Bananas is the second film written, directed and starring Woody Allen. It is a straight farcical comedy, about a man who gets caught up in a revolution of a small fictional country of San Marcos.
Allen stars as Fielding Mellish, although he plays pretty much the same character, or kind of character, that he does in Take the Money And Run. In these early films, where Allen was so inspired by the Marx Brothers and Chaplin, he is pretty much setting up ridiculous situations for his screen persona to play in. The only other headline acting credit in this film goes to Louise Lasser, Allen’s ex wife.
Bananas is fun, but a bit of a mess. It takes a long time for the plot to kick in – a man falls for an activist, gets dumped, joins a revolution to impress her – and then it rushes to the finish. It runs off on tangents and surreal asides. The mugging scene (that features a young Sylvester Stallone) ends abruptly, and leads to nothing. The introduction credit sequence is too long. Even compared to the other choppy sketch comedy films, this is one of the choppiest.
The funny bits are pretty funny. The new laws laid out by the newly mad dictator (“The official language of San Marcos will be Swedish“). The banter and chemistry between Allen and Lasser is great. It’s outrageous and not very subtle but at it’s best it’s a lot of fun. There are plenty of ‘silent’ sequences – no dialogue, just physical comedy. Allen proves himself adept at being the Chaplin-esque rogue. However, not all of it works, and with so many random asides, not every joke hits – and some miss completely.
Worse of all, it feels like a bigger point has gone missing. Allen’s always been subtle with his politics, but there are moments when you feel like Allen wants to say something about the absurdity of revolution or violence. But it never comes off, and it’s a shame. But the signs that he wanted to do more than just tell jokes start here.
Perhaps it’s a victim of it’s time. War and revolution were in the headlines, and a light hearted laugh at it all provided welcome relief. The sketch comedy style was vogue at the time, and Allen is one of the greatest hands at it (as he will go onto prove).
It’s patchy, it’s nonsensical, it doesn’t flow, and it doesn’t really hold a light to what follows. But they aren’t called the ‘early, funny ones’ for nothing. It’s certainly early days, and it’s certainly funny.
Starring: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser