Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Bananas (1971)

Then It’s been noticeable lately that the price of some blu-ray discs has been falling to budget prices. This could mean that either they’re not selling or as happened in the early to mid-noughties with its predecessor there are enough players within the population that selling this new entertainment experience can be sold at a lower premium and still bring a profit. It’s not long after the dvd price drop that I impulse purchased Bananas and a range of other Woody Allen films during one of the perpetual sales at giant HMV in Manchester. It's that copy I watched first.

Now If Take The Money and Run has a freewheeling approach to narrative and comedy, in Bananas the focus on each is a touch tighter. The story, a New York shmo joins a revolutionary army within a fictional South American country is more structured and so like like a mechanic wielding the best machinery for the job, Woody makes the comedy slightly more robust by appropriating the comic techniques of silent comedians, some Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, perhaps some Stan Laurel, along with WC Fields, the Marx Brothers, and tosses in some very specific political satire and without any pretence – even at this early stage he wants us to recognise the giants who are influencing him.

The dvd box suggests that Allen considers this a slapdash approach and to a degree it is, but it doesn't quite work as there are still some longueurs as the needs of the plot out-way the humour and now and then scenes which seem desperately to be about character runs in the other direction with jokes and pratfalls and arguably the balance isn’t quite right yet. But there are still some wonderful sequences, the office exercise machine, the not-me it’s you but I’m not sure why relationship break-up, ordering a sandwich takeaway lunch for a whole army, the inevitable training to become a soldier montage which has been plagarised to the point of cliché since.

As I expected, watching the films in order does indeed mean that you can see Woody’s style develop, like an embryo the familiar features are slowly taking shape. Take The Money and Run brought Allen’s on-screen persona. Here we have the linking of dixieland jazz music to comedy, classical especially Russian composers to tragedy, romantic music, in this case the film’s theme song Cause I Believe In Loving playing against a scene were romance is very far from the reality of what’s happening and the use of real figures metafictionally within the action in this case real ABC sportscasters commenting on an assassination.

His co-star, the likeable Louise Lasser was also his wife for three years and the first bit of casting which presumably suggested to some that he was living through his life’s romances on-screen. She was in every film from What's New Pussycat? Through to Sleeper which was released four years after their marriage was over. I’m going to consciously try to watch and write about these films without referring to Woody’s private life too much but it’s impossible to ignore totally.

Some other things. This was one of Sylvester Stallone’s first films – he’s one of the thugs who rough’s Woody up in a train carriage. He’s not called upon to do much more than look like a human buttress. His other film job that year was as a Discotheque Patron in Klute. Rocky appeared five years later. And the trailer is fairly unusual in that it features Woody being interviewed about Bananas (in a precursor a modern dvd extra) and has a few jokes that are even funnier than the some of the material in film itself:

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