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Woody Allen
Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalban, Natividad Abascal, Jacobo Morales, David Ortiz
Woody Allen, Mickey Rose

Rated PG-13.

Widescreen 1.85:/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Digital Mono
Spanish Digital Mono
Spanish, French

Runtime: 82 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 7/5/2000

• Collectible Booklet
• Theatrical Trailer

Woody Allen Collection

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Bananas (1971)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Back when Woody Allen took a more serious turn in his films during the late Seventies, everyone bemoaned how much they missed the "funny" ones. Now that we've experienced more than 20 years of semi-comedy, however, it's hard to remember that seriously wacky Woody from his early days.

At least it was for me, as I learned when I watched Bananas, Allen's 1971 film that marked only his third effort as a director. I'd seen the movie previously, but it's been a while, and I wasn't quite prepared for it. While I can't say it was radically different than what I expected, I didn't foresee quite how light and glib it would be. This is truly "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" filmmaking, and I found it surprising to see Allen go for broke in that manner, since I'd become more accustomed to his usual semi-cerebral musings.

Not that Bananas is a failure, because it has its moments. Perhaps due to my reaction to the style, I found the second half of the film more entertaining than the first. Allen goes to the well too often for some of the gags; for example, I didn't think all that much of the "Wide World Of Sports" bit the first time, so its reprise left me cold. However, the movie hits a pretty good stride during its last 40 minutes or so, with all of its best parts occurring during that span.

I didn't expect nearly as much slapstick humor as I found, and I didn't much care for what I saw in that regard. Allen's bread and butter has always been the quirky observation or aside, and physical humor doesn't suit his personality. That's especially true when he wears his influences so broadly on his sleeve; he couldn't have been more obvious if he'd supplied "Look - I'm doing Chaplin!" subtitles, and I thought it fell flat.

That's another reason the second half worked better; it seemed to include less of the slapstick. There's some physical stuff - most notably a hilarious bit that revolves around the way accused criminals hide their faces from cameras - but more of it comes from wordplay and funny situations.

Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of Allen, although I must admit I'm developing more of an affection for his work. Bananas has a few very good moments and a lot of fairly weak ones. More dedicated admirers of his humor will clearly like it more, but for myself, I found it to be a mildly amusing but generally minor work.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+ / Audio B- / Bonus D-

Bananas appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was rated for this review. Although it generally looks decent, the picture definitely shows its age.

Sharpness usually looks very good, with most parts appearing fairly crisp and well-defined. Some mild softness intrudes on occasion - the scene toward the end in which a guy barges into the courtroom stands out in this regard - but for the most part, it isn't a concern. I saw no examples of moiré effects or jagged edges, and the artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 seemed almost completely absent.

Print flaws are an intermittent concern. Much of the film appears clean and without problems, but light grain pops up periodically. A few scenes display more intense issues like scratches, black grit, white speckles, and some streaks; the dream sequence at the psychiatrist fares the worst in this area, as it displays some very serious problems. Still, I thought the movie seemed pretty free of blemishes for its age.

Colors were acceptably true for parts of the film but appeared generally drab. The hues were slightly pale and bland, though they remained accurate enough not to become displeasing. Black levels were suitably dark and deep, but shadow detail seemed slightly heavy. The latter isn't much of an issue, as it only reaches prominence during the night-time fight scene, but it should have been a bit lighter. Although the film does display a number of weaknesses, the combination of its age and the generally flat reproduction found from film stocks of the era make it a fairly good image overall.

I also found the movie's monaural soundtrack to seem relatively satisfying. Dialogue usually appears clear and intelligible, though it can sound a bit bland and brittle. Effects are similarly thin but acceptably clean and crisp. Easily the best aspect of the mix is the music, which sounds surprisingly bright and lively; the low end doesn't seem powerful, but the range seems broader than I'd expect, and the whole score is nicely reproduced. Overall the soundtrack stays within fairly average boundaries for the period, but the good quality of the music earns it a "B-".

Less positive are the DVD's supplemental features. All we get is a fairly interesting trailer for the film plus some good production notes in the booklet. I guess I'd better get used to that situation, since Allen apparently doesn't like the idea of extras.

Bananas isn't one of Woody Allen's best films, but it presents some moderately good gags, especially if you're patient enough to hang around until the movie's second half. The DVD presents fairly average but decent picture and sound but lacks any significant extras. Ultimately, I'd say the DVD deserves a rental; any greater commitment depends on your affection for Woody Allen.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 20
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