Woody Allen, Nati Abascal, and Louise Lasser in Bananas (1971)


(director/writer: Woody Allen; screenwriter: Mickey Rose; cinematographer: Andrew M. Costikyan; editors: Ron Kalish/Ralph Rosenblum; music: Marvin Hamlisch; cast: Woody Allen (Fielding Mellish), Louise Lasser (Nancy), Carlos Montalban (Gen. Emilio M. Vargas), Natividad Abascal (Yolanda), Jacobo Morales (Esposito), Miguel Suarez (Luis), David Oritz (Sanchez), Rene Enriquez (Diaz), Jack Axelrod (Arroyo), Sylvester Stallone (Mugger), Howard Cosell, Roger Grimsby, Don Dunphy; Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Jack Grossberg; MGM; 1971)

“An attempt to capture the same zaniness the Marx Brothers had in Duck Soup.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Woody Allen’s (“Take the Money and Run “) second feature is an attempt to capture the same zaniness the Marx Brothers had in Duck Soup, which is a tall order. That it does at times is a tribute to Allen’s ability to deliver snappy one-liners, do sight gags with the best of comedians and do physical comedy almost in the same vein as Charlie Chaplin. It’s written by Allen with Mickey Rose.

Its nonsensical and incoherent story line might throw some for a loop, but Allen shines as the puny neurotic Jew from NYC who’ll do anything to get a date and keep a romance going. Here he plays Fielding Mellish, a horny products tester for a marketing research corporation who hits on college student and political activist Nancy (Louise Lasser) when she asks him to sign a petition in support of a rebel group in the fictitious Latin American country of San Marcos. When Nancy dumps him because he’s missing something and doesn’t have leadership ability, Mellish takes a trip to San Marcos to see first-hand what he’s missing. Winding up a dinner guest of the wily dictator of San Marcos, Vargas (Carlos Montalban), Mellish survives his assassination attempt. The dictator hoped to blame it on the rebels, and thereby gain American financial support. When Mellish is instead captured by the rebels, he proves his worth by ordering over 500 take-out sandwiches in the jungle. When they win and their Fidel-like leader declares himself a dictator and makes Swedish the new language of San Marcos and that underwear has to be changed every half hour and worn on the outside for inspectors to observe, the rebels make the saner Mellish their new leader. To get money for the cause Mellish travels to America, where he beds down with an impressed Nancy, goes on trial for treason for his NYC political activism that took place while dating Nancy, and is finally given a suspended sentence with the stipulation he can’t move into the judge’s neighborhood.

The opening and closing scenes take a healthy poke at both reality TV and tabloid journalism. In the opening scene commentator Howard Cosell, on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, acts as an announcer of a Latin-American president’s assassination and then interviews his dictator replacement General Vargas. In the closing scene Cosell on live television provides the play-by-play of Fielding consummating his marriage with Nancy.

Sylvester Stallone, before his success in Rocky, has a bit part as a subway mugger of Allen.