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Film / Radio Days

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"I never forgot that New Year's Eve when Aunt Bea awakened me to watch 1944 come in. And I've never forgotten any of those people, or any of the voices we used to hear on the radio. Although the truth is, with the passing of each New Year's Eve, those voices do seem to grow dimmer and dimmer."

Radio Days is a 1987 Woody Allen comedy-drama film about The Golden Age Of Radio in the 1940s.

The film focuses on young Joe (Seth Green) and his houseful of eccentric relatives in the New York City neighborhood of Rockaway, Queens. Joe's parents (Julie Kavner and Michael Tucker) are constantly at each other's throats in spite of their devotion to one another. Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest) desperately wants to get married, but finds the pickings are slim during wartime. Aunt Ceil (Renée Lippin) and Uncle Abe (Josh Mostel) are always busy cleaning fish, thanks to Abe's connections at the fish market, while their daughter Ruthie (Joy Newman) spends all her time listening in on the neighbors' phone line.

As an adult Nostalgic Narrator (voiced by Allen), Joe relates memories from his childhood inspired by certain songs and sounds from the radio era. Woven in with stories about his own family, Joe also narrates several collected stories about famous radio stars of the time, including the story of Sally White (Mia Farrow), a ditzy cigarette girl from Brooklyn who became one of the most respected radio hosts through a series of mishaps and lucky breaks. The glamorous lives of the stars are contrasted with Joe's humble family, but as the adult Joe observes, the radio played an equally important role in all of their lives. And despite the times having changed drastically, the stories still live on through the music and the memories.

The film earned two Academy Award nominations, for Allen's screenplay and for its art direction and set design.

This film provides examples of:

  • Author Avatar: Seth Green as Joe.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Joe loves his parents' anniversary because it's the only time they are romantic and not bickering.
  • Ax-Crazy: Adult Joe shares an anecdote about the song "Mairzy Doats" driving a man in his neighborhood completely insane. He's shown running down the street in his underwear waving a butcher knife.
  • Bad Date: Aunt Bea's date with Mr. Manulis starts out well but ends horribly after they hear the War of the Worlds broadcast on the car radio.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The radio stars.
  • Binocular Shot: Joe and his friends use a pair of binoculars to watch a woman undress in front of her window.
    • Brick Joke: She turns out to be Joe's substitute teacher.
      Narrator: (as "Babalu" plays) For some miraculous reason, it's a wonderful feeling having a teacher you've seen dance naked in front of a mirror.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Memories do fade.
  • Brainless Beauty / The Ditz / Dumb Blonde: Sally White.
    Sally White: (on hearing of its bombing) Who's Pearl Harbor?
  • The Cameo: Diane Keaton appears as a singer at the party near the end of the film, as does Tony Roberts. Both are best known for their roles in Annie Hall. Tito Puente plays a Cuban band leader, while Don Pardo essentially plays himself as the host of a Name That Tune-style game show. Kitty Carlisle also appears, essentially as herself as well. Danny Aiello appears as a hitman who has to off Sally. Wallace Shawn is the Masked Avenger. Jeff Daniels is Biff Baxter. Kenneth Mars plays a rabbi.
  • Catchphrase: The Masked Avenger's "Beware, evil-doers, wherever you are!" It's the last line of spoken dialog in the film.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Abe's love of fish leads to Bea easily winning a quiz show.
    Narrator: Years of living in the same house with Uncle Abe had turned us all into ichthyologists.
  • Child Prodigy: The basis of the radio show "Whiz Kids". Joe and his parents run into one of the child stars at the zoo.
  • Coincidental Broadcast:
    • A news bulletin about the attack on Pearl Harbor breaks just as Sally is preparing to make her dramatic debut in a Chekhov adaptation.
    • Just as Joe is being punished for ruining his mother's coat, an emergency broadcast breaks through to report that a young girl near Joe's age fell down a well.
  • Dances and Balls: The New Year's Eve ball.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of Joe's family but his parents in particular.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Joe's family.
  • Expy: All of the radio programs in the movie (except for The War of the Worlds, and even that's depicted differently) are fictional, as Allen couldn't afford the rights to the real ones. "Breakfast with Irene and Roger", for example, was inspired by Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick, "The Masked Avenger" is likely based on The Shadow, and "Guess That Tune" stood in for Name That Tune. In addition, the story about Kirby Kyle is a Parody of real-life pitchers Monty Stratton (whose life was depicted in the Jimmy Stewart film The Stratton Story) and Pete Gray.
  • The '40s: The majority of the film takes place in 1943.
  • Game Show:
    • In the beginning of the film, two burglars wind up as contestants on "Guess That Tune".
    • Bea is chosen as a contestant on a radio game show while on the town with Sy and Joe.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Sally becomes a singer for USO shows and Diane Keaton makes a cameo as a singer at the New Year's Eve ball.
  • Happily Married: Though Joe's parents give each other a hard time, they are very much in love.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Young Joe gets smacked around a lot, almost always played for laughs. His parents turn it into a competition, seeing who can discipline him harder. At one point a Rabbi actually gets in on the act.
  • Historical In-Joke: Tons, most pronounced when Aunt Bea and her date happen to catch Orson Welles' infamous The War of the Worlds broadcast in the car. Hilarity Ensues.
    Narrator: Despite his bravado that evening, Mr Manulis panicked and bolted out of the car. He was so frightened by the reports of interplanetary invasion that he ran off, leaving Aunt Bea to contend with the slimy green monsters he expected to drop from the sky at any moment. She walked home. Six miles. When Mr Manulis called for a date the next week, she told my mother to say she couldn't see him. She had married a Martian.
    • Joe sees a Nazi U-boat briefly emerge off the coast of Coney Island. They really did make that close an approach to New York City, but this wasn't known until decades later.
  • Hot for Teacher: The woman Joe and his friends saw dancing naked in front of a window turns out to be their substitute teacher.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Sidney Manulis and Bea.
  • Humble Goal: Early on in the film, all Joe wants is a Masked Avenger Decoder Ring. He never gets one because he got caught trying to buy it with money meant for charity.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Aunt Bea.
  • Imagine Spot: Joe imagines his parents on a marriage counselor radio show.
    Host: I think you both deserve each other.
    Martin: HEY! I didn't come on this show to be insulted.
    Tess: I mean, I love him, but what did I do to deserve him?!
  • Incompatible Orientation: One of Bea's dates reveals he's gay after she admits to having a crush on him.
  • Insult of Endearment: At one point Joe's dad affectionately calls his mom "you old douchebag".
  • Large Ham Radio: Half the appeal of several radio shows was their hamminess.
  • The Mafia: Sally ends up working at a club owned by a Mafioso and witnesses a mobster murdering her boss. It's all Played for Laughs.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Roger Daley and Sally White get trapped on a nightclub roof together after meeting there for a tryst.
    Sally: I mean, I meet you in hotel rooms, in the back of cars, in stalled elevators... You're gonna lose your respect for me!
  • The Mistress: Sally is Roger's mistress when the film begins.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film moves from the live radio announcement that the little girl who fell down a well was found dead to a scene of everyone celebrating on New Year's Eve.
  • Multigenerational Household: Joe lives with his parents and grandparents as well as his Aunt Ceil, Uncle Abe, Aunt Bea, and Cousin Ruthie. By the end of the film, he also has a baby sister named Ellen.
  • Naughty Birdwatching: Joe and his friends search for German planes with a pair of binoculars and end up infinitely more entertained by a woman dancing naked in front of her window.
  • New Year Has Come: At the end of the film, Joe's family celebrate New Year's Eve together at home while Sally spends the night at a lavish ball with other radio personalities.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Sally is loosely based on actress turned gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.
    • Bill Kern is an expy of real-life sports announcer Bill Stern.
  • Nostalgia Filter: The Narrator acknowledges that he romanticizes the past.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: An adult Joe (voiced by an uncredited Woody Allen) narrates events in his childhood as well as stories about several radio personalities.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-universe. At the New Year's Eve ball, Sally slips into her old accent when chatting with her glamorous friends.
  • Pretty in Mink: One of Joe's most vivid memories is when his father gave his mother a mink coat for their anniversary.
  • Product Placement: Used in-universe many times. Most notably, Sally sings the jingle for Re-Lax laxatives.
  • Radio Drama: The programs that Joe enjoyed, especially "The Masked Avenger".
  • Radio Voice: The radio stars all have them but the most dramatic example is Sally.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Bea is desperate to get married and goes on a string of dates without any luck, chiefly because all of the available men are 4-F or otherwise unable to fight in World War II.
  • Slice of Life: Joe tells several stories about the quirks and oddities of his family's daily life.
  • Show Within a Show: Radio programs like "The Masked Avenger" and "Breakfast with Irene and Roger".
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Joe's parents thrive on arguing with each other.
    Father: Wait, you think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?
    Mother: No. Have it your way. The Pacific is greater.
    Narrator: I mean, how many people argue over oceans?
  • Source Music: The film has a wall-to-wall soundtrack of vintage '40s pop tunes, most of which are presented diegetically.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Inverted. Rocco's (the mobster) mother decides Sally is so dumb that he doesn't have to kill her for witnessing a murder. She also takes pity on her because she (correctly) surmises men use her for sex.
  • Unnamed Parent: Joe's parents are credited as Mother and Father, though close listening reveals their names are Tess and Martin.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The Narrator openly admits not everything in the film is true, since he's relating popular Urban Legends, and that his own home life was romanticized, ie. imagining Rockaway as constantly stormy and rainswept because that was when he thought it was at its most beautiful.
  • Unwanted Glasses Plot: Bea is very self-conscious about her glasses and refuses to wear them on dates. This leads to an amusing sight gag as Bea discreetly uses her glasses when her date isn't looking to see what she's putting on her plate at a restaurant.
  • Urban Legend: A few of the stories are common radio legends, such as the classic "burglars win a radio show" story.
  • Ventriloquism: Aunt Ceil loves a radio ventriloquist's show (presumably Edgar Bergen's) and it drives her husband Abe crazy.
    Abe: He's a ventriloquist on the radio! How do you know he's not moving his lips?
  • What, Exactly, Is His Job?: Played with in that Joe has no idea what his father does for a living because his dad refuses to tell him. Joe finds out by happenstance that his father is a cab driver. Woody brags he gave him the biggest tip he'd had all day.