In the first film of our box set articles on the Woody Allen collection we take a look at the 1971 Comedy Bananas. At this point in his career Woody had already been a star for some years. Starting as a writer for the likes of Sid Caesar and Ed Sullivan. In the 1960’s he moved into a successful stand up career and developed his writing talents as a successful playwright. The move into films occurred during the mid sixties and by the time he was in the directors chair for Bananas Woody had complete artistic control over his projects. Bananas marks only the second time that Woody directed his own script. For many this film marked the start of the directors golden period in the 1970’s. Over the coming weeks we will cover ,in chronological order, all of the 1970’s and 1980’s films in his directing career.
Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is a bumbling New Yorker holding down a job as a product tester for new and unusual products that are about to hit the market. He is unlucky in love and a bit of a loser. One evening a girl, Nancy (Louise Lasser), appears at his door looking for a signature on her petition opposing the US involvement with the regime in the South American country of San Marco.
Fielding seeing a real live woman turns on the charm and through persistence, more than anything else, secures a date. As the relationship develops Fielding gets involved with Nancy’s protesting activities. eventually Nancy tires of Fielding citing something missing from their relationship. What it is she doesn’t know but is definitely not there. Devastated, Fielding decides to visit San Marco to see for himself what he has been protesting about. Upon his arrival in the country Fielding is invited to dine with General Varas (Carlos Montalban), the evil dictator of San Marco. Fielding makes such an impression that the General decides to stage our hero’s murder. The motivation is that the death of an American that can be attributed to the rebels will help in acquiring US government support for the Junta. Fielding is driven into the countryside by the Generals troops. As he is about to be executed rebel soldiers attack the army. Fielding is liberated only to be conscripted into the cause of the rebels led by the charismatic Esposito (Jacobo Morales). The adventure for Fielding is only just beginning.
It is apparent that Woody was still on a learning curve during the making of this film. The techniques he uses for the story telling laced with humour are a bit hit and miss. Total artistic control was definitely given over to Woody for this film which may be the reason that some of the humour doesn’t work as well as others. That’s not to say it isn’t funny. It;s just that some of the time the film really stretches to get a laugh and unfortunately falls flat. Some of the abstract humour fails to pay off. A man drinking from a goldfish bowl using a straw and a string quartet miming does work as well as it should. The majority of the film is on a higher level to this and the film is genuinely entertaining to watch. The product testing scenes, the porn magazine purchase and the courtroom interrogation scene are all highlights. They are handled very well and are laugh out loud funny.
Woody uses his looks and mannerisms to bring the character of Fielding to life. He has a certain physical awkwardness that is very amusing to watch. Very much a classic clown. He always has a one liner to get him out of trouble or on occasion to get him in it. The dialogue is a stand out in the film. It is sharp, witty and delivered rapidly allowing little time for the joke to sink in before moving on to the next one.
Clearly Woody was not the finished article in terms of acting, directing and writing for the screen. Although not perfect there is a lot to admire and enjoy in this film. A fine start to the box set. Recommended.