Bananas is a 1971 American comedy film directed by Woody Allen and starring Allen, Louise Lasser, and Carlos Montalban. Written by Allen and Mickey Rose, the film is about a bumbling New Yorker who, after being dumped by his activist girlfriend, travels to a tiny Latin American nation and becomes involved in its latest rebellion. Parts of the plot are based on the book Don Quixote, U.S.A. by Richard P. Powell.
Theatrical release poster by Jack Davis
|Directed by||Woody Allen|
|Produced by||Jack Grossberg|
|Music by||Marvin Hamlisch|
|Cinematography||Andrew M. Costikyan|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$11.8 million|
Filmed on location in New York City, Lima, and Puerto Rico, the film was released to positive reviews from critics and was number 78 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies" and number 69 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs in 2000.
The film opens on the assassination of the president of the fictional "banana republic" of San Marcos and a coup d'état that brings Gen. Emilio Molina Vargas (Carlos Montalban) to power, sets up the situation in which Mellish would become embroiled. The scene was in the form of a championship boxing telecast on Wide World of Sports, with Don Dunphy as the host and Howard Cosell as the commentator.
Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is a neurotic blue collar man who tries to impress social activist Nancy (Louise Lasser) by trying to get in touch with the revolution in San Marcos. He visits the republic and attempts to show his concern for the native people. However, Vargas secretly orders his men to kill Mellish, disguised as the revolutionaries, to make the rebels look bad so that the U.S. will send Vargas financial aid. Mellish evades Vargas's assassins, but is shortly after captured by the real rebels. Vargas declares Mellish dead regardless, leaving Mellish no choice but to join the rebels for two months. Mellish then learns, clumsily, how to be a revolutionary. When the revolution is successful, Esposito, the Castro-style leader, goes mad. The rebels decide to replace him with Mellish as their president.
When traveling back to the U.S. to obtain financial aid, Mellish (sporting a long fake beard) reunites with Nancy and is exposed. In a classic courtroom scene, Mellish tries to defend himself from a series of incriminating witnesses, including a reigning Miss America and a middle-aged African-American woman claiming to be J. Edgar Hoover in disguise. One of the witnesses does provide testimony favorable to Mellish, but the court clerk, when asked to read back this testimony, replies with an entirely different, wholly unfavorable rendition. Mellish is eventually sentenced to prison, but his sentence is suspended on the condition that he does not move into the judge's neighborhood. Nancy then agrees to marry him. The film ends with the between-the-covers consummation of their marriage, an event that was over much more quickly than Nancy had anticipated. Like the opening scene, it was accompanied by Howard Cosell providing commentary.
- Woody Allen as Fielding Mellish
- Louise Lasser as Nancy
- Carlos Montalban as Gen. Emilio Molina Vargas
- Natividad Abascal as Yolanda
- Jacobo Morales as Esposito
- Miguel Ángel Suárez as Luis
- David Ortiz as Sanchez
- René Enríquez as Diaz
- Jack Axelrod as Arroyo
- Howard Cosell as Himself
- Roger Grimsby as Himself
- Don Dunphy as Himself
- Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Mellish
- Stanley Ackerman as Dr. Mellish
- Dan Frazer as Priest
- Dorothi Fox as J. Edgar Hoover
- Martha Greenhouse as Dr. Feigen
- Axel Anderson as Man Tortured (by being forced to listen to operetta music, which he hates)
- Tigre Pérez as Perez
- Baron De Beer as British Ambassador
- Arthur Hughes as Judge
- John Braden as Prosecutor
- Ted Chapman as Policeman
- Dagne Crane as Sharon
- Eddie Barth as Paul
- Nicholas Saunders as Douglas
- Conrad Bain as Semple
- Allen Garfield as Man on Cross
- Sylvester Stallone as Subway Thug #1 (uncredited)
- Mary Jo Catlett as Woman in Hotel Lobby Cheering Honeymoon (uncredited)
- Tino García
- Court Benson as senator (uncredited)
According to an interview in the notes of the film's DVD release, Allen said that there is absolutely no blood in the film (even during executions) because he wanted to keep the light comedic tone of the film intact.
Allen and Lasser had been married from 1966 to 1970 and were divorced at the time the film was made.
The verdict in Mellish's legal case is portrayed as the headline story of a Roger Grimsby newscast. Included in the scene is a parody television advertisement for New Testament cigarettes with a Catholic priest (Dan Frazer) promoting the fictitious brand while performing the sacrament of the Eucharist. The movie received a C (condemned) classification from the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures because of the spoof.
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The title is a pun, "bananas" being slang for "crazy", as well as being a reference to the phrase "banana republic" describing the film's setting. The title also may be a respectful nod to The Cocoanuts, the first film by the Marx Brothers, by whom Allen was heavily influenced at the time. However, when Allen was asked why the film was called Bananas, his reply was, "Because there are no bananas in it." In Don Quixote, U.S.A., the novel by Richard P. Powell that served as a source for Bananas, the protagonist was an agronomist specializing in bananas.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised the film, saying "Allen's view of the world is fraught with everything except pathos, and it's a view I happen to find very funny. Here is no little man surviving with a wan smile and a shrug, but a runty, wise-mouthed guy whose initial impulses toward cowardice seem really heroic in the crazy order of the way things are." He concluded, "Any movie that attempts to mix together love, Cuban revolution, the C.I.A., Jewish mothers, J. Edgar Hoover and a few other odds and ends (including a sequence in which someone orders 1,000 grilled cheese sandwiches) is bound to be a little weird—and most welcome." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three stars out of four and called the opening scene "one of the funniest bits of film," though he thought the romance "gets in the way" and "could have been omitted easily." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "Allen seems to have been unable to figure a suitable finish for the plot, which does not so much peak as stop. Still the best jokes have a glorious insanity about them. Given the diminishing ability to laugh like blazing idiots these days, 'Bananas' is welcome even if Allen is not quite at the top of his form." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote that the film was "in a word, hilarious," and "an immense improvement" over Take the Money and Run. Richard Combs of The Monthly Film Bulletin thought that "the gags seem a little brighter than in Take the Money," but also found the scattershot humor "too undisciplined and disparate." John Simon wrote of the film's plot 'None of it makes for sense or solidly developing humor, and much of it is in bad taste'.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- "Bananas". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 11, 2012.
- Lax, Eric (1991). Woody Allen: A Biography. New York: Knopf. p. 220. ISBN 978-0394583495.
- "Locations for Bananas". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 11, 2012.
- Warren, James. "Press Goes 'Bananas,'" Chicago Tribune, Sunday, October 30, 1994.
- "Full cast and crew for Bananas". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 11, 2012.
- Bananas (movie detail) – American Film Institute.
- Vitello, Paul. "Dan Frazer, Fretful Supervisor on ‘Kojak,’ Dies at 90," The New York Times, Tuesday, December 20, 2011.
- "Bananas". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
- Canby, Vincent (April 29, 1971). "Woody Allen Leads a 'Bananas' Revolution". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
- Siskel, Gene (May 17, 1971). "Woody's 'Bananas'". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 16.
- Champlin, Charles (May 13, 1971). "Woody Allen in 'Bananas'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 26.
- Arnold, Gary (May 20, 1971). "Peels of Laughter". The Washington Post. C1, C7.
- Combs, Richard (October 1971). "Bananas". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 38 (453): 191.
- Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle A decade of American films. Crown Publishers Inc. p. 40.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
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