The Schlemiel-as-Criminal? On Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run”

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While someone like Jean Genet – in books like The Miracle of the Rose or The Thief’s Journal – makes the criminal into a highly masculine larger than life (even priestly) man,  Woody Allen’s “directorial debut,” Take the Money and Run (1969), presents us with a parody of the masculine criminal and the hard-boiled crime thriller.  It is chock full of schlemiel comedy and presents us with something of the anti-thesis of violence and masculinity.

Merv Griffin, in this interview (:57) jokingly calls Allen a “sex symbol” but Allen wittily responds: “But the question is what I am a sexual symbol of…”  And even goes so far as to comically describe himself – as a child – as a “young budding pervert.”  In other words, he was a “sexual schlemiel.”  (See my recent post on Harold Ramis on this topic.)

Take the Money and Run is a parody of the life of a schlemiel-criminal who also happens to be a sexual schlemiel by the name of Virgil Starkwell.  There are several exceptional comedy skits in the film.  One celebrated scene has Virgil volunteer to take an experimental vaccine at the prison.  The punchline is that the vaccine has a “side-effect”: it turns him into a rabbi.

And in the most popular scene in the film, he slips the teller a note telling them that he has a “gub” and that they better hand the money over.  His bad handwriting (he couldn’t clearly write “gun”) is discussed by the bank workers and before he can get the money and run he has to get a few signatures at the bank.  After all, it’s the procedure.  This schlemiel displacement renders the crime and the criminal ridiculous.

Throughout the film, his Jewish parents, who wear Groucho Marx glasses and nose, discuss what happened to him showing us that he is a disappointment to his kvetching Jewish parents.

Louise Lasner plays Kay Lewis in the film and through her we learn that she was duped by Virgil Starkwell.   Toward the end of the film, we learn that she thought he was a schlemiel, but, to her chagrin, she learned that he was a criminal.  But that’s the irony of the film.  He isn’t really a criminal; he’s a schlemiel: “Everybody thought he was such a schlemiel but it turns out that he’s a criminal…”

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/224552/Take-the-Money-and-Run-Movie-Clip-Schlemiel.html

In the final scene, we see Virgil in an interview carving his soap gun.  He asks if it’s raining outside. For if it is, his gun will turn into bubbles again.  This ending marks Virgil as the schlemiel-criminal. Nobody is duped.  A schlemiel can’t be a real criminal; he’s too innocent, charming, and effeminate for that.

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