Much of Woody Allen’s latter-day work has been either critically loved, hated or almost completely ignored. Over the years, he has become more interested in taking chances in the dramatic arena and engaging in relationship-based ensembles. What many younger film enthusiasts may have forgotten about or never been exposed to were some of his ‘early, funny ones.’ His first few feature films where he wrote and directed himself are homages to his hero Buster Keaton and exhibit a flair for broad comedy that has defined Allen in the eyes of many. While ‘Take The Money and Run’ was a good example of this, his first great comedy was ‘Bananas.’
The story centers on Fielding Mellish (Allen), a product tester who travels to the fictional republic of San Marcos in an attempt to impress Nancy (Louise Lasser) a woman with a passion for social activism. It doesn’t take long for Mellish to get swept up by rebels bent on taking down the corrupt government. What transpires is a fish out of water scenario in the funniest sense.
Unlike his more subdued and buttoned down (or is it buttoned up?) work of the late ’70s and beyond, ‘Bananas’ revels in slapstick and generating low-brow laughs. Sharp verbal barbs and witticisms are very much present and accounted for, but they are also punctuated with physical humor that can appeal to a very wide audience. Sometimes Allen’s dialog-based jokes have always kept a segment of the population at bay, but that’s not really a concern with his first few works. These stories are mostly just focused on a little, neurotic, Jewish fellow who is pursuing women who are out of his league and trying to make it through outrageous situations. Simple as that.
The courtroom scene is not only probably the funniest part of the whole film, but it is one of the funniest scenes of any movie in the 1970’s. Hilariously odd inclusions such as an ad for New Testament Cigarettes and Howard Cosell commentary bookending the story don’t necessarily add much to the plot, but they are nice touches. Look for an early Sly Stallone sighting during a subway scene.
One complaint some people may have is that the film is so short at barely an hour and twenty minutes. This was a characteristic of most of his early work as the movies never overstay their welcomes. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit.
Special features include: only a theatrical trailer.
If you are someone who likes silly comedies and has wanted to begin exploring Woody Allen’s daunting filmography, ‘Bananas’ wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Depending who you ask, some people prefer ‘Sleeper,’ ‘Love and Death’ (this examiner’s favorite) or even the comedy-drama ‘Annie Hall.’ All are good examples if you want to explore the director’s approach to comedy, but it’s important to realize that his career, for better or worse, evolved to explore vastly different avenues.
Rated R 82 minutes 1971
‘Bananas’ is available to rent/purchase in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley and beyond.