Radio Days (1987) & Without Love (1945)
It's almost impossible to imagine not having my computer, I-pod, mobile phone and all the other gadgets that make the flow of information and entertainment so essential to modern life. When I was a child, I don't think we got a TV until I was 4 years old, and ironically my first TV memory was a re-run of England winning the World Cup from 1966. Radio would feature heavily in my youth, it was always on in our house during the day. By the age of 13, I was addicted to the John Peel show which would run from 10pm every Monday to Thursday. This would have a profound influence on my life. Unlike TV, Radio was something for the imagination.
Woody Allen's underrated Radio Days is his loving tribute to the airwaves. The main drive of the film are his youthful reminisces when the Radio in mid-40's America was the main medium for people's news, entertainment and a world within your living room. Through various anecdotes narrated by Allen himself, Allen regulars such as Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, Julie Kavner and Diane Wiest bring Allen's childhood to life. Period detail is inspiring and the humor gentle. This is Allen pining for a time that has passed.
In one scene in Radio Days, Allen's youthful re-incarnation visits the cinema at New York's Radio City Music Hall. The film they watch is The Philadelphia Story. This brings us to another Katherine Hepburn picture Without Love. One of the classic Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn team ups, this is maybe the most eccentric. Set in the same time as Radio Days, 1944-45, Without Love is the kind of feisty comedy full of in jokes and sexual innuendo that is refreshing and throws light on the fact that this kind of romantic comedy seems to be beyond our reach nowadays.
Yes, it's that thing called chemistry, Hepburn and Tracy have tons of it. Great support from Lucille Ball as a sexy estate agent, Without Love bristles with style. Special mention must go to Donald Ogden Stewart (who would later work on Allen's Love & Death), one of the great screenwriters of the day, this man is sharp.
Weather it's the loss of love in marriage or the loss of the radio as a medium of choice, both these pictures reflect a time when all possibilities were go and imaginations were allowed to prosper and dream.
Without Love from 1945 and Radio Days from the 1980s (which depicts the 1940s in New York) share a central theme: marriage as a practical and beneficial deal without romantic love. Romance is something that belongs in movies, dreams, the past or the future. The present tends to be the least romantic.
Radio Days depicts a lower middle class family to whom romance is a distant Manhattan thing. These people know that love smells of fish, sweat, old perfume and home cooking; it tastes of bad breath, looks pudgy and disheveled and sounds like muffled knocks while the radio is on all night. Katharine Hepburn's tilted kissable cheek appears on a cinema screen in Radio Days – but then, she always appears doubtful about commitment.
In Without Love Hepburn plays a widow who has decided to forget about love and look for partnership instead, because as a young woman she already had that perfect romantic love. She can afford to play games though, these people are rich, exclusive and have some of the best lines in cinema. In my opinion not succumbing to romantic love with her husband (Spencer Tracy) can be interpreted as movie-long foreplay. The audience needs to see the slightly eccentric upper class movie stars yet again turn from reserved to passionate.
This is called playing games and Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest) from Radio Days simply cannot afford it or she'll wind up alone for the rest of her life.