Bananas


1h 21m 1971
Bananas

Brief Synopsis

A New York nebbish gets mixed up in a South American revolution to impress the woman he loves.

Film Details

Also Known As
El Weirdo
MPAA Rating
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
May 1971
Premiere Information
New York opening: 28 Apr 1971; Los Angeles opening: 14 May 1971
Production Company
Rollins & Joffe Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States; New York--Queens Community College, New York, United States; Puerto Rico, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 21m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.85 : 1

Synopsis

On the Wide World of Sports television broadcast, American sportscasters Don Dunphy and Howard Cosell report that the president of the island Republic of San Marcos has been assassinated and replaced by a dictator, General Emilio M. Vargas. Meanwhile in New York, clumsy Fielding Mellish works as a product researcher at General Equipment, where he tests electrically warmed toilet seats, coffins with piped-in music and the new "Execusizer," a gym built into the desks of busy corporate heads. Unhappy with his job, Fielding blames his lack of success on the fact that he never finished college. Fielding has also been unsuccessful in his attempts to date women, until Nancy, a politically active college student, knocks on his door, asking him to sign a petition urging the United States to support the revolutionaries in San Marcos, who are rebelling against the new corrupt dictator. Although Nancy is busy with yoga classes and her women's group, Fielding talks her into going out with him. Smitten, he accompanies her to political rallies and riots, and eventually makes love to her. Fielding's newfound happiness is shattered when Nancy, feeling that "something is missing," breaks up with him. She explains that she needs someone who is a leader, more politically aware, and less emotionally, sexually and intellectually immature. The breakup depresses Fielding so much that he quits his job and decides to go to San Marcos, where he and Nancy had planned to vacation. Before leaving, he visits his parents, a surgeon and nurse who are in the middle of operating on a patient, to explain that he will be gone for a while. Disappointed that Fielding has not followed him into the family business, Dr. Mellish tries to give him confidence by insisting that he take over the operation, but his mother gives him her blessing. In impoverished San Marcos, where each peasant has been ordered to pay the dictator his weight in manure, a captured rebel is tortured by being forced to listen to a recording of Naughty Marietta , which prompts him to confess that the rebels are planning a revolution on July 4th. After Fielding checks into a hotel, he receives an invitation to dine with Vargas at the palace. During the meal, Vargas explains to Fielding that he wants to keep his people safe from Communism by exterminating "a few troublemakers." Vargas ignores Fielding's point that the rebels are not Communists and sticks Fielding with the bill. After Fielding leaves, Vargas and his men decide that Fielding is "perfect" for their plans. Later, Vargas' men, who are disguised as rebels, try to kill Fielding, intending to blame the death of an American citizen on the revolutionaries in order to win United States support for their regime. Fielding escapes, but is then captured by the real rebels, who take him to their leader, Esposito. At the rebels' camp, Fielding is told that Vargas has already reported his death to the newspapers and will kill him to prevent the truth from getting out. The rebels want him to stay and risk his life for their cause, but Fielding believes that being dead is "a tremendous drawback" to one's sex life and prefers to remain cowardly. However, he trains with the rebels and learns about guns, grenades, camouflage and first aid. When the camp is low on food, Fielding is sent to raid the town and, with a few other men, enters a café and orders a couple thousand sandwiches, wheelbarrows of cole slaw and some drinks, then has it delivered. Esposito later sends Fielding and two rebels to kidnap the British ambassador to hold as a hostage until imprisoned sympathizers are freed. While sedating the ambassador with sodium pentothal, Fielding accidentally renders his comrades unconscious. When the ambassador escapes, his revived co-workers flee and Fielding grabs a cross and joins a Catholic procession in order to evade some suspicious soldiers. Meanwhile, mistaking the United Jewish Appeal for the CIA, Vargas makes a pact with them for support, and when the rebels attack, he discovers that the Jewish fundraisers offer little protection. Although the CIA does send men, half the agents are sent to fight for the dictator and the other half to fight against him. His regime defeated, Vargas flees to the safety of Miami. After the rebels' victory, Esposito announces that he is the ruler of San Marcos, and orders that the country's official language will be Swedish and that citizens must now change their underwear every half hour, wearing it outside their clothing so that it can easily be checked. These proclamations and others cause the rebels to realize that power has driven Esposito mad. At the request of his comrades, Fielding takes over as president, but it is soon apparent that San Marcos needs the support of other countries in order to prevent future corrupt dictators from seizing control. The problem, Fielding and his close associates realize, is that Americans think of them as Communists, and Communists believe them to be American puppets. In addition, they have nothing to barter for aid, except bananas. Fielding's advisors urge him to go to the United States and raise money, but he knows that, back home, his reputation as an uneducated product tester has no clout. Disguised in a red beard and mustache, Fielding flies to the United States, where he is officially welcomed as San Marcos' leader. There Fielding's interpreter translates by repeating every English sentence in heavily accented English, until men in white coats with a butterfly net arrive to take him away. During a dinner fundraiser at which he is the speaker, Fielding tries to tell a joke about a farmer who has an incestuous relationship with both his daughters, but decides he is telling it to the wrong crowd. Nancy, who does not recognize him, approaches to express her admiration for the leader and, after they go to bed together, Fielding reveals his true identity, after which Nancy remarks that she now knows why something in their sexual encounter seemed to be missing. Meanwhile, the FBI sees through Fielding's disguise and, based on his record of involvement in riots and protests, assumes that he is trying to subvert the government. On the six o'clock news, newscaster Roger Grimsby reports that Fielding has been charged with being a subversive imposter. At his trial for charges of fraud, inciting a riot, conspiracy to overthrow the government and using the word "thighs" in mixed company, Fielding acts as his own lawyer. Both J. Edgar Hoover, who comes to court disguised as a black transvestite, and Miss America provide testimony against Fielding. Although an acquaintance describes Fielding as a "warm, wonderful human being," the court reporter types that he is a "conniving little rat." While the jury passes around a joint, Fielding, acting as both lawyer and defendant, attempts to cross-examine himself, causing the judge to order him bound and gagged. Fielding is found guilty on twelve counts and sentenced to fifteen years, but the time is suspended if he promises not to move into the judge's neighborhood. A free man, Fielding proposes to Nancy, and their wedding night at the Royal Manhattan Hotel is covered by Dunphy and Cosell for Wide World of Sports . From their spectator-filled hotel suite, Cosell provides a play-by-play description of the action. In an interview with Cosell after the consummation of their marriage, Nancy states that Fielding was not the best she has had, but also not the worst, and Fielding predicts that their next "bout" will occur in late spring. Cosell wraps up the interview by saying that "they may live happily ever after and again they may not," but promises to be there to cover the action.

Film Details

Also Known As
El Weirdo
MPAA Rating
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
May 1971
Premiere Information
New York opening: 28 Apr 1971; Los Angeles opening: 14 May 1971
Production Company
Rollins & Joffe Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States; New York--Queens Community College, New York, United States; Puerto Rico, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 21m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.85 : 1

Articles

Bananas


While some people conveniently draw dividing lines through the films of Woody Allen, separating the comedies from the dramas, the youthful humor from the mature angst, a fresh viewing of 1971's Bananas reveals that the director's multi-faceted talents were there from the start, just hidden a little deeper beneath the comic surface.

Allen's second film as director (after Take the Money and Run (1969), and not counting What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), his comic reworking of a Japanese spy film) is surely more laugh-oriented than some of his later works. But beneath the physical zaniness of Allen's antics - reminiscent of the great comics of the silent era -- is an artist wrestling with larger issues of mortality, morality and, of course, sexual frustration. The beauty of Bananas is how effortlessly it veers from slapstick to Dostoyevskian gloom to Dadaist absurdity, without ever slowing its manic pace.

Bananas was the first film over which Allen exercised near-complete creative control; a privilege afforded few filmmakers - one he has carefully protected over the years. The story emerged from a project Allen and co-writer Mickey Rose had developed in 1966 entitled Don Quixote U.S.A.. The film was conceived as a vehicle for Robert Morse (The Loved One, 1965), and involved an American Peace Corps member who finds himself stranded in a Caribbean dictatorship. When it finally reached the screen as Bananas, one can hardly imagine anyone else in the central role.

After being jilted by a coed political activist (Louise Lasser), incompetent products-tester Fielding Mellish (Allen) travels to the Latin American country of San Marcos, and quickly finds himself the center of a people's revolution. Used as a pawn first by the military dictator (Carlos Montalban), then by the Castro-like rebel leader (Jacobo Morales), Mellish employs his harebrained ingenuity to survive guerilla training and to become a figurehead of this new banana republic.

Bananas was filmed in Puerto Rico and New York City and for one of the more famous sequences - the assassination of the San Marcos President - Allen was able to hire real-life sportscaster Howard Cosell who parodied his own television image with his blow-by-blow coverage of the event. It is also interesting to note that Bananas had a different ending until co-editor Ralph Rosenblum convinced the director to change it. According to Julian Fox in the biography, Woody: Movies from Manhattan, "this had involved Fielding, invited to make a revolutionary speech at Columbia University, falling foul of black protestors, only to emerge from a sudden explosion, in blackface. He is instantly recognized as a 'brother' by three black guys with rifles." Fox also mentioned other deletions: "Cut was a promising sequence in which government troops, disguised as a rumba band, cha-cha-cha through the jungle to take the rebels by surprise. Despite a sudden downpour, it was successfully filmed but, as Rosenblum recalled, 'It was a hit with cast and crew, but it wasn't funny on the screen.' Another scene, with a bogus 'Bob Hope' acting as decoy so government planes could bomb the rebels, looked too much like a war documentary to be funny."

Viewed today, it is nearly impossible to perceive Bananas as a piece of pointed social commentary. Yet in the more volatile era of Civil Rights and the Vietnam War, some critics questioned Allen's political agenda. "They say it's a political film but I don't really believe much in politics," Allen told Rolling Stone writer Robert B. Greenfield in 1971. "Groucho has told me that the Marx BrothersÕ films were never consciously anti-establishment or political. It's always got to be a funny movie first."

Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Jack Grossberg, Charles H. Joffe (executive), Ralph Rosenblum
Screenplay: Woody Allen, Mickey Rose
Cinematography: Andrew M. Costikyan
Editor: 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).
C-81m. Letterboxed.

by Bret Wood
Bananas

Bananas

While some people conveniently draw dividing lines through the films of Woody Allen, separating the comedies from the dramas, the youthful humor from the mature angst, a fresh viewing of 1971's Bananas reveals that the director's multi-faceted talents were there from the start, just hidden a little deeper beneath the comic surface. Allen's second film as director (after Take the Money and Run (1969), and not counting What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), his comic reworking of a Japanese spy film) is surely more laugh-oriented than some of his later works. But beneath the physical zaniness of Allen's antics - reminiscent of the great comics of the silent era -- is an artist wrestling with larger issues of mortality, morality and, of course, sexual frustration. The beauty of Bananas is how effortlessly it veers from slapstick to Dostoyevskian gloom to Dadaist absurdity, without ever slowing its manic pace. Bananas was the first film over which Allen exercised near-complete creative control; a privilege afforded few filmmakers - one he has carefully protected over the years. The story emerged from a project Allen and co-writer Mickey Rose had developed in 1966 entitled Don Quixote U.S.A.. The film was conceived as a vehicle for Robert Morse (The Loved One, 1965), and involved an American Peace Corps member who finds himself stranded in a Caribbean dictatorship. When it finally reached the screen as Bananas, one can hardly imagine anyone else in the central role. After being jilted by a coed political activist (Louise Lasser), incompetent products-tester Fielding Mellish (Allen) travels to the Latin American country of San Marcos, and quickly finds himself the center of a people's revolution. Used as a pawn first by the military dictator (Carlos Montalban), then by the Castro-like rebel leader (Jacobo Morales), Mellish employs his harebrained ingenuity to survive guerilla training and to become a figurehead of this new banana republic. Bananas was filmed in Puerto Rico and New York City and for one of the more famous sequences - the assassination of the San Marcos President - Allen was able to hire real-life sportscaster Howard Cosell who parodied his own television image with his blow-by-blow coverage of the event. It is also interesting to note that Bananas had a different ending until co-editor Ralph Rosenblum convinced the director to change it. According to Julian Fox in the biography, Woody: Movies from Manhattan, "this had involved Fielding, invited to make a revolutionary speech at Columbia University, falling foul of black protestors, only to emerge from a sudden explosion, in blackface. He is instantly recognized as a 'brother' by three black guys with rifles." Fox also mentioned other deletions: "Cut was a promising sequence in which government troops, disguised as a rumba band, cha-cha-cha through the jungle to take the rebels by surprise. Despite a sudden downpour, it was successfully filmed but, as Rosenblum recalled, 'It was a hit with cast and crew, but it wasn't funny on the screen.' Another scene, with a bogus 'Bob Hope' acting as decoy so government planes could bomb the rebels, looked too much like a war documentary to be funny." Viewed today, it is nearly impossible to perceive Bananas as a piece of pointed social commentary. Yet in the more volatile era of Civil Rights and the Vietnam War, some critics questioned Allen's political agenda. "They say it's a political film but I don't really believe much in politics," Allen told Rolling Stone writer Robert B. Greenfield in 1971. "Groucho has told me that the Marx BrothersÕ films were never consciously anti-establishment or political. It's always got to be a funny movie first." Director: Woody Allen Producer: Jack Grossberg, Charles H. Joffe (executive), Ralph Rosenblum Screenplay: Woody Allen, Mickey Rose Cinematography: Andrew M. Costikyan Editor: 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). C-81m. Letterboxed. by Bret Wood

Quotes

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.
- Fielding Mellish
You're busy tonight?
- Fielding Mellish
Some old friends are coming over. We're gonna show some pornographic movies.
- Norma
You need an usher?
- Fielding Mellish
Would you like to volunteer for the Volunteers for San Marcos?
- Nancy
Have you ever been to Denmark?
- Nancy
I've been, yes... to the Vatican.
- Fielding Mellish
The Vatican? The Vatican is in Rome.
- Nancy
Well, they were doing so well in Rome that they opened one in Denmark.
- Fielding Mellish
I once stole a pornographic book that was printed in braille. I used to rub the dirty parts.
- Fielding Mellish

Trivia

Woody Allen said he made a conscious decision not to show any blood to maintain the light, farcical tone of the film.

Howard Cosell was allowed to improvise most of his part.

The rebels' anthem is the same one used in Sleeper (1973).

In an interview, Woody Allen was asked why he named the movie "Bananas". His response: "Because there are no bananas in it."

The film was originally titled "El Weirdo"

Notes

The working title of the film was El Weirdo. In both the opening and closing credits, all letters are lowercase. Ralph Rosenblum's opening onscreen credit reads: "Associate Producer and Editor." The song "Quiero la noche" is sung during the opening onscreen credits, which flicker the letters of the names in time to the music. The sound of gunshots punctuates the song, and black dots representing bullet holes appear in the frames around the names. During the ending credits, the song "'Cause I Believe in Loving You" is heard. Among the themes in Marvin Hamlisch's score are pastiche tunes in various jazz styles, a parody of a James Bond-like theme and an excerpt from 1812 Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, heard during "Fielding Mellish's" sexual encounter with a female rebel. Brief excerpts from the Victor Herbert operetta Naughty Marietta are heard during a torture scene.
       Louise Lasser, who portrayed "Nancy," was the wife of director-writer-actor Woody Allen from 1966 to 1970. Modern sources add Danny DeVito, who was not discernable in the print viewed, and Mary Jo Catlett to the cast. According to the Variety review, Bananas was shot on location in Puerto Rico and in New York City. An August 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that a riot scene involving 2,000 students was shot at Queens Community College in New York. A July 1970 LAHExam article stated that Bananas cost $1.7 million and was the first of a three-picture deal Allen had with United Artists. Allen's affiliation with United Artists continued into the late 1980s.
       A sequence before the opening credits features well-known sportscasters Don Dunphy and Howard Cosell as they cover a "live, on the spot" assassination of San Marcos' president for the ABC television show Wide World of Sports. As spectators wait outside the palace, gunmen working for "General Emilio M. Vargas" shoot the president, after which Cosell works his way through the crowd to have a "last word" with the fallen leader before he dies and an interview with Vargas. At the end of the film, as Cosell questions Fielding and Nancy after the consummation of their marriage, a "special news bulletin" banner at the bottom of the screen reports that astronauts landed safely on the moon and erected the first Protestant-only cafeteria.
       As noted in the LAHExam review, Cosell and Dunphy followed their classic formula used in the long-running Wide World of Sports. The weekly sports anthology first aired in the 1960s on the ABC-TV network and continues into the twenty-first century as a weekend sports program, ABC Sports. Cosell, whose unique style of delivery has often been parodied, was one of the best-known and most controversial sportscasters in television history. Dunphy was often called "the voice of boxing." During Bananas, television news anchorman Roger Grimsby, who also appeared as himself, is shown reporting for the Six O'Clock News. All three reporters marked their film debuts in Bananas, but later appeared as themselves or unnamed reporters in other films.
       The title Bananas, as noted the Variety review, referred both to the film's fictitious Latin-American country's exported agricultural produce and the popular colloquial description of a hysterical or manic state of mind. As noted in several reviews, Allen liberally studded the film with sight gags and one-liners, which, according to the Hollywood Reporter reviewer, conferred a "hit-and-run style" to the picture. About the film's message, the WSJ reviewer reported that Allen satirized the absurdities of sex and politics, as well as Western culture in general, by taking "identifiable social trends in present-day society" to their "inevitable if insane conclusion." Both the WST and New York magazine reviewers compared Allen's comedy to the surreal madness of the Marx Brothers, and the Hollywood Reporter review specified that the bedroom sequence with Lasser rivaled the best of what the Marx Brothers offered. The WSJ review noted that Allen's character remained the same in all of his films, in the same way Groucho Marx repeated the same characterizations, and The Sunday Telegraph (London) review reported the "best joke" as the persona Allen depicted of a "cocky, trouble-prone, outwardly cool customer who doesn't so much attract disaster as provoke it." The Los Angeles Herald Express review described Allen's character as "a real person with disorganized emotions and misplaced ideals-a Walter Mitty whose fantasies are always grounded."
       Not mentioned in the plot summary are several other comic sequences, among them, Fielding trying surreptitiously to buy Orgasm magazine; Fielding hearing celestial harp music and discovering the harpist practicing in his closet; Fielding getting battered by the "Execusizer" he is testing, which The Observer Review (London) compared to a scene from the 1936 Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times (see below); and a lengthy sequence during which the bungling Fielding trains with the rebels. As noted in the Los Angeles Times review, Bananas contains a parody of a cigarette commercial, in which a priest, during communion, suggests a brand of cigarettes to a communicant. According to the Washington Post, as quoted in Filmfacts, the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures gave Bananas a condemned rating.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971