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They All Laughed

One year after Woody Allen released his cinematic ode to his beloved island of Manhattan, wunderkind director Peter Bogdanovich took to those same streets to film his own New York love letter.

For a frothy romantic comedy, They All Laughed has a remarkably sordid back story—the movie’s co-star and Bogdanovich paramour, Dorothy Stratten, was killed by her estranged husband after filming was completed, and the gruesome nature of the murder-suicide made studios shy away from Bogdanovich’s relatively lighthearted picture.

Desperate and despondent, Bogdanovich poured $5 million of his own money into releasing They All Laughed, and when the film tanked, it derailed his career. Long considered a notorious bomb, the movie has enjoyed the favor of a cult of loyalists, and, 25 years later, it’s finally being released to DVD.

It’s a practically plotless film about two detectives assigned to follow two wives suspected of infidelity. Both private dicks become smitten with their subjects: Nerdy John Ritter nurses a crush on sweetie-pie Stratten, while world-weary ladies’ man Ben Gazzara steals a few moments of doomed love with wealthy Audrey Hepburn. It’s an excellent cast, and the roles are perfectly tailored to the stars and informed by their off-screen personalities (including a real-life romance between Gazzara and Hepburn), but Colleen Camp manages to steal the show as a brassy country singer.

With its mix of snappy, Hawks-ian repartee and extended periods of silence, They All Laughed is certain to frustrate some viewers. The story is thin—it’s just a series of romantic longings, misfires and hookups—yet it takes patience to figure out all the shadowy motives. If you’re willing to stick with it, They All Laughed is smart, insanely romantic and dryly funny, with a brilliant vérité use of New York locations.