Today! Because nobody wears beige to a bank robbery –
Take the Money and Run (1969)
Directed by Woody Allen (x3)
Starring Woody Allen (x2), Janet Margolin, Marcel Hillaire, Lonny Chapman, Howard Storm (x2), Louise Lasser, Jan Merlin, Jacquelyn Hyde
Woody Allen’s first original feature – following the redubbed mashup masterpiece that is What’s Up, Tiger Lily? – Take the Money and Run has a rawness to it that is pretty endearing, while also being a solid signal of things to come. The loopiness of Woody’s early films progressively tones down with each succeeding movie, before they finally level out solidly balancing jokes with depth and a particular artistic sensibility. This evolution does create pretty distinct periods in his work, and the first – later described as his “early funny ones” in his own Stardust Memories – kicked off with this wacky, gag heavy crime caper.
It’s also an early example of the mockumentary, which really took off across comedy in the ’80s and ’90s, including other Allen films – Zelig, Sweet and Lowdown, etc. With the pervasively grim narrator – reminiscent of cops and robbers TV shows of the ’50s and ’60s – detailing the criminal career of inept bank robber Virgil Starkwell, the slapstick goings-on adopt a contradictory vibe and leave many of the actors playing the wacky scenes straight. The result is as many jokes per minute as any of his pre-Annie Hall movies, while maintaining a relatively straightforward story, avoiding some of the flightier moments of his early ’70s entries Bananas and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*. In a lot of ways it works better than his other early films, by way of its seeming parody of crime story shows, even without a direct source to satirize, unlike a Mel Brooks or Zuckers/Abrahams movie.
This movie is also from the very narrow window of time before Woody was working with either Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow – he was still married to second wife Louise Lasser in ’69, who appears in a small role. She would co-star in Bananas and Everything You Always… too, before Keaton starred in Sleeper in ’73. The largely unheralded Louise Lasser era, everyone!
Somewhat surprisingly (to me anyway), the AFI named Take the Money and Run as Woody’s third funniest movie, behind only Annie Hall and Manhattan, and was 66th overall on their 100 Funniest Movies list from 2000. Again, I think this movie is hilarious, but third? Seems a bit high. It clearly should’ve won Best Prison Gun, though, for Virgil’s attempted escape weapon carved from a bar of soap, a plot only foiled by the rain.
Woody becomes the second member of both the Two-Timer Actor and Director clubs, beaten to the punch literally by his Antz and Bananas co-star Sylvester Stallone, adding this performance to #349’s Broadway Danny Rose, while joining Hitchcock as a Three-Timer Director, along with his #320 Match Point. And yeah, I’ve got some conflicting feelings about all this. Also joining the Two-Timers Acting wing, Danny Rose player and Once Bitten director Howard Storm! Spotlight!