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TOP BANANA (director: Alfred E. Green; screenwriters: Gene Towne/based on the play presented by Paula Stone and Mike Sloane/based on the book by Hy Kraft; cinematographer: William Bradford; editor: Terry Morse; music: Johnny Mercer; cast: Phil Silvers (Jerry Biffle), Rose Marie (Betty Dillon), Danny Scholl (Cliff Lane), Judy Lynn (Sally Peters), Jack Albertson (Vic Davis), Bradford Hatton (Mr. Parker), Johnny Coy (Tommy Phelps), Dick Dana (Danny), Joey Faye (Pinky), Johnny Trama (Little Man), Herbie Faye (Moe), Gloria Smith (Featured Dancer), Walter Dare Wahl (Walter); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Albert Zugsmith; United Artists; 1954)

Silvers’ role is loosely modeled after his good friend Milton Berle.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Faithful film adaptation of the hit Broadway show, that doesn’t work as a film because it’s stage-bound. The low-budget film was shot in five days on location in New York City’s Winter Garden Theatre, where the play was staged in 1951. Phil Silvers reprises his Tony award-winning role as the motor-mouth egocentric comic Jerry Biffle, whose top-rated television show is doing poorly among women in the 18 to 25 year range and the Blendo soap sponsor, Mr. Parker (Bradford Hatton), wants Biffle to find a girl to be Miss Blendo to attract that demographic as viewers.

Silvers’ role is loosely modeled after his good friend Milton Berle, who would do anything to get a laugh, was driven to succeed, his TV show was the most popular one at the time, and was a womanizer. Director Alfred E. Green (“Baby Face”/”Dangerous”/”The Jolson Story”)just points the cameraand lets Silvers loose and his blustery performance goes full blast with loads of burlesque gags. Writer Gene Towne bases it on the play by Paula Stone and Mike Sloane and the book by Hy Kraft. Johnny Mercer wrote the original songs.Problem is that the burlesque routines were outdated, even back then, and the labored corny jokes no longer affect modern audiences in the same joyous way they once did.

The thin plot has the overbearing Jerry Biffle (Phil Silvers), a former ‘top banana’ in burlesque, riding high as the star of a hit TV comedy show. His cynical head writer Vic Davis (Jack Albertson) hands the star the material for the new show and the star rushes off to a department store with his comic flunkies in tow (Joey Faye, Herbie Faye, Johnny Trama, Johnny Coy and Walter Dare Wahl), as he signs autographs for his new book and meets his department store model girlfriend Sally Peters (Judy Lynn). However, before Biffle arrives Cliff Lane (Danny Scholl), the handsome new baritone singer on the show, arrives early and accidentally meets Sally. The two fall in love at first sight.

Mr. Parker chooses Sally to be the Blendo girl and wants her on the first show of the new season. The sponsor hopes to attract the above mentioned demographic and to stimulate further interest in the show wants a publicity romance arranged between Jerry and “Miss Blendo.” The show is a success. A few weeks pass and the love between Sally and Cliff grows stronger. But they keep it a secret because they’re afraid that the piggish Biffle, who is also in love with Sally, would fire Cliff if told the truth. Adding to the fireworks is Sally’s aggressive roommate Betty Dillon (Rose Marie), who has her eyes set on Biffle and becomes part of the show. What follows is the elopement between Cliff and Sally, with the unwitting blessings of Biffle. The self-absorbed star doesn’t listen when Cliff tells him the bride to be is Sally and in his relentless search for laughs any way he could get it, has their elopement be part of the show. The star goes through a crisis when his show is canceled and Cliff and Sally replace him. But keeping everything good-natured, including the ribbing of Berle, things get worked out in a feel-good way and there’s a standard Hollywood happy ending.

It was shot in 3-D, but released as a normal 2-D film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”