Don’t Drink The Water is sometimes left off some lists of Woody Allen films because of one reason – it was made for TV. And in many ways it looks like it, with a clearly reduced budget. It’s also not a new script – it’s a Woody Allen play from 1966 newly adapted for the (small) screen. It’s fun, but one Allen’s much lesser works, but should be counted amongst his cannon of films regardless.
Woody Allen stars as Walter Hollander, head father of a small family that also includes his wide Marion (Julie Kavner) and daughter Susan (Mayim Bialik). The family, through misunderstanding, find themselves hiding out in the American embassy of a fictional iron curtain country. There’s upheaval there too, as Axel McGee (Michael J Fox), the incompetent son of the current diplomat, has been put in charge for the first time.
The film’s origins as a play shows. It’s one location, the embassy. There are several long shots and long dialogue set pieces. Which is perhaps why Allen chose to do this for TV – it was relatively cheap and easy to do. Which occasionally hurts the film – for sound a groundbreaking director, there is no visual flair and bigger ideas on show but to capture performances.
Those performances are mostly fine. Fox is the best, and has the most to work with, turning what his character lacks in humour into plenty of audince sympathy. His romance with Mayim Bialik speeds along in theatre time, but their chemistry works here. The rest of the cast playing pretty two dimensional cartoons, althoygh Dom DeLuise is hilarious as the priest with a passion for magic.
Along for the ride is Carlo Di Palma, now continuing on the hand-held, documentary style he has with Allen’s output of this era. In fact it’s Allen’s A team at this point, all working in television. Susan E. Morse edited, Santo Loquasto did the production design and Juliet Taylor does a fine job of casting once again.
So why doesn’t it work? Firstly, it’s not terribly funny. There are moments, yes. And Allen himself is great. But perhaps the humour has dated, or it’s that we have seen what Allen the scriptwriter became, but this script just isn’t there. There doesn’t seem to be much effort made to get takes right – with many actors fluffing lines and talking over eachother. Sometimes it works with the hand held cameras, but sometimes it just looks unrehearsed and silly.
Allen’s knocked out quickies before (September, Broadway Danny Rose), but he’s really sacrificed quality for time this time, and it’s something he would continue to do for the rest of his career. If only Allen tried to do something different to enhance his script, giving it a reason to exist on film. Even the score is obvious, and is used to cover more than colour. But maybe a TV budget meant that couldn’t happen.
In the end, it’s an OK Woody Allen film script, and it’s good to have it filmed for prosperity. But it’s a historical curiosity, fine but half-baked at best. It’s worth noting that Bullets Over Broadway would be released weeks after this.
Full cast: Woody Allen, Michael J. Fox, Mayim Bialik, Dom DeLuise, Julie Kavner, Josef Sommer, Edward Herrmann, Robert Stanton, Rosemary Murphy, Austin Pendleton, Vit Horejs