When people talk about Woody Allen movies in terms of his “early funny ones,” what they mostly mean are Take the Money and Run (1968), Bananas (1971) and Sleeper (1973). Of those, I’ve always been most partial to Bananas—the anything-goes comedy about a singularly inept poor schlepp (Woody) who becomes an even more inept revolutionist in order to impress a political-activist girl (Louise Lasser). As far as filmmaking, it’s pretty indifferent. As far as screenplay, it’s little more than a collection of gags that come tumbling out so fast that more of them work than don’t. It’s a little too strong on the physical comedy, which isn’t really Allen’s forte and always feels a bit mechanical. But it’s such a wild collection of brilliant notions and rampaging silliness that it’s pretty much on the irresistible side.
How it could be possible to dislike a movie in which political prisoners are tortured by being made to listen to excerpts from Naughty Marietta (1935) is beyond my comprehension. That anyone could fail to laugh at Woody quickly picking up a tire iron and using it as a cross in order to join a religious procession and make a getaway is unthinkable. Show me the person who can resist the spectacle of a large black woman (Dorthi Fox) as J. Edgar Hoover (in disguise) and I’ll look askance at that person. Yes, Allen has made better movies—lots of them—but I’m not sure he ever made anything funnier.