Take the Money and Run is a hilarious film.
Woody’s second movie as director (and writer), tells the story – in the now-popular “mockumentary” format – of a bumbling small-time crook named Virgil Starkwell.
The opening dialogue sets up the premise:
“On December 1, 1935, Mrs. William Starkwell, the 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 police in six states…”
It’s important to note that December 1, 1935, is Woody Allen’s birthday…and that the protagonist in the movie is a skinny, red-headed lad who wears glasses with thick black frames.
Essentially, this 1969 movie is about Woody playing what would become the public image of Woody – a lovable nebbish trying to get ahead in a world where the cards are perpetually stacked against him, a theme that will repeat itself in many subsequent Woody Allen pictures.
The jokes – especially the sight gags – come fast and furious in Take the Money and Run. So you really have to pay attention.
The cello joke, for example. Watching Woody play cello in a marching band on the move is laugh-out-loud funny.
And then there’s…
…Woody as would-be gang member flicking open a switchblade (or trying to).
…Woody as failed pool shark.
…Woody as the holdup man of an armored truck – using a lighter that resembles a gun.
…Woody planning an escape from prison using a bar of soap and some shoe polish.
…Woody as Rabbi.
…Woody as bank robber with a note that misspells gun (“gub”) that causes a crowd to gather to decipher his handwriting.
…Woody as murderer trying to run over a blackmailer with a car – in her house.
Something else appeared on the screen that caused me to sit up and take note:
I think those two stay with Woody for most of the rest of his career. According to an article on Wikipedia, they do – from 1969 until 1993. (Rollins, born in 1915, is still alive. Joffe, born in 1929, died in 2008.)
Take the Money and Run also begins what would become another of Woody’s trademarks – clever, often counterpoint, voice-over narration.
Once released from prison, Woody falls for a girl named Louise (played by Janet Margolin (1943-1993)), whom he pursues with awkward earnestness.
He falls in love with Louise and tries to go straight – to no avail.
A funny line:
“He is forced to take to the streets. And, for awhile, he earns a meager living selling meagers.”
And another (after he’s sent back to prison):
“Food on a chain gang is scarce, and not very nourishing. The men get one hot meal a day – a bowl of steam.”
There’s very little comparison between Take the Money and Run and What’s Up, Tiger Lily?. The movies are night and day. Of course, Woody had more experience by the time Take the Money and Run was released. He appeared as actor in Casino Royale (1967), and as writer for Don’t Drink the Water (1969).
Plus, I think Woody continued to appear on stage as a standup comedian. So his jokes were honed to a brilliant shine.
Take the Money and Run is a hilarious movie with very few hiccups. It is my fifth favorite Woody Allen movie.