Release Date: April 28th, 1971 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Woody Allen Actors: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalban, Natividad Abascal, Jacobo Morales, Miguel Suarez, Rene Enriquez, Jack Axelrod
n the Latin American country of San Marcos, an American television reporter offers to his viewers a live, on-the-spot presidential assassination, designed to put a fresh dictator into power. The killing should prove quite thrilling; or as thrilling as the latest sports match, anyway. The previous broadcast was reserved for the traditional bombing of the American Embassy, but this new, anxiously awaited governmental overthrow draws all the bitingly sarcastic comparisons to iconic boxing matches or a football game or some other such main event. Thanks to director Woody Allen, the satire is hysterical yet brutal in its mockery of politics, the media, and even casual audience members themselves.
Coup leader General Vargas (Carlos Montalban) just might be the most hated man in San Marcos, but he’s nevertheless determined to imprison all dissenters, banish free press, maintain his policies of harassment, and hunt down any democratic guerrilla factions hiding away in the hills. With a revolution brewing, it’s up to people like Nancy (Louise Lasser), an activist who goes door to door in New York, collecting names for a petition to the U.S. government to back the rebels instead of the oppressive, dictatorial regime. And one of her stops is to the home of Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen), a lonely man who could be easily convinced to volunteer for the cause. “I’m wide open for the next six years,” he mutters to the pretty girl.
Melling is a research tester for GEC (he tries out a hi-tech desk that allows the user to exercise while at work, but it malfunctions spectacularly, perhaps as a nod to “Modern Times”), but he’s fed up with his mundane career. Alternately anarchical and content with ignoring the injustices surrounding him in New York, it’s not long before he’s dating Nancy and gets caught up in her political interests – such as picketing an embassy or other such demonstrations. But when Nancy dumps him due to a bevy of deficiencies (“Do I look like the kinda guy that would have trouble in bed?”), Fielding decides to head to San Marcos to prove that he can be a leader – one worthy of Nancy’s affections.
“Bananas” is lighthearted, goofy, cynical, ridiculous, and scathingly critical in equal proportions. There’s also plenty of slapstick, sexual jokes, and Woody Allen’s signature, random, spontaneous verbal jests, as if reciting stand-up routines in no particular order (though it certainly contributes to his neurotic, nervous, immature, insecure persona). Visual gimmicks arrive continuously with little downtime, which means that some are quite effective, while others disappear into the background. Allen isn’t afraid to break the fourth wall, mess with the editing, and devolve into pure fantasy (such as when a harp accompaniment is revealed to be a guy hiding in a closet, hoping to find a quiet place to practice).
Drinks are accidentally tossed into faces or food is splattered onto garments as often as plots are hatched to dispatch troublemaking insurgents. Training montages demonstrate comical sequences of governmental ineptness (no country is exempt), while a food raid on the nearby town involves swindling a little cafe out of thousands of sandwiches-to-go (and wheelbarrows full of coleslaw). And the music by Marvin Hamlisch is comparably absurd, featuring plucky, playful piano tunes to contradict the darker commentary onscreen (including the assault of an old lady on a subway by an uncredited Sylvester Stallone, botched poisoning attempts, and public executions). Though many of the jokes are standard – even overly recognizable gags – and the slapstick occasionally becomes so ludicrous that it negates the purpose for a story at all, there’s something entirely endearing about the exceedingly high degree of nonsense Allen is willing to explore to lampoon timeless political predicaments. By the time he dons an enormous, fake red beard as a disguise to wriggle his way back into the United States, “Bananas” has transformed into a total spoof – fused with a mock commercial, a trial without any sense of order, and a return to the boxing analogy during a closing sex scene. “Differences of opinion should be tolerated; but not when they’re too different.”
– Mike Massie