Filmed on location in New York City, Lima, Peru, and Puerto Rico, the film was released to positive reviews from critics and was number 78 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies" and #69 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs in 2000.
Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is the protagonist, but he does not appear until after the opening credits. The cold open, which featured the assassination of the president of the fictional "banana republic" of San Marcos and a coup d'état that brings Gen. Emilio Molina Vargas (Carlos Montalban) to power, sets up the situation in which Mellish would become embroiled. The scene was in the form of a championship boxing telecast on Wide World of Sports, with Don Dunphy as the host and Howard Cosell as the commentator.
Mellish is a neurotic blue collar man who tries to impress social activist Nancy (Louise Lasser) by trying to get in touch with the revolution in San Marcos. He visits the republic and attempts to show his concern for the native people. However, he is nearly killed by the local caudillo and then saved by the revolutionaries, putting him in their debt. Mellish then learns, clumsily, how to be a revolutionary. When the revolution is successful, the Castro-style leader goes mad, forcing the rebels to place Mellish as their President.
When traveling back to the U.S. to obtain financial aid, he reunites with his activist ex-girlfriend and is exposed. In a classic courtroom scene, Mellish tries to defend himself from a series of incriminating witnesses, including a reigning Miss America and a middle-aged African-American woman claiming to be J. Edgar Hoover in disguise. One of the witnesses does provide testimony favorable to Mellish, but the court clerk, when asked to read back this testimony, replies with an entirely different, wholly unfavorable rendition. Mellish is eventually sentenced to prison, but his sentence is suspended on the condition that he does not move into the judge's neighborhood. Nancy then agrees to marry him. The film ends with the between-the-covers consummation of their marriage, an event that was over much more quickly than Nancy had anticipated. Like the opening scene, it was accompanied by Cosell providing commentary.Woody Allen as Fielding Mellish
Louise Lasser as Nancy
Carlos Montalban as Gen. Emilio Molina Vargas
Natividad Abascal as Yolanda
Jacobo Morales as Esposito
Miguel Ángel Suárez as Luis
David Ortiz as Sanchez
René Enríquez as Diaz
Jack Axelrod as Arroyo
Howard Cosell as Himself
Roger Grimsby as Himself
Don Dunphy as Himself
Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Mellish
Stanley Ackerman as Dr. Mellish
Dan Frazer as Priest
Dorothi Fox as J. Edgar Hoover
Martha Greenhouse as Dr. Feigen
Axel Anderson as Man Tortured (by being forced to listen to operetta music, which he hates)
Tigre Pérez as Perez
Baron De Beer as British Ambassador
Arthur Hughes as Judge
John Braden as Prosecutor
Ted Chapman as Policeman
Dagne Crane as Sharon
Eddie Barth as Paul
Nicholas Saunders as Douglas
Conrad Bain as Semple
Allen Garfield as Man on Cross
Sylvester Stallone as Mugger (uncredited)
Mary Jo Catlett as Woman in Hotel Lobby Cheering Honeymoon (uncredited)
According to an interview in the notes of the film's DVD release, Allen said that there is absolutely no blood in the film (even during executions) because he wanted to keep the light comedic tone of the film intact.
Allen and Lasser had been married from 1966 to 1970 and were divorced at the time the film was made.
The verdict in Mellish's legal case is portrayed as the headline story of a Roger Grimsby newscast. Included in the scene is a parody television advertisement for New Testament cigarettes with a Catholic priest (Dan Frazer) promoting the fictitious brand while performing the sacrament of the Eucharist. The movie received a C (condemned) classification from the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures because of the spoof.
The title is a pun, "bananas" being slang for "crazy", as well as being a reference to the phrase "banana republic" describing the film's setting. The title also may be a respectful nod to The Cocoanuts, the first film by the Marx Brothers, by whom Allen was heavily influenced at the time. However, when Allen was asked why the film was called Bananas, his reply was, "Because there are no bananas in it." In Don Quixote, U.S.A., the novel by Richard P. Powell that served as a source for Bananas, the protagonist was an agronomist specializing in bananas.
Bananas was well received by critics and holds an 88% positive "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised the film, saying "Allen's view of the world is fraught with everything except pathos, and it's a view I happen to find very funny. Here is no little man surviving with a wan smile and a shrug, but a runty, wise-mouthed guy whose initial impulses toward cowardice seem really heroic in the crazy order of the way things are." He concluded, "Any movie that attempts to mix together love, Cuban revolution, the C.I.A., Jewish mothers, J. Edgar Hoover and a few other odds and ends (including a sequence in which someone orders 1,000 grilled cheese sandwiches) is bound to be a little weird—and most welcome."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #69