BR: Bananas (1971)

February 17, 2018 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  November 14, 2017

Genre:  Comedy / Satire

Synopsis: A nebbish product tester, dull lover, and all-around schmuck becomes the rebel leader of a South American country.

Special Features: Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




Woody Allen’s reteaming with Take the Money and Run (1969) co-writer Mickey Rose struck pure gold in this poke at contemporary politics in which a moron becomes the leader of a South American country after it undergoes a Cuba-like revolution.

The reason Bananas is more successful than Money lies in a more concerted decision to follow its idiot through a series of absurd yet interconnected misadventures instead of a mockumentary relying on faux interviews, voice over narration, and newsreels – things perfected years later in Zelig (1983), but disjointed in Money when scenes feel like glued together skits and vignettes.

Composer Marvin Hamlisch returns for another bubbly soundtrack, but it also feels more uniform, with a wacky main theme that forms the basis for many tongue-in-cheek variations. Allen also uses actual news figures to comment on the nonsense, but Bananas isn’t a mockumentary: it’s absurdism that must have inspired the makers of Airplane! (1980) who packed many sight and fast-moving verbal gags into their ridiculous aerial disaster satire.

Allen’s intro scene as product tester Fielding Mellish consists of an office room with furniture and accessories reconstructed for healthy workouts during an executive’s bureaucratic down time. Like a Chaplin satire on technology gone made, Mellish is soon bombarded and stretched to extremes by the out-of-control setup, but that’s part of his steady gig: being a human crash test dummy.

During everyday activities, objects glide and spastically slip out from Mellish’s grasp – a doorknob almost squirts in all directions, while a mass of frozen peas become a gelatin-like projectile in his apartment – and women immediately recognize he’s the purest  concentration of genuine schmuck, so when a stillborn relationship with political activist Nancy (Louise Lasser) ends, he heads off to their planned socially conscious vacay in San Marcos, hoping to help the rebel cause after a military junta’s taken reins of the country.

The rebels’ Castro-styled leader is soon replaced when his new decrees to the populace include wearing underwear on the outside, to be changed (and checked!) every 30 minutes; the logical successor is Mellish, whose 2 days of college make him the most educated man in the country. Paralleling Castro’s visit to New York City, El Presidente Mellish arrives with an entourage, and his speech to the city and government’s chi-chi elite is filled with nationalistic bragging – the country’s major exports include hernias and locusts – but the tour is interrupted when the FBI and the CIA realize El Presidente is an impostor.

The finale is neat and appropriately ridiculous – sportscaster Howard Cosell, who opens the film with a play-by-play reportage of an assassination, rejoins the narrative to cover Mellish and Nancy’s bedding, and a post-coital Q&A with the lovers – but the film remains unusually fresh for its pioneering narrative of packing in as many absurd details into 81 mins.

The court case in which Mellish defends himself is filled with great yet simple visual gags: when he’s led into the courthouse doorway, Mellish covers a big-toothed woman with his hat because her motherly grin is more disturbing than the jeering crowd; and like an Airplane! stealth gag, a slow pan across a seated  jury briefly shows a man carefully sucking on straw that’s not embedded in an iced  drink, but a live fish bowl.

Allen and Rose also seemed to draw from other classic comedies, such as Billy Wilder’s One,Two,Three (1961): instead of torturing a political prisoner by playing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” it’s opera music for the unfortunate San Marco citizen. Simple jokes are built to epic events, as when Mellish is sent into town to get food for his comrades, and the local corner shop fulfills custom bagged orders for almost a 1000 sandwiches, plus side orders and beverages, all transported out of town to their secret training base by the rebels using conspicuous wheelbarrows.

In terms of the protracted romance, character calm & boredom are pitted against angst & zealous hope: Mellish’s constant verbal nonsense and physical & sexual clumsiness utterly fails to upset or inspire emotionally staid Nancy; even junta leader Gen. Vargas (Carlos Montalbán) contorts his face with over-enunciated pronunciation when addressing his silent minions.

Montalbán was the brother of Hollywood star Ricardo Montalbán, and among the fine cast is Conrad Bain (TV’s Diff’rent Strokes) and unbilled Sylvester Stallone as a NYC subway thug who initially ignores a porn-reading Mellish.

Ron Kalish and Ralph Rosenblum’s editing keeps the pace punchy while also having fun with jump cuts, weird montages, and gag reveals are often punctuated by Hamlisch’s fun score. Norman Gorbaty’s title design is striking yet simple in combining strobing, colourful text with gunshots and the film’s shrill vocal track, and Andrew Costikyan’s cinematography is really, really gorgeous, maintaining a balance between documentary and colourful fiction. MGM’s HD transfer is first-rate – the print is very clean – and Twilight Time’s added a welcome isolated score track that’s very bouncy in stereo.

Julie Kirgo’s liner notes flow with praise for a film that’s underrated in being influential – it’s hard to believe the mass of verbal & visual jokes didn’t influence the sensibilities of genre satirists Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker before and after Airplane! – but lauded as perhaps the highpoint of Allen’s overtly satirical, gag-laden satires of the early 1970s.

Woody Allen films released by Twilight Time include Bananas (1971), Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972), Love and Death (1975), Interiors (1978), Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose(1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Radio Days (1987) September (1987), Another Woman (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Husbands and Wives (1992), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), and Allen starring in the Red Menace satire The Front (1976).

Also reviewed are Take the Money and Run (1969) and Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971).



© 2018 Mark R. Hasan





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