"They All Laughed" (Peter Bogdanovich, 1981) There's something sweet and low-down about Peter Bogdanovich's "They All Laughed," a mid-summer night's urban romance-a-thon set to country music in the heart of New York City. Part detective story, part romance, part Altman-esque roundelay, part screwball comedy, it's another of those Bogdanovich love-letters to the style of old movies that reflected life through a rose-colored filter. It isn't life as it is, or life as it should be, but life as you'd want it to be, suffused with the pangs and dangers that new love energizes into life and makes it crisp. New York has never looked better, because it's seen through the eyes of a hopeless romantic--all of the excitement with none of the hassles. Would that the same were true of the various trysts and liaisons zipping through the movie.
"They All Laughed" also has a fresh feel to it, with a mix of movie veterans and spry new-comers (and some of the production crew) all intermingling and bringing some zing to the proceedings. Ben Gazzara proves himself the best heir to Bogart for portraying tough guys with a tarnished heart of gold, and Audrey Hepburn is indescribably Audrey Hepburn, coquettishness shimmering through the worry-lines of experience. John Ritter fulfills the promise of a leading man capable of grace and ungraceful slapstick that was only hinted at in the leering farce of "Three's Company." Then there's the trio of model-actresses in various stages of crossing that dash--Colleen Camp, Patti Hansen, and the doomed Dorothy Stratten. Of the production staff, Blaine Novak, the film's co-screenwriter makes for an entertaining odd-ball/voice of reason, and producer George Morfogen plays, appropriately, a harried boss.
Gazzara, Ritter and Novak are all investigators for a Big Apple detective agency, and the first two are sent to trail two supposedly errant wives in the city, and before you can sing "Laura is the face in the misty light," the stalking has turned to love...completely the opposite from what you'd expect in New York City.
Put aside the on-set intrigues and backstage stories, "They All Laughed" is a sweet-spirited romp. The country-western music dates it a bit, and a sad nostalgia permeates it now. But it's one of the best of Peter Bogdanovich's productions that doesn't retreat into the past to garner its graces. And with his mixed cast of professionally-minded veterans and star-crossed amateurs, he probably felt more freedom working on this film than three of his previous elephantine-proportioned ones ("Daisy Miller," "At Long Last Love" and "Nickelodeon"). Certainly with his guerrilla crew (working without permits) led by Wim Wenders DP Robby Muller, the film has the energy and snap of what one would consider an indie hit these days. But in 1981, critics and industry folk had the knives out for Bogdanovich, making this an overlooked gem--a true labor of love in a medium that held a lot of heart-break for the director.