worse than death. If you've ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, I'm sure you know what I mean."
  • "My brother was killed in the line of duty; bayoneted to death by a Polish conscientious objector!"

Famous quotes

  • "I was walking through the woods, thinking about Christ. If he was a carpenter, I wondered what he charged for bookshelves." – Boris
  • "If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. I think that the worst you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever." – Boris
  • "I do believe that this is truly the best of all possible worlds." - Sonja "Well, it's certainly the most expensive." - Boris
  • "We have to take our possessions and flee. I'm very good at that. I was the men's freestyle fleeing champion two years in a row." – Boris
  • "But judgment of any system or a priori relation of phenomena exists in any rational or metaphysical or at least epistemological contradiction to an abstract and empirical concept, such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself or of the thing itself." – Sonja
    "Yes, I've said that many times." - Boris
  • (Examining a wound after being shot in a duel) "Does this come out, from dry cleaning, or is it like gravy?" - Boris
  • "I'm dead, they're talking about wheat." - Boris
  • Soldier: He was from my village. He was the village idiot.
    Boris: Yeah, what did you do, place?
  • "I shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Uh, in fact, now that I think of it, I shall run through the valley of the shadow of death, cause you get out of the valley quicker that way." - Boris
  • Sonja: "Violence is justified in the service of man."
    Boris: "Who said that?"
    Sonja: "Attila the Hun."


The film has grossed $20 million in North America and holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[1]


  1. ^ Rotten Tomatoes page

External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

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Love and Death
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