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The Purple Rose of Cairo

Purple Rose of Cairo title card

Year - 1984
Studio - Orion
Stars - Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello, Van Johnson, Dianne Wiest,
Director - Woody Allen
Writing Credits - Woody Allen
Music - Dick Hyman


In the depths of the Depression, Cecilia (Mia Farrow) escapes from the dreary reality of her life - an abusive unemployed husband, Monk (Danny Aiello), and a short-tempered boss at her waitress job - by losing herself in the stories on the silver screen. She wants to leave her loutish husband, but doesn't know how to make it on her own. When she is fired from her job for carelessness, she takes shelter in the theatre, and watches the current attraction, The Purple Rose of Cairo, over and over. It is an RKO black & white comedy featuring wealthy sophisticates in Art Deco settings.

As she watches the film for the fifth consecutive time, one of the characters on the screen, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), a pith-helmeted African explorer visiting New York City, departs from his scripted dialogue, and talks directly to Cecilia in the audience, "You must really love this movie. You've watched it five times." To the shock of the audience, Tom emerges from the screen and approaches Cecilia. He persuades her to leave the theatre and show him the town, exclaiming, "I've never felt so alive!" The remaining actors on the screen are baffled; they cannot continue the story without this missing character, and they trade insults with members of the theatre audience.

Tom and Cecilia walk around the city and explore the abandoned amusement park. He takes her to dinner and tries to pay with the stage money provided to him for his screen role. He later kisses Cecilia, but stops in confusion, asking "Where is the fade-out?" When Monk finds them together, Tom engages him in manly, theatrical, fisticuffs. Monk beats him severely, but Tom suffers no injury, nor is his hair even messed.

Purple Rose of Cairo poster

The panic stricken theatre owner phones the Hollywood producer of The Purple Rose of Cairo and reports Tom's departure from the screen. Fearing liability law suits, the producer brings his entourage to the city, including the actor who played Tom, Gil Shepherd (also Jeff Daniels), seeking to find the missing screen character. When Celcilia encounters Gil on the street she, of course, thinks he is Tom, until he explains his situation. He convinces her to take him to Tom, waiting for her at the amusement park.

Both Gil (the actor) and Tom (his character) claim to have fallen in love with Cecilia, and they demand that she choose between them.

With dreams of a life in Hollywood, Cecilia chooses the real flesh and blood actor, Gil Shepherd. Tom Baxter reluctantly rejoins his fellow actors on the screen, and the movie resumes after several days of the bored actors waiting for him.

Cecilia announces to Monk she is leaving him for Gil and Hollywood. But when she arrives at the theatre, Gil and the Hollywood people have all left, and the movie now playing is Top Hat with Astaire and Rogers. The emotionally drained Cecilia tearfully sits in the darkened theatre and watches the "Cheek to Cheek" dance number, and her face slowly begins to smile again. There is still an escape for her at the movies.

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