Harvey’s Hellhole: When Woody Met Harvey

Welcome to Harvey’s Hellhole, a monthly column devoted to spotlighting the movies that were poorly marketed, mishandled, reshaped, neglected or just straight-up destroyed by Harvey Weinstein during his reign as one of the most powerful studio chiefs in Hollywood. Since Woody Allen’s latest has recently shown up overseas, let’s go back to that time when Allen and Weinstein briefly joined creepy-ass forces. 

Looking back, it made perfect sense that Woody Allen would get in bed with Harvey Weinstein.

In 1992, the influential comedian and filmmaker was embroiled in controversy when former partner Mia Farrow alleged that he molested adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow. It didn’t help matters much that he admitted to being in a relationship with Mia’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. 

Allen was already having trouble getting his movies made. The year before, he severed ties with longtime distributor Orion Pictures when the financially-strapped studio couldn’t supply the budget for his next project. Although Tri-Star would distribute his next two films — Husbands and Wives in 1992 and Manhattan Murder Mystery in 1993 — Miramax became the North American company that would release most of his ‘90s work. “Shunned by Hollywood means nothing to Miramax. We’re talking about a comic genius,” Weinstein enthusiastically told the Los Angeles Times. “Chaplin was shunned by Hollywood; so were a great many other international filmmakers, including Fellini—and those are the people who belong with Miramax.” 

It started in 1994 with Bullets Over Broadway, a period-piece comedy Allen co-wrote and directed. John Cusack assumes the Allen stand-in role as struggling 1920s playwright David Shayne. He oversees a mobster-backed play with a crew that includes a fading actress (Dianne Weist) whom he has an affair with; a shrill diva (Jennifer Tilly) who’s in the play because she’s the mobster’s girlfriend; and a murderous henchman (Chazz Palminteri) who becomes Shayne’s secret co-writer. Bullets snagged several Oscar nods: Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Palminteri and Best Supporting Actress for Tilly and Wiest. (Wiest was the lone winner.) It also became an actual Broadway musical in 2014, with Allen himself writing the book. 

Allen followed up the success of Bullets with Mighty Aphrodite in 1995. He was back in front of the camera as Lenny Weinrib, a sportswriter who gets involved with the biological mother of his gifted, adopted son. The mother turns out to be Linda Ash (Mira Sorvino), a prostitute and part-time porn star whom Weinrib tries to turn into an honest woman. Sorvino’s star-making, dumb-blond turn got her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, the second in a row to a player in a Woody Allen film.

Next was Everyone Says I Love You, a 1996 musical comedy for those who always wondered what Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters would look like if it had adorable musical numbers. Allen wrangled up many stars for this story of an upper-class, New York family full of hopeless romantics; Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn are the parents, with offspring that includes Drew Barrymore, Natalie Portman and Natasha Lyonne (also the narrator). Allen plays Lyonne’s dad, a Paris-based writer who, with help from her daughter, romances a young lady (Julia Roberts — WTF?!). Meanwhile, Barrymore’s character is torn between Edward Norton’s plaid jacket-wearing fiance and Tim Roth’s smooth-talking ex-con. And all of them (except Barrymore, whose voice was dubbed) sing early 20th-century ditties like “Makin’ Whoopee” and “My Baby Just Cares for Me.” 

Despite the star wattage, Everyone didn’t rack up box-office tickets or Oscar noms. This may have inspired Allen to look elsewhere to fund his next film, Deconstructing Harry, in 1997. Allen’s semi-autobiographical, self-flagellating session, where he plays a degenerate, philandering author (he assembled another all-star cast — Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Demi Moore, Allen’s Manhattan co-star Mariel Hemingway, etc. — to aid in the flogging), was distributed by Fine Line Features. Producer Jean Doumanian got Fine Line to distribute Harry and Wild Man Blues, Barbara Kopple’s documentary on Woody Allen touring Europe with Previn and his jazz band, as a package deal.

He returned to Miramax the following year with the black-and-white Celebrity, another A-list frenzy. Kenneth Branagh goes all in as the Allen stand-in, practically mimicking Allen’s neurotic, nebbishy mannerisms to the point where it’s both fascinating and embarrassing to watch. He’s Lee Simon, a failed novelist-turned-celebrity journalist who goes on wild escapades with hedonistic celebs played by Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron and a post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio. It amounts to Allen wagging his finger at not just our celebrity-obsessed culture, but at so-called artists who are really fame-seeking whores. This was another critical/commercial bomb for Allen, who severed his ties not just with Harvey and them, but with longtime editor Susan Morse, who’d cut all of Allen’s films since Manhattan

The Miramax films (and even Harry) were quite simply Allen at his most invincible — and most unrepentant. Fresh from a scandal that really should’ve destroyed his career, Allen made dirty-minded, predominantly lily-white screwball comedies where characters (especially those played by Allen) go after objects of desire — usually in a manner that requires deception and gaslighting — no matter how much it hurts the objects of desire they’re already with. And those objects are usually leggy, WASP-y goddesses who are ready to give blow jobs to any dude who knows his way around a typewriter. Female characters who didn’t fit that profile often got a lot of hell. (For some reason, several of them were portrayed by Judy Davis.)

After Miramax, Allen would bounce from one distributor to another. There was an early-aughts stretch where he released his films through DreamWorks. He even dropped a couple films via The Weinstein Company, including Vicky Christina Barcelona, another Allen film where  an actress (Penelope Cruz) snagged a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.

While Allen’s Miramax years started with a bang and ended with a whimper, it’s a star-studded reminder of how powerful he once was. Here’s a man who copped to shagging his stepdaughter and still had million-dollar movie stars begging to be in his films, and indie studios fighting to release them. It’s a spell that continued right into the 21st century (remember when a proud Scarlett Johansson was his go-to shiksa for a trio of mid-aughts films?), until #MeToo and the takedown of many powerful pieces of shit — including his former business partner Weinstein — snapped everybody out of it. Although he tried to distance himself from Weinstein, claiming the disgraced movie mogul never interfered with his films (Allen has always had creative control on his productions), that still didn’t make people forget about how he got together with his current wife. 

These days, Allen has been making/releasing movies overseas, where people apparently have more tolerance for filmmakers who’ve committed immoral acts. (How ya livin’, Mr Polanski?) Will Allen’s latest production, the French-language thriller Coup de Chance, get stateside distribution? Even if it doesn’t, you can still access all those movies that pervy muhfucka did —especially those he got with another pervy muhfucka to release.

Bullets Over Broadway,” “Mighty Aphrodite,” “Everyone Says I Love You,” and “Celebrity” are all available to stream for free at various platforms.

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