Let's say you're a moviemaker and you're fed up with the studio machine. You want creative control over your work. You're an artiste. What do you do?
If you're Hollywood heavyweights Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, you stick it to The Man and start your own production company. That's precisely how United Artists was born way back in 1919 when Woodrow Wilson was in the White House and people were making bathtub hooch. As its clever name suggests, United Artists puts the emphasis on the artists.
Fast-forward fifty years: United Artists released Annie Hall in 1977 after a huge struggle. The production company was stoked about Annie Hall—they'd distributed Allen's four previous films—but they didn't know how to promote it. At the time, Annie Hall was called Anhedonia, which is an old-school word that refers to the inability to experience pleasure. It's not exactly catchy, is it? It sounds like a mountain range in Asia.
That's what United Artists thought, too, but they fought on, bringing in an ad agency to go full Don Draper and create a million-dollar marketing plan to put butts in seats, in spite of the movie's wonky title.
Their big idea was this: take out space in local newspapers, and fill them with fake headlines reading "Anhedonia Strikes Cleveland!"—or, you know, whatever city that particular paper was located in (source). Fortunately, this bizarre plan was grounded before take-off, and Allen ultimately agreed to change the title to something a little more pronounceable.
Taking an Axe to Annie
The bigger obstacle United Artists faced was the film's marathon running time. Originally, Annie Hall was a murder mystery that ran for two and a half hours, or roughly five ad-filled episodes of The Big Bang Theory. Woof.
For a comedy film, that's basically unheard of. So, the production company suggested some edits to director and star Woody Allen. Really, it was just one big edit: "Cut the mystery stuff. This isn't Scooby Doo."
Enter Ralph Rosenblum. "[…] were it not for the intervention of editorial consultant Ralph Rosenblum," claims Slant Magazine's Jaime N. Christley, "[Annie Hall] probably would have been an unreleasable mess" (source).
Rosenblum axed the murder subplot and a host of other gags; those that he didn't chuck, he trimmed down. Rosenblum's cut was lean and mean and zoomed the romance between Alvy and Annie to the forefront. United Artists loved it. Allen, not so much:
"The relationship between myself and Diane Keaton was all anyone cared about," Allen told reporters at a 2012 press conference (source). "That was not what I cared about. That was one small part of another big canvas that I had. In the end, I had to reduce the film to just me and Diane Keaton, and that relationship, so I was quite disappointed in that movie, as I was with other films of mine that were very popular."
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
By the time Annie Hall hit movie theaters, all of the artists who united to make it may not have been happy, but audiences, critics, and Oscar voters ate it up. "But what about the murder mystery?" you're asking. "Alvy and Annie solving crimes like Holmes and Watson? Sign me up!" That plot didn't disappear like a tube sock in a dryer. Rather, Allen allegedly funneled many parts of it into 1993's Manhattan Murder Mystery, a comedy featuring Allen, Keaton, and hardly any love story at all.