Ina May walked out of a Saturday matinee of the new Woody Allen film "Husbands and Wives" with a forlorn look on her face. When asked what was wrong, she sighed and said, "Oh, I just feel so sorry for Mr. Allen. From what I understand, he's been going to a psychiatrist for years and, after seeing this movie, I can see that he still doesn't have his problems straightened out."
May, a spry, pink-cheeked woman who gave her official age as "senior citizen," was one of many moviegoers who drew parallels between the filmmaker and his personal life and admitted that they were drawn to the movie about the dissolution of relationships because of the huge volume of publicity that has swirled around the recent breakup of Allen and Mia Farrow, his companion of 12 years who co-stars with him in the film.
In Los Angeles, where the film played to largely sold-out business all weekend, theater managers reported larger attendance than usual for the opening of an Allen film. Most gave the credit for the swell of ticket sales to the public's interest in the Allen/Farrow scandal.
"We're seeing everyone from teen-agers to older people buying tickets," reported one manager. "Usually with Woody Allen films, you just see the die-hard Woody fans who are in their late 30s, early 40s coming to the opening weekend."
In New York and other big cities, sold-out showings of "Husbands and Wives" were also the norm. According to a TriStar spokesman, the movie played very well in the nation's urban areas and also in traditionally non-Woody cities such as Memphis, Detroit and Minneapolis.
The Allen film, which also stars Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack as Allen and Farrow's divorcing best friends whose breakup causes them to evaluate their own fraying relationship, collected an estimated $3.5 million on 865 screens, ranking it fourth for the weekend behind "Sneakers," "Captain Ron" and "Singles."
The TriStar spokesman noted that "Husbands and Wives" was playing on only about half the screens of the films that ranked ahead of it, and was drawing a $4,080 per-screen average.
One industry marketing source disputed TriStar's rosy box-office line, however. "The movie did real well in the top six cities, but it played badly in the South and Midwest. On some screens in New York and L.A., it grossed $40,000 to $50,000 per screen--amazing figures. But with a $4,080 per-screen average, that means that in some cities, most other cities, it was only doing $1,000 per screen."
The audiences at several Los Angeles opening-weekend screenings were vocal and clearly split over their opinions of the filmmaker, who is now dating Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. At several screenings sampled by a reporter, the audience hooted with laughter at lines that clearly reminded them of the Allen/Farrow l'affaire (such as the Farrow query, "Do you ever hide things from me?") and collectively groaned when Allen's character Gabe swore that he never cheated on Farrow's Judy.
The biggest response at the screenings came at the beginning of the film, however, when Allen's directorial credit received an equal share of cheers and hisses.
Among the curious, like May, there were a fair share of die-hard Allen fans who showed up because they catch every Allen picture and also because they wanted to support their favorite filmmaker.
"I think the media should reserve judgments till the courts do," said Chaya Lester, 30, of Los Angeles. "I think Woody's been given a bum rap. He's suffered."
Some longtime fans--like Cynthia Mort, 35, of Hollywood, who said she had seen "Interiors" 12 times--claimed that the recent scandal had dimmed their opinion of Allen, however. "I used to really respect him," said Mort. "I thought from seeing his movies that he had a lot of integrity, artistic or otherwise. Now I know differently. What he did makes my stomach turn."
All those interviewed said that they were highly aware of the publicity surrounding the Allen/Farrow breakup.
"I resent that the media played it up so much that I had to think of it while I was watching the film," said Steve Michaels, 50, of West Hollywood. "I sat there during the movie wanting to have an open mind, but I couldn't, not really. I couldn't make the distinction about what was fiction and what was fact, and I resented that. Movies are about escapism. And I felt I couldn't escape what I already knew and just sit there and enjoy the picture."