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Bananas (1971)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

Farcical fun as Woody Allen stumbles across a tin-pot South American country and winds up becoming the President. Opening with a marvellous swipe at tabloid TV news crews, a team is there to capture the assassination of the current president. The crowds are restless, waiting for the appearance of their despised leader. Suddenly the tension breaks as he walks out, gets shot and is immediately interviewed by the reporter, all for the "good folks" back home. None of this impinges on Fielding Mellish's (Woody Allen) daily struggle with life though, as a technical product tester. As usual he's a shy, geeky kind of guy who finds it difficult enough to get near a woman let alone talk to her. Cupid smiles on Fielding one night when Nancy (Louise Lasser) knocks on his apartment door, collecting signatures on behalf of San Marcos. Fielding is only too happy to oblige, hoping to achieve his ulterior motive, and winds up joining her volunteer group.

So what if he's apolitical? As long as Fielding is with Nancy he's happy to parade outside embassies and get tossed about in demonstrations. However, one day Nancy declares that they can't go on together - there's something vital missing from their relationship. She doesn't know what it is, and Fielding can't guess, but it means the end. In desperation Fielding quits his job and flees to run-down San Marcos, just to get away from the memories. Surprisingly he's invited to dinner with the President, General Vargas (Carlos Montalban), to discuss philosophy and politics - although Fielding has to wield his credit card at the end! Thinking that he's someone important, Fielding is actually the stooge for Vargas. They plan to assassinate him and blame it on the rebels, thus getting support from the US. It all goes to plan until Fielding is captured by these rebels, while his demise is plastered all over the papers.

Since Fielding can't leave (being marked for death by the government) he stays with the renegades and tries to learn some fighting skills. Of course, he's totally useless. Rifles mysteriously fall apart in his hands, grenades go off for no reason and whenever he tries camouflage, it's so good that soldiers happen by and urinate on him! The one ray of hope in this desolation is the female soldiers, who take a liking to Fielding (possibly curiosity but probably pity). Eventually the revolution takes place and Vargas is ousted, leaving Yolanda (Natividad Abascal) in his place (watch out for the Battleship Potemkin homage). He gets a little power crazy though and Fielding is drafted in to replace him. Imagine that - a low-level college drop-out becomes dictator of a small banana-republic. What more could happen?

Bananas packs a lot of laughs into it's 82 minutes - slap-stick, one-liners, visual comedy, puns and a whole lot more. Most of the gags hit their mark, such as a subway mugging scene with a young Sylvester Stallone acting menacing or the difficulties Fielding has with an exercise-desk. However, a lot of the material is dated, adolescent and unsophisticated. The intervening 25 years don't treat the movie kindly, especially when the subtlety of Allen's later work is considered. It's all good, clean entertainment though - the absence of expletives and gratuitous nudity makes a rather pleasant change from many of the current "comedies". Often bizarre, this film is mainly of interest in showing where Allen came from and how far he's gone.


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