The first movie I watched was Take the Money and Run. I chose not to watch What's Up Tiger Lily? because, although it was Allen's directorial debut, it is not a traditional film. He is not in it. He bought the rights to another movie and overdubbed it with his own script. It is really funny though and I would recommend it. The real reason I didn't watch it was because it wasn't at the library and every time I went to the rental store it was checked out already.
Take the Money and Run is Woody Allen's first real movie. It brings into contrast the hard-boiled crime drama like Dragnet and Allen's portrayal of bumbling ineptitude. This probably isn't the first instance of such a pairing, and it definitely isn't the last.
He makes use of stock footage and interviews to build up the reality of the straight lines and then introduces zany takes off of them. There is this one scene that could be straight out of Cool Hand Luke with a chain gang that runs away. You see them being chased by bloodhounds and then in the next frame five out of six of the gang members are riding bicycles, with Woody running in between them holding his chains up.
If I were to attempt to isolate a theme or message, it might have something to do with religion and sex. But that might be with the foreknowledge of his later work. He does couple the idea of God and being beaten a few times. Also he has his first idyllic woman who will rescue him. Allen doesn't believe in spiritual salvation, only temporary physical salvation in the arms of a beautiful woman.
And, of course, this movie is the birth of his nebbish character. "Unable to fit in with any aspect of his environment," the narrator describes Allen's character, Virgil Starkwell. He is a victim much more than a criminal.
On the whole, I feel that this is one of Allen's forgotten films. Out of five stars, I give it three and a half.