Woody Allen's new movie, Husbands and Wives, already had great word of mouth some insiders were speculating it was his best since 1979's Manhattan. And then all personal hell broke loose. As all but the most reclusive cave-dweller knows by now, costar Mia Farrow, Allen's companion of 12 years, accused him of molesting their 7-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan, and having an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, 19 or 21, depending on whom you listen to. Allen denied the first charge, ''happily'' admitted the second, and the couple went to war in court and in the press. Now Husbands and Wives a cutting comedy in which disgruntled wife Judy (Farrow) wants kids and straying husband Gabe (Allen) grapples with a 21-year-old Barnard student (Juliette Lewis) has a monster buzz, thanks to the painful parallels between Allen's movie and his life.
TriStar promptly moved the film's release date up five days to Sept. 18 and increased its release from eight cities to 800 screens nationwide. The studio kiboshed a junket for the film, in which masses of small-town journalists might actually have had a crack at an interview with Garbo-esque Allen, 56. Critics thronged like lemmings to crash strictly controlled advance screenings: Only 40 people were admitted to the studio theater in Manhattan. ''Jesus, it's easier to get into Yale than into this screening!'' cried somebody in the L.A. queue, braving quadruple checkpoints with publicists ticking names off a list dominated by retired film professors and Woody pals.
While private lives may be scarred by the scandal, it looks like it's going to mean good business news for Allen, the movie, and the studio. Husbands and Wives is the first film Allen has directed since 1983 outside the protection of now-struggling Orion Pictures, which tolerated low grosses from his movies in return for his seemingly priceless prestige. TriStar probably won't have to make that same trade-off with Husbands and Wives.
''Whatever it would have done, it will do two to three times better,'' says a rival studio chief. ''A typical Woody Allen movie does $10 to $15 million if it's a comedy, $5 to $10 million if it isn't. (The average gross for Allen films made with Farrow since '83 is $10.7 million.) Assuming this is one of the better comedies, it could do $30 million now. This kind of publicity could double it, providing TriStar takes advantage of it.'' Except for the accelerated release, the promotional plans for Husbands and Wives will remain business as usual, according to TriStar.
For all the publicity, advantageous and otherwise, Woody and Mia have received, one mystery remains. Husbands and Wives began filming in November and went into postproduction in late January. Farrow and Allen seem to have continued their professional relationship after Jan. 13, when she reportedly found the notorious nude photos Allen says he took to boost Soon-Yi's modeling career. Reports suggest Farrow was even planning to star in Allen's forthcoming Manhattan Murder Mystery until two weeks ago. (She has since been replaced by Allen's former protegee Diane Keaton.)
Why would Farrow remain in Allen's employ? ''Mia's broke,'' says a close friend of Farrow's. ''She earned about $200,000 and change per year in Allen's films.'' One of Allen's 1980s film actors adds, ''Woody pays Mia a lot less than she should get. Not to say she wasted the best years of her life or anything (ages 35 to 47), but her most marketable years are gone.''
Farrow's spokesman, John Springer, won't comment on her earnings. Allen's publicist, Leslee Dart, confirms that Allen gave Farrow a ''nest egg as a gesture of friendship when their relationship was still good.'' He can afford it: Allen reportedly earned $10 million for starring in 1991's Scenes From a Mall and directing five new Italian TV commercials.