Bananas (1971)

Woody Allen and Louise Lasser in Bananas (1971)

Woody Allen’s third feature film, Bananas, finds the famously neurotic comedian playing Fielding Mellish, a hapless product tester who ends up becoming the president of a small Latin American nation … all because he wanted to impress his radical girlfriend.

How exactly did he get to that position? Well – who cares? It’s hardly the point. Bananas may be about a military dictatorship, but the film itself is anarchic. The narrative is choppy and mostly serves to facilitate a bunch of jokes. There’s satire and slapstick (inspired equally by the zaniness of the Marx Brothers and silent comedies, of which The Great Dictator is a clear influence), and also jokes that seem plucked directly out of Allen’s stand-up routines. There’s one scene in particular where Mellish tries to purchase a porno mag that’s amusing while being completely out of place in the film.

The silliness and stylistic diversity of the film – it opens with two boxing commentators running a play-by-play of a political assassination, for example – would get fleshed out in his Oscar winning Annie Hall. Bananas isn’t as thoughtful as the best work in Allen’s filmography, and occasionally suffers from awkward editing, but it is incredibly funny and definitely worth watching.

4 stars

8 thoughts on “Bananas (1971)

  1. This is Woody at his most outlandish (a good film to couple this with would be Sleeper). Well worth watching for post-Annie Hall/Manhattan Woody fans!

    • I picked up a collection of 40 Woody Allen films so I’ll be gradually working through them this year; this was the earliest film in the set and it’s definitely a big departure from some of his later work!

  2. This is a classic “screwball” comedy – throwing anything and everything at the screen – and virtually all of it sticks…or to paraphrase Fielding: “my mother gave me a pressure cooker. I tried to make beef stroganoff. It’s still on the wall.” Great movie, great writeup!

    • I don’t know that it’s technically a classic screwball – it doesn’t really feature the high-paced dialogue that defines those films – but it definitely captures the spirit of “anything goes” that defined great screwball films. So many great scenes, so many great jokes. Thanks for the comment!

  3. One of my fave Woody flicks. Love his off the wall, screwball approach. Good review! It’s good to see it get some love.

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