The Purple Rose of Cairo

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The Purple Rose of Cairo
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWoody Allen
Written byWoody Allen
Produced byRobert Greenhut
CinematographyGordon Willis
Edited bySusan E. Morse
Music byDick Hyman
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • March 1, 1985 (1985-03-01)
Running time
82 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million
Box office$10,631,333[2]

The Purple Rose of Cairo is a 1985 American romantic fantasy comedy-drama 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. It won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, while Allen received several screenwriting nominations, including at the Academy Awards, the BAFTA Awards, and the Writers Guild of America Awards. 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 inner film's black-and-white world into the full color real world the other side of the cinema 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 finally leaves her husband.

But Gil's professions of love for Cecilia were false—he 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. The final scene shows Cecilla sitting by herself in a theater watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to "Cheek-to-Cheek" in the film Top Hat, trying valiantly to forget 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, New York, a 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[edit]

The Purple Rose of Cairo opened in North America on March 1, 1985, in 3 theaters, where it grossed a $114,095 in its opening weekend. Subsequently its total US gross was $10,631,333.[2]

Critical response[edit]

The Purple Rose of Cairo received positive notices, and currently holds a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 36 reviews, with an average score of 7.9/10, 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 seven 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 some of the most glowing contemporary 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 Awards Best Original Screenplay Woody Allen Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Film Robert Greenhut & Woody Allen Won
Best Original Screenplay Woody Allen Won
Best Actress Mia Farrow Nominated
Best Special Visual Effects R/Greenberg Associates Nominated
Bodil Awards Best Non-European Film Woody Allen Won
BSFC Awards 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 Awards 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 Awards Best Foreign Language Film Woody Allen Won
ALFS Awards Film of the Year Won
Mainichi Film Awards Best Foreign Film Woody Allen Won
NSFC Awards Best Film Robert Greenhut 2nd place
Best Screenplay Woody Allen 2nd place
Writers Guild of America Awards 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


  • In 1991, Jeff Daniels opened the Purple Rose Theatre Company in his hometown of Chelsea, MI. The theatre takes its name from The Purple Rose of Cairo.[18]



  1. ^ "THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 1985-05-08. Retrieved 2013-05-14.
  2. ^ a b The Purple Rose of Cairo statistics from
  3. ^ Lax, Eric (November 18, 2007). Conversations With Woody Allen. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41533-3. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  4. ^ Jeff Milne (20 July 2009). Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: The Complete Guide to the Movie Trivia Game. Jeff Milne. pp. 224–. ISBN 978-0-615-28521-4.
  5. ^ "Turner Classic Movies Film Article: The Purple Rose of Cairo" from
  6. ^ Woody Allen (II) interview from The Guardian Unlimited
  7. ^ "Woody Allen: If It's Funny, I do it" Archived 2005-12-01 at the Wayback Machine interview on
  8. ^ "The Purple Rose of Cairo". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  9. ^ "The Purple Rose of Cairo". Metacritic. Flixster. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 1, 1985). "The Purple Rose of Cairo". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  11. ^ "The Purple Rose of Cairo". Time Out. 1985. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  12. ^ Canby, Vincent (March 1, 1985). "Woody Allen's New Comedy, 'Purple Rose of Cairo'". The New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  13. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Purple Rose of Cairo". Retrieved 2009-07-08.
  14. ^ The Purple Rose of Cairo from Time magazine "All-Time 100 Movies"
  15. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees
  16. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees
  17. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  18. ^ "Jeff Daniels to Hollywood: 'If you want me, I'll be in Michigan'". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2019-04-20.
  19. ^ Harvey, Adam (2007). The Soundtracks of Woody Allen. US: Macfarland & Company,Inc. p. 108. ISBN 9780786429684.

External links[edit]