Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971)

Harvey WallingerJust over half way through this career-in-a-year Woody Allen retrospective, I need to stop the chronology to go back and plug a hole thanks to a recent, wonderful and copywriting infringing discovery.

Don’t Drink The Water was not Woody Allen’s first film written and directed for television. That honour goes to the never screened 1971 special, Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story. Not only was it never screened, it has never been made available in any format with Wikipedia stating that the only way to see it is to visit the Paley Centre in New York. In the last few weeks someone saved me the trip by uploading the 30-minute film to Youtube, hence this interruption in normal programming.

The short film is told in the Take The Money And Run and Zelig documentary style, as a deadly earnest TV special about a thinly veiled Henry Kissenger type of character called Harvey Wallinger (played by Woody Allen) who works alongside President Richard Nixon. Actually the whole comedy is a thinly veiled and pointed attack on the Nixon administration. Woody apparently made the film for nothing and gave it to PBS which refused to screen it at the last minute over fears that it would cost the network vital government funding.

Harvey Wallinger2The film is funny is places, though obviously being so far removed from its historical context the political humour has dated. What appealed mostly to me on this viewing were the non-political bits, such as the interviews with Louise Lasser and Diane Keaton, and some typical Woody world views, such as, “I think sex without guilt is bad because it almost becomes pleasurable”.

I had no idea Woody had been so political in his filmmaking. It’s interesting that he has never made another overtly political movie, funny or otherwise, since. Apparently the refusal of PBS to air this special turned him off working for TV, and it’s a shame that his return to the medium would be with the disappointing Don’t Drink The Water.

In the days between watching this short film and writing this review, Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story has already been taken down from Youtube. It will no doubt surface again, for the interest of Woody Allen completists. It remains a curio, and as such I was curious to see it, but ultimately I’m keen to move back to the present, or at least 1995, for the next instalment of A Woody A Week.

Next week: Mighty Aphrodite

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