Woody Allen's 1973 work of slapstick science fiction may be the best of the "early, funny ones" that established his reputation. Unlike most of his work then -- or later -- it emphasizes visual humor over mere illustration of his wordy notions, a flaw in most of his other films. Allen makes terrific use of white-on-white cinematography in creating a techno-dystopia 200 years in the future, and his limited skills as a mime are hilariously effective in scenes in which he mimics a household robot. (If Allen borrowed his bleached mise en scene from George Lucas' THX 1138, Lucas paid him back by borrowing from Allen's android in creating C-3P0 a few years later.) Allen gleaned further cues from such disparate sources as Buster Keaton (spot The Navigator homage and win a prize) and Bob Hope's clumsy boasting ("We're big doctors, we're not impostors"). Diane Keaton, as a spoiled 22nd-century poet turned revolutionary, is a fine foil to Allen's inadvertent rebel in what is one of the very few successful American visual comedies of the post-talkie age. While 1973-era topical humor dates the film, Allen's use of Dixieland jazz to score the action is endearing, rather than the predictable gimmick it's become more recently.
-- Gregg Rickman
Sleeper screens Saturday, Nov. 14, at 3:30 and 11:30 p.m. at the Parkway, 1834 Park (at Lake Merritt), Oakland. Admission is $3; call (510) 814-2400.