This is the sorry tale of Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen), who grew from a sickly child into a hardened criminal. His upbringing saw him bullied from an early age, and soon he had turned to petty theft in a street gang, although he ended up getting his hand caught in a gumball machine for his pains: the first example of Virgil's poor judgement in his chosen vocation. Despite his unlovely personality and criminal record, he did find love with Louise (Janet Margolin) after he tried to steal her purse. But bad luck would dog Virgil throughout his life - why didn't he go straight instead?
Take the Money and Run holds a small place in film history as the first film written by, directed by and starring Woody Allen after the not-sure-if-this-counts effort What's Up, Tiger Lily? Scripting with Allen was Mickey Rose, his regular writing partner at this time, and in this spoof of crime exposes, a mockumentary if you will, they seemed more intent on packing in as many gags as they could into less than ninety minutes. Yes, this was one of the "early, funny ones" and proud of it.
Not all the humour hits the mark, but so filled with jokes is the film that there's bound to be something to tickle your funny bone. Just as in actual crime documentaries, there is a stern voiceover (Jackson Beck, who voiced Bluto in a multitude of Popeye cartoons for over twenty years), but Allen and Rose get him to say absurd things, and the interviews with various people who knew Virgil are similarly handled, with the subject's parents wearing Groucho Marx disguises rather than reveal their identities (which are already revealed by their names being used).
Occasionally, the film hits on something inspired, such as Virgil's attempt to play cello in a marching band, but more often it's content to be daft, like when he goes to prison, carves a gun out of a bar of soap and colours it with boot polish only for it to rain once he gets outside, leaving him with a handful of suds. Other silliness includes two ventriloquist dummies on either side of the screen on visiting day, and Virgil opting to bump off the woman who is blackmailing him by running her over in a rented car - inside her own home. These bits are better than the relationship humour with Louise, as Allen apparently hadn't honed such scenes to sympathetic results.
In fact, if there's a problem with Take the Money and Run, it's that Allen's Virgil just isn't a likeable character, different to the neurotic funnyman with love issues who would be familiar to movie fans during to the next decade. Virgil is an idiot, and we're laughing at him rather than with him so you're satisifed that his poorly thought out schemes come to nothing but trouble for him, but none too bothered if anything else works out. There are sparks of amiability about him, such as the job interview that ends with Virgil dismissing the interviewer because he couldn't guess his previous occupation in twenty questions, but mainly he deserves everything he gets, although perhaps not the hail of bullets Allen originally had planned for his finale. Music by Marvin Hamlisch.
American writer/director/actor and one of the most distinctive talents in American film-making over the last three decades. Allen's successful early career as a stand-up comedian led him to start his directing life with a series of madcap, scattershot comedies that included Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death. 1975's Oscar-winning Annie Hall was his first attempt to weave drama and comedy together, while 1979's Manhattan is considered by many critics to be Allen's masterpiece.
The 90s saw Allen keep up his one-film-a-year work-rate, the most notable being the fraught Husbands and Wives, gangster period piece Bullets Over Broadway, the savagely funny Deconstructing Harry and the under-rated Sweet and Lowdown. After a run of slight, average comedies, Allen returned to more ambitious territory with the split-story Melinda and Melinda, the dark London-set drama Match Point, romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of many of his films which won acting Oscars, and the unexpected late-on hits Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. In any case, he remains an intelligent, always entertaining film-maker with an amazing back catalogue.