Though a somewhat polarising figure, there is no denying that Woody Allen is one of the most prolific and successful comedy writers of all-time. The New York native has spent no less than fifty years writing, producing and directing comedy for the big screen, from 1965’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? to the recently released Cafe Society. Allen has stamped an indelible mark on comedy cinema, one that Arrow Films is revisiting in a series of upcoming Blu-Ray releases of his works from the mid-70’s.
Bananas is the earliest of Allen’s films featured in this new line-up, and was only his third film as writer/director. It is the story of Fielding Mellish (Allen) a frustrated marketer who winds up in deep waters after taking a casual interest in the South American revolution, a ploy devised to capture the heart of social liberal Nancy (Allen regular Louise Lasser) Whilst visiting the troubled republic of San Marcos to further “prove” his honest intentions, the hapless Mellish suffers a series of ridiculous misadventures that conspire to dig him ever further into the unfolding political chaos.
Allen’s earlier films are characterised by their simple narratives and their propensity for a “jokes-per-minute” style which he would eventually mature into his more subtle romantic comedies. Bananas, like Take the Money and Run before it, is simply setup after setup of snappy one-liners, tongue-in-cheek spoof and visual slapstick. This basic but effective comedy is played against an underlying satirisation of the day’s politics, specifically the ongoing crisis between Cuba and the USA, and spoofing both parties for their mishandling of the situation.
From a performance standpoint, Allen is great in a role he would play onscreen for decades to come.. essentially himself. Louise Lasser is equally as entertaining as the adorable but flaky love interest. The by-play between the two leads is wonderfully performed (Allen and Lasser had already been married and divorced at the time of filming) There’s even a great screen debut for a very young Sylvester Stallone. Running a little over 80 minutes, Bananas is an incredibly easy watch with a rapid-fire ratio of jokes, that (almost) always hit the mark.
Arrow Films have done a great job with the 1080p transfer, which is no surprise, they usually do. Unfortunately, the film is a vanilla release and has been pulled from their upcoming Woody Allen 1971-1978 boxset. As such, this release has no extras, none at all, which is a mind-blowing concept to say it is from the company who pulled three discs out of Nekromantik 2. The price reflects this, as this release of Bananas is cheaper than the average Arrow Blu, but for these films to be missing a plethora of extras is disappointing.
Bananas is a fun film, not one of Allen’s best works, but more than enjoyable. I would think that those wanting to purchase this would likely be buying the upcoming boxset anyway. And with that set on the horizon, purchasing the single-disc release of these films seems a little redundant. But if you have the money to burn, a hole to plug in your collection, or you simply fancy taking a look at the early days of a comedy master, Bananas is as good a place as any to start.
Film: 3/5 Release: 2/5
Dir: Woody Allen
Pdr: Jack Grossberg
Starring: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalban
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
DOP: Andrew M. Costikyan
Runtime: 82 mins
Bananas and Woody Allen: Six Films 1971-1978 are available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Films Sept. 26th