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Film / Take the Money and Run

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Crime has rarely been this silly.

"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, for assault, armed robbery, and illegal possession of a wart."

Take the Money and Run is a 1969 Mockumentary comedy co-written by Woody Allen and Mickey Rose, which marked Allen's full-fledged directorial debut.note 

The film chronicles the life of Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain Protagonist Virgil Starkwell (Allen) and his wife Louise (Janet Margolin). Through exclusive interviews with his family, friends and teachers, we learn more about Virgil’s past, upbringing, and his love of crime and the cello.

Take the Money and Run was a monumental turning point in the shaping of the mockumentary genre; while earlier mockumentaries attempted to present a fictional story as if it were true, this film went out of its way to parody the style of actual documentaries at the time, even hiring veteran voice actor Jackson Beck to serve as The Comically Serious narrator. Scenes play out with individual gags strung together by a thin story, with plenty of Visual Gags and Inherently Funny Words being used to deliberately rid the movie of any dramatic tension.

The film received critical acclaim, cementing Woody Allen’s Auteur License that he has enjoyed for the rest of his career. Allen would revisit the theme of Stupid Crooks in Small Time Crooks.

Tropes featured in Take the Money and Run include:

  • Appliance Defenestration: Virgil's cello is thrown out a window, presumably by someone fed up with his horrible skill with the instrument.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Several criminal characters are given rap sheets that follow this pattern. At the very beginning, the narrator says that Virgil is wanted for "robbery, attempted murder, and illegal possession of a wart". Later, as Virgil assembles a gang to rob a bank, the narrator reveals what each of them has served time for—one was "bank robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, murder, and getting naked in front of his in-laws"; another was just "dancing with a mailman"; the third was "arson, robbery, assault with intent to kill, and marrying a horse".
  • Blatant Lies: Virgil tells Louise he’s in the Philharmonic when he first hits on her. Virgil later notes that she probably saw right through his ruse because he didn’t know who Mozart was.
  • Born Unlucky: Virgil can't catch a break. For example, when he robs some passerby, it turns out to be a school buddy... who is now an FBI agent. One might argue it's because crime doesn't pay, and most of his bad luck comes from trying a life of crime.
  • Brandishment Bluff: Virgil carves a bar of soap into the shape of a gun and paints it black with shoe polish in order to escape from prison. He gets caught out, though, when it starts to rain during his escape and his "gun" turns into a bunch of bubbles.
  • Broken Aesop: In-universe. Virgil says that crime definitely does pay at the end, despite being incarcerated again.
  • The Cameo: Allen's then-wife (and frequent early costar) Louise Lasser plays one of the interviewees.
  • The Comically Serious: The deadpan narrator.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Being sent to "the box" - with an insurance salesman.
  • Determinator: Virgil simply cannot give up crime or escaping from prison. The last shot of him is carving a bar of soap to look like a gun. Again.
  • Distracting Disambiguation: The bank tellers think that Virgil's holdup note says "I have a gub." He spends some time correcting them that he has a gun.
  • Dreadful Musician: Virgil, according to his cello instructor, had “no concept of the instrument...he was blowing into it.” Virgil does, however, end up being good enough to play... in a local marching band.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Virgil dreams of being on the beach with his love while in jail. It happens when he escapes.
  • Dropped Glasses: A Running Gag has characters removing Virgil's glasses and stomping on them. And at one point he does this to himself to beat someone to the punch.
  • Dynamite Candle: Virgil tries to get rid of a blackmailer by giving her sticks of dynamite disguised as candles.
  • Eat the Evidence: When going over plans to rob a bank with his accomplices, Virgil says he'll show films of the bank they will be robbing. Virgil announces that they are going to see them just once... and to destroy the evidence, they're going to eat the film afterward - as a buffet.
  • Faux Documentary: The film has some documentary trappings, including the narrator interviewing Virgil's parents.
  • Film Felons: Virgil stages one bank robbery to look like a movie shoot, complete with a camera and a very eccentric man as "the director".
  • Funny Background Event: When Louise visits Virgil in prison, they're sat next to a convict and a visitor who are both holding ventriloquist dummies.
  • Grammar Correction Gag: Virgil attempts to rob a bank, and he fails because the tellers have difficulty reading past the spelling errors in his hold-up note, which says to "abt natural" because he has a "gub" pointed at them. The bank tellers even debate on whether he actually misspelled gun or if they just don't notice that the B is actually a C or N, and ask other people what they think, including a police officer.
  • Here We Go Again!: At the end of the film, Virgil is carving a new soap-gun, attempting to break out of jail yet again.
  • Hustling the Mark: Virgil attempts to become a pool hustler and fails miserably.
  • Identity Amnesia: After getting hit in the head with a baseball at a Washington Senators game, Virgil's grandfather thinks he's Kaiser Wilhelm. Cue Stock Footage of the real Kaiser.
  • The Illegible: A bank robbery is foiled when tellers can't read Virgil's hold up note. It sparks an argument throughout the entire bank over whether he wrote "gun" or "gub", "act natural" or "abt natural."
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Virgil devises a way to take a hidden camera into a bank he is scouting out for a planned robbery. It's hidden in a loaf of bread, which Virgil repeatedly holds up to his face as one would an ordinary camera.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Pretty much the only reason we're rooting for Virgil is because he keeps getting beaten up and humiliated in a Charlie Brown-esque way, and none of his crimes ever go right.
  • Informed Judaism: Virgil's father seems to think so about his son; he says he tried to "beat God into him" but it didn't work. Then there was the prison serum which briefly turned him into a rabbi. Though even the prison guards seemed baffled at that one.
  • Inherently Funny Words: "Gub". Virgil misspelled "gun" on a note to a bank teller.
  • Inkblot Test: Virgil's troubled youth is highlighted when he interprets an inkblot drawing as "Two elephants making love to a men's glee club."
  • Jail Bake: Discussed Trope. When Virgil's wife comes to visit him in prison, he asks her to bake him a chocolate cake with a gun inside it, along with a batch of chocolate chip cookies with each one containing a bullet, but his wife is hesitant to do this because Virgil is allergic to chocolate.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Virgil's parents are constantly bickering throughout their interview. Justified because they're an old married couple.
  • Longer-Than-Life Sentence: Virgil is eventually sentenced to eight-hundred years for his various crimes. Upon hearing this, he simply tells his lawyer he's confident he can get out in half that time.
  • Mockumentary: The film is presented like a documentary, but the subject matter it covers is exceptionally silly. The narrator says multiple things about Virgil's life and the craziness around him with a completely serious tone, which just adds to the comedy. It may be the Ur-Example, if one excludes the Phony Newscast variation (that dates back to Orson Welles's The War of the Worlds in 1938) or works that really were trying to pass themselves off as documentaries, like Mondo Cane.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The former film director named Fritz is obviously a caricature of Fritz Lang, right down to his characteristic Teutonic accent, black boots and riding crop.
  • The Not-So-Harmless Punishment: Played with. A pretty nasty punishment turns out to be even more harmful. As the narrator states, "Food on a chain gang is scarce and not very nourishing. The men get one hot meal a day: a bowl of steam." This is shortly followed by the inverse of the trope — a man who didn't give a good day's work is hauled into another room, and the warden takes Virgil over to show him "what he's got to look forward to". In a parody of a classic scene from I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, we see the shadow of what appears to be the man tied to the ceiling being whipped by another guard (and sounds of whipping and the prisoner wincing seem to confirm this), but after Virgil and the warden walk through the door, we find out that the guard is whipping the prisoner's shadow, instead.
  • Only a Lighter: Virgil is seen at one point stealing a gun from a pawn shop and gets in a shootout with the police soon after only to realize that the "gun" that he just stole is a cigarette lighter.
  • Pants-Free: Virgil is preparing for a date, grooming himself at the mirror, leaving his apartment...then coming right back in, with the camera panning back to reveal he forgot his pants.
  • Parental Neglect: Virgil was raised by his grandfather because his parents were never around for him. At least, until said grandfather got a Tap on the Head.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Virgil's parents refuse to show their faces on camera when interviewed, but hide their identities with Groucho Marx glasses.
  • Prisoner's Work: Virgil works in the prison laundry, where he steals t-shirts for a proposed prison escape by putting them on. He builds up so many layers he ends up looking like a bodybuilder from the waist up.
  • Punishment Box: Virgil is locked in one of these at one point... with an insurance salesman.
  • Revised Ending: The film originally ended with Virgil meeting his end in a hail of bullets a-la Bonnie and Clyde. This would have been followed by a brief humorous scene at his funeral when his wife hears him whisper from below ground, "Get me out". Editor Ralph Rosenblum convinced Woody Allen to go for a lighter ending.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: "Abt natural, I've got a gub." Virgil's note to a bank teller is so hard to read that he ends up getting nothing done with his attempts at bank robbery.
  • Rule of Funny: Virgil is imprisoned and punished by being locked in confinement with an insurance salesman, and briefly becomes an Orthodox rabbi as a side effect of medical experimentation.
  • Running Gag: Virgil getting his glasses stomped on. It slowly escalates throughout the film, starting with some kid gangster, then a garbage man, then adult gangster, and finally a judge getting in on the action.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Parodied when it's revealed that the shadow itself is what's being whipped.
  • Shout-Out: When Virgil tries to go straight and goes in for a job interview, the questions about his previous job start playing out like a round of What's My Line?note , including questions about whether or not a product is involved and ultimately leading to Virgil saying they've run out of time and that he's going to flip over all the cards and give the interviewer the full $50 prize.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: All the time. It even becomes monologue dissonance at one point during Louise and Virgil's Falling-in-Love Montage. The music is very appropriate, but it’s dubbed over with a speech from Virgil about how he knew he was in love because he was "slightly nauseous."
    Virgil: After fifteen minutes I wanted to marry her, and after half an hour I completely gave up the idea of snatching her purse.
  • Spy Cam: Virgil cases a bank that his gang is going to rob by sneaking in a camera in a loaf of bread. Then he holds the loaf of bread up to his eye to take pictures with it.
  • Stupid Crooks: Virgil can't ever commit a successful crime, and is usually foiled by stupid mistakes, like misspelling a holdup note.
  • Tuckerization: The film Virgil shows his gang ("Trout Fishing in Quebec") is listed as being a Rollings and Joffe production, the real-life producers of Woody Allen.
  • Ventriloquism: There's a brief background gag of a prison inmate holding a ventriloquist's dummy and taking through a glass screen to a visitor, who also holds a dummy.
  • Villain Protagonist: Virgil. Though he's an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, he's still a career criminal who commits armed robbery, assault, and attempting to break out of jail.
  • Working on the Chain Gang: Virgil is sentenced to a chain gang after a failed bank robbery. At one point, his chain gang decides to make an escape. Hilarity Ensues.