Directed By: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalbán
Trivia: The mock-TV ad for New Testament cigarettes earned the movie a "Condemned" rating by the Catholic Church
There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s 1980 movie Stardust Memories where filmmaker and comedian Sandy Bates (the character Allen portrays) is face-to-face with an alien from another world. Figuring it to be a creature of superior intelligence, Sandy proceeds to ask it questions about the existence of God and the meaning of life. “If nothing lasts”, he queries, “why am I bothering to make films, or do anything, for that matter?” “We enjoy your films”, the alien replies, “particularly the early, funny ones”.
Whenever I think of Allen’s “early, funny” movies, the one that immediately pops to mind is 1971’s Bananas.
Fielding Mellish (Allen) is a nebbish New York product tester who falls in love with Nancy (Louise Lasser), a social activist. To win her affections, Mellish pays a visit to the war-torn republic of San Marcos, where he joins the revolutionary movement led by Esposito (Jacobo Morales) to depose the country’s militaristic leader, Gen. Vargas (Carlos Montalbán). The good news is the revolution is a success; the bad news is Mellish is appointed the new President of San Marcos!
This is the basic storyline, but, in reality, Bananas is almost total anarchy, featuring Allen at his absolute zaniest. The film opens with the assassination of San Marcos’ president (the incident that brings Gen. Vargas to power), which is presented as if it were a sporting event, complete with legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell (as himself) reporting live from the scene. One of the funniest sequences has Mellish paying a visit to a New York book store, where he slyly examines their selection of pornographic magazines. He decides to buy one, but, fearing what the other patrons might think, he also picks up issues of more “acceptable” magazines, like Time, Newsweek, and Saturday Review. His plan goes awry, however, when the cashier looks over his choices, and then shouts across the store to his co-worker, “Hey, Ralph! How much is a copy of Orgasm?” Another funny moment takes place on the subway, where Mellish tries to save an old woman who’s being accosted by two street thugs (one of the muggers is played by a very young, and uncredited, Sylvester Stallone).
Allen’s third stint as a director (after What’s Up, Tiger Lily? and Take the Money and Run), Bananas is a constant barrage of jokes and physical humor. Like many of his earlier works, not all the gags hit the mark, but when they do, Bananas is flat-out hilarious.