The Purple Rose of Cairo

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Robert Greenhut
Written by Woody Allen
Music by Dick Hyman
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Edited by Susan E. Morse
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release dates
  • March 1, 1985 (1985-03-01)
Running time
82 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $15 million
Box office $10,631,333[2]

The Purple Rose of Cairo is a 1985 American romantic fantasy comedy film written and directed by Woody Allen, and starring Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, and Danny Aiello. Inspired by Sherlock, Jr., Hellzapoppin', and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, it is the tale of a film character named Tom Baxter who leaves a fictional film of the same name and enters the real world.

The film was released on March 1, 1985 to critical acclaim. It won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, while Allen received several screenwriting nominations, including an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award and a Writers Guild of America Award. Allen has ranked it among his best films, along with Stardust Memories and Match Point.[3]


Set in New Jersey during the Great Depression in 1935, the film tells the story of Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a clumsy waitress who goes to the movies to escape her bleak life and loveless, abusive marriage to Monk (Danny Aiello), whom she has attempted to leave on numerous occasions.

The latest film Cecilia sees is a fictitious RKO Radio Pictures film, The Purple Rose of Cairo. It is the story of a rich Manhattan playwright named Henry (Edward Herrmann) who goes on an exotic vacation to Egypt with companions Jason (John Wood) and Rita (Deborah Rush). While in Egypt, the three meet archaeologist Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels). Tom is brought back for a "madcap Manhattan weekend" where he falls head-over-heels for Kitty Haynes (Karen Akers), a chanteuse at the Copacabana.

After Cecilia sits through the film several times, Tom, noticing her, breaks the fourth wall, and emerges from the black-and-white screen into the colorful real world on the other side of the cinema's screen. He tells Cecilia that he is attracted to her after noticing her watching him so many times, and she takes him around her New Jersey town. Later, he takes her into the film and they have a great evening on the town within the film. The two fall in love. But the character's defection from the film has caused some problems. In other copies of the film, others have tried to exit the screen. The producer of the film learns that Tom has left the film, and he flies cross-country to New Jersey with actor Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels) (the "real life" actor playing the part of Tom in the movie). This sets up an unusual love triangle involving Tom, Gil, and Cecilia. Cecilia must choose between them and she decides to choose the real person of Gil rather than the fantasy figure of Tom. She gives up the chance to return with Tom to his world, choosing to stay with Gil and have a 'real' life. Then she breaks up with her husband.

But Gil's professions of love for Cecilia were falsehe wooed her only to get Tom to return to the movie and thereby save his own Hollywood career. Gil abandons Cecilia and is seen quietly racked with guilt on his flight back to Hollywood. Having been left without a lover, job, or home, Cecilia ends up immersing herself in the frothy escapism of Hollywood once again, sitting in a theater watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to "Cheek-to-Cheek" in the film Top Hat, forgetting her dire situation and losing herself in the film.


Michael Keaton was originally cast as Tom Baxter/Gil Shepherd, as Allen was a fan of his work. Allen later felt that Keaton, who took a pay cut to work with the director, was too contemporary and hard to accept in the period role. The two amicably parted ways after ten days of filming and Daniels replaced Keaton in the role.[5]


Several scenes featuring Tom and Cecilia are set at the Bertrand Island Amusement Park, which closed just prior to the film's production. Many of the outside scenes were filmed in Piermont, NY, a tiny village on the Hudson River about 15 miles north of the George Washington Bridge. Store fronts had false facades reflecting the depression-era setting. It was also filmed at the Raritan Diner in South Amboy, New Jersey. Woody Allen shut down the Kent Theater on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, the neighborhood he grew up in, to film there.

In a rare public appearance at the National Film Theatre in 2001, Woody Allen listed The Purple Rose of Cairo as one of only a few of his films that ended up being "fairly close to what I wanted to do" when he set out to write it.[6] Allen provided more detail about the film's origins in a comment he made a year earlier, during a press junket for Small Time Crooks:

Purple Rose was a film that I just locked myself in a room [to write].... I wrote it and halfway through it didn't go anywhere and I put it aside. I didn't know what to do. I toyed around with other ideas. Only when the idea hit me, a long time later, that the real actor comes to town and she has to choose between the [screen] actor and the real actor and she chooses the real actor and he dumps her, that was the time it became a real movie. Before that it wasn't. But the whole thing was manufactured.[7]


Box office

The Purple Rose of Cairo opened in North America on March 1, 1985 in 3 theaters, where it grossed an exceptional $114,095 ($38,031 per screen) in its opening weekend. Box office settled down upon further expansions, and its total US gross of $10,631,333 was in line with most Allen films of the period.[2]

Critical response

The Purple Rose of Cairo received critical acclaim, and currently holds a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 33 reviews, with an average score of 7.8/10, with the site's critical consensus reading, "Lighthearted and sweet, The Purple Rose of Cairo stands as one of Woody Allen's more inventive -- and enchantingly whimsical -- pictures."[8] The film also holds a score of 75 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 7 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[9]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars, writing "The Purple Rose of Cairo is audacious and witty and has a lot of good laughs in it, but the best thing about the movie is the way Woody Allen uses it to toy with the very essence of reality and fantasy".[10] Time Out also gave the film favorable appraisal, saying "the star-struck couple, Farrow and Daniels work wonders with fantastic emotions, while Allen's direction invests enough care, wit and warmth to make it genuinely moving".[11] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote the film some of its most glowing praise, saying "My admiration for Mr. Allen extends to everyone connected with The Purple Rose of Cairo - all of the actors, including Mr. Daniels, Mr. Aiello, Dianne Wiest and the players within the film within; Stuart Wurtzel, the production designer, and particularly Gordon Willis, the director of photography, who has great fun imitating the look of the movie Cecilia falls in love with, as well as in creating a style fitting to the depressed times that frame the interior film." Canby concluded, stating "I'll go out on a limb: I can't believe the year will bring forth anything to equal The Purple Rose of Cairo. At 84 minutes, it's short but nearly every one of those minutes is blissful".[12]


Award Category Subject Result
Academy Award Best Original Screenplay Woody Allen Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Film Robert Greenhut Won
Woody Allen Won
Best Original Screenplay Won
Best Actress Mia Farrow Nominated
Best Special Visual Effects R/Greenberg Associates Nominated
Bodil Award Best Non-European Film Woody Allen Won
BSFC Award Best Screenplay Won
Cannes Film Festival FIPRESCI Prize[13] Won
Casting Society of America Artios Award for Best Casting for Feature Film, Comedy Juliet Taylor Nominated
César Award Best Foreign Film Woody Allen Won
Fotogramas de Plata Best Foreign Film Won
French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Critics Award for Best Foreign Film Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Robert Greenhut Nominated
Best Screenplay Woody Allen Won
Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Jeff Daniels Nominated
Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Mia Farrow Nominated
Hochi Film Award Best Foreign Language Film Woody Allen Won
ALFS Award Film of the Year Won
Mainichi Film Award Best Foreign Film Woody Allen Won
NSFC Award Best Film Robert Greenhut 2nd place
Best Screenplay Woody Allen 2nd place
Writers Guild of America Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen Nominated

The film was recognized as one of the "ALL-TIME 100 best films" by Time magazine.[14]

American Film Institute Lists


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