Men Of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story is a 27 minute television special written and directed by Woody Allen. The special was created for PBS in 1971 but never aired due to the apparent controversy of the subject matter. For years the only place to view the film was the Paley Center Of Media in New York. It has surfaced online and if you can find it, it is well worth watching.
Woody Allen stars as Harvey Wallinger. Although the name alludes to Henry Kissinger, it is a far wider spoof of politics at the time, with Nixon, Agnew and politics in general. Filmed in a mockumentary style, it also features appearances by Louise Lasser and Diane Keaton.
The first thing that is striking is how well it fits in with modern political comedy, in particular ‘The Colbert Report‘. It finds humour by taking itself too seriously. It juxtaposes the ridiculous with the important. And the jokes come from archival footage or playing with well worn political reporting. It’s the mockumentary style that Take The Money And Run played with two years earlier. He would go on to perfect it with Zelig, especially the production.
Allen is pretty good. He plays to his strength – over the top, intellectual to a fault and full of misplaced confidence. It is Woody Allen’s early persona and it’s great to see essentially new footage of it. Lasser in her scene is very funny, and Keaton just lets it rip, stealing the show.
Allen’s always been political person and willing to take shots at conservatives. But this is probably the most prolonged poltical piece he has ever created, and his attack is quite brutal. There are plenty of laugh out loud jokes. Every scene is a new idea, well written and well told. It’s slapstick and absurd, but it’s just as good as Allen’s other work in the era.
If only this was a full length feature. It would have worked, and political satire only became more and more important as a genre in the decades to follow. It’s dated far better than, say, Bananas, but perhaps it’s fresher to us. And it’s really not that far from the themes explored in ‘House Of Cards‘.
As it is, it’s a piece of lost history. Who knows if Allen would have followed this path if this was greeted with success. Of if Allen would have remained in TV like so many of his contemporaries. As it is, it’s another great half hour of back to back Woody Allen jokes – and that’s pretty special on its own.