Movie Review #769 | Alexander Diminiano
Shockingly, this might be Woody Allen’s very best movie.
Directed by Woody Allen. Original screenplay by Woody Allen and Mickey Rose. Produced by Charles H. Joffe for ABC, Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions, and Palomar Pictures International. Uncredited producer: Jack Rollins. Starring Woody Allen and Janet Margolin. Narration by Jackson Beck. Cameos: Louise Lasser, and Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon in archive footage. Distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corporation in New York City, New York on August 18, 1969. Rated PG. Runs 85 minutes.
Woody Allen has made some really, really funny movies. His older field (i.e. “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”), his newer field (“Midnight in Paris”, “Blue Jasmine”), and almost anything in between is a wild roar of laughter in and of itself. But “Take the Money and Run” is the one I’ve been missing all along, and I really am surprised how long it’s taken me to get around to seeing it. This one is without a doubt Woody Allen’s masterpiece.
It’s also his debut as director, and quite remarkably so. The man’s talent is natural and not one line of dialogue is put to waste here. “Take the Money and Run” ranks among such later movies as “This Is Spinal Tap” and “Borat” as one of the most truly side-splitting mockumentaries ever produced. I ask that if any of you are in disbelief, please watch the first scene wherein Woody’s character tries to rob a bank. Basically, he hands an employee a note saying “I’m pointing a gun at you,” but he has accidentally misspelled the word “gun” as “gub.” All the bankers are more intrigued by the misspelling of the simple three-letter word than they are concerned over the fact that there’s a man right the hell in front of them trying to hold their bank up.
That’s just one of many priceless scenes in “Take the Money and Run”, and each one succeeds through its documentaryesque presentation of an entirely implausible situation. Of course what makes the movie most hysterical is how serious the narrator is. Jackson Beck’s voice delivery of the screenplay, an effort of Allen and Mickey Rose, faithfully mimics the tone of voice we’d hear from the narrator of an old-fashioned World War II newsreel. It makes the both funnier and more convincing. Try imagining Ed Herlihy narrating this opening bit, and not laughing:
“On December 1, 1935, Mrs. Williams Starkwell, a wife of a New Jersey handyman, gives birth to her first and only child. It is a boy, and they name it Virgil. He is an exceptionally cute baby, with a sweet disposition. Before he is 25 years old, he will be wanted by the police in six states, for assault, armed robbery, and illegal possession of a wart.”
Now, mind you, this is a mockumentary, not a documentary. It’s supposed to be funny, not didactic, and it’s surely one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a very long time. It works sort of didactically, though. Maybe not as much as an actual documentary, but “Take the Money and Run” has taught me something very important. And that is never to lead a holdup while clad in beige. ✴