By Alif Majeed.
The thing about Bananas is that, though the humor is very much a product of its time, it has managed to age fairly well. The political situation in the late ’60s might have served as a hook or starting point for it, but we did get a hilarious movie out of the bargain even though it can get REALLY silly at times. It is also clear that classic political comedies like Duck soup and The Great Dictator were a considerable influence on Bananas. You can also find its genes in later political spoofs that it subsequently inspired like Idiocracy.
Cut from the same cloth as Dr. Strangelove, where Stanley Kubrick turned a political thriller novel Red Alert into the movie that we now know and love. The way Woody Allen and co-writer Mickey Rose took Don Quixote, USA, a political novel with comic undertones and mangled into Bananas, is commendable.
The movie starts with an announcement of a would-be assassination of a democratic leader while the broadcast prepares the audience for it with its running commentary. Based on the broadcasting norms of the time, it is fascinating to watch the scene play out as the host and commentator takes it all the way down to the assassination and choosing of the new dictator.
We then move to Woody Allen, as Fielding Mellish, who works as a product tester for a company that sells multi-tasking equipment for corporates. If that sounds like a chance that he would use to show off his sight gag comedy skills, that is pretty much what he does. The character is a quintessential stock Woody Allen character, which comes as an extension of his first movie and pretty much many of his classics since. Nervous and twitching, a guy who just wouldn’t get the message when his co-worker is spurning him, but still try to come up with a punchline out of the rejection.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Sylvester Stallone in the movie, in a cameo as a thug who intimidates Woody Allen in the subway. The story of how Stallone lands that bit role says a lot about Woody Allen as a person in real life and pretty much explains a lot about his comedy.
Under his misguided delusion of trying to impress a local social worker, Nancy (Louise Lasser), he decides to go to a banana republic country to sort their affairs and show them solidarity and support. He ends up coming across as comically patronizing which doesn’t go down well with the dictator who decides the best way to get US aid is to assassinate him and blame it on the revolutionaries.
Narrowly escaping the attempt, he manages to join the rebellion, train with them for a coup and somehow find time to be the dictator of the country. The training scenes where he trains with the revolutionaries are some of the funniest scenes he has ever made. All this leads to a hilarious climax that takes great pains in explaining what a sham trial is (“I object, your honor! This trial is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”)
One thing about the movie is that, like many of his earlier films, he manages to fill it with as many gags as possible. And the jokes keep on coming right till the last frame of the movie. Though he uses a broad canvas and brush strokes to paint the picture here, there is something that would remind you or make you draw a parallel with the current state of affairs across the world in some form. All the while continuously making Bananas and its political commentary is as silly as possible.
Louise Lasser, Woody Allen’s ex-wife, plays Nancy, a precursor for another charming and neurotic archetype he created in Annie Hall. Though she may be confused about her political views (“I may be bombing an office building, but I’ll soon find out”), Louise does manage to infuse enough charm into her character and you understand why this shy guy would go out of his way to impress her by joining the rebellion.
It is safe to say that Bananas was one of the funniest movies among his earlier films and there is a lot in it that would get a laugh or at least a chuckle out of you. If you have to watch one movie from his earlier phase, you can’t go wrong with this one.
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