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Film Friday: Woody Allen's 'Broadway Danny Rose'

By Daniel S Levine,

A group of Borscht Belt comedians gather at Carnegie Deli in Manhattan to trade war stories. There's one person that pops up in all of them - talent agent Danny Rose. However, the word “talent” might not apply to the entertainers he represents and his skills as an “agent” certainly aren't up to snuff with the best. But the people he represents love him, especially singer Lou Canova who had a hit back in the '50s that no one remembers. This may shape up to be a depressing film about the dangers of the New York entertainment scene, but in the hands of Woody Allen, it is a comic masterpiece and probably one of the most outrageously funny films in his entire oeuvre.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) is, to me, the movie Allen was born to make. It's all about outrageous characters you might meet in New York (or at least people you'd like to think you would meet in a glamorized version of the city) and people doing whatever they can to screw themselves out of seeing their dreams come true. Danny (Allen) does his best to try to hold Lou's (Nick Apollo Forte) life together, but his womanizing ways make everything harder, especially with Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow) as his mistress.

Lou begins a career comeback, thanks to the nostalgia craze. Suddenly Lou is so popular – despite the cornball songs he sings – that Milton Berle decides to have him on a show. While Danny should be celebrating, he has more problems to think about, especially Tina. Lou can't perform without his good luck charm (Tina), but his wife also has to be there. So, Lou and Danny decide to have Tina come as Danny's girl.

This film has many of the funniest scenes Allen ever came up with, but it still has that romantic tone he began adding to his films after Annie Hall (1977). In some ways, it is a throwback to the slapstick humor of Bananas (1971), particularly the hilarious chase from hitmen. It turns out that Tina's ex-boyfriend is at a party Danny takes her to and he's convinced that Danny is her real new boyfriend. So, the former lover puts out a hit on Danny and the hilarious chase begins.

Mia Farrow gave Allen several great performances throughout the 1980s, but this is where she really shines as a comedian. There's a great scene during the chase when they run through the Jersey swamps. “Hey, wait a minute! I know where we are. These are the flatlands. My husband's friends used to dump bodies here,” Farrow says, as if she's made the greatest discovery ever. “Great. I'm sure you can show me all the points of cultural interest,” Allen replies. She also has another great scene in Danny's apartment, where she criticizes the dump, which she can only see through the giant sunglasses she wears the entire film.

Allen's performance, too, is over-the-top, as if Danny is always putting on a show that's as bad as the talent he represents. It works so well, though, especially in that opening scene when he's trying to make another deal. We meet Danny as a desperate agent, who always talks with his hands. Nick Apollo Forte also gives a real show throughout the film and makes you wish he did some other work on the big screen. The way he does throw that microphone around (a move Danny taught him, of course) is impressive.

Gordon Willis' beautiful black and white cinematography is also integral to the entire film. By 1984, Willis and Allen had built such a rapport that it was almost inconceivable to think how a Woody Allen film would look without Willis' eye at the camera. In Danny Rose, there are lovely shots throughout the film, like that wide shot of Danny chatting with Milton Berle on the street.

On Home Video: Twilight Time released Broadway Danny Rose in April. The niche label now has access to titles in the MGM library, which actually means United Artists/Orion titles, including many of Allen's best films. The release is simply gorgeous, although there's no bonus material beyond a trailer, as usual with Allen films. Twilight Time did get to add an isolated score track (as it did for Crimes and Misdemeanors).

Broadway Danny Rose is Woody Allen at his freewheeling best, where he is clearly making a film for the fun of it and isn't trying to make some grand statement on human relationships. It is zaniness at its best, to the point where you just don't want those astonishingly short 80 minutes to ever end. Danny's uncle Sidney said it best - “acceptance, forgiveness and love.” That's what Broadway Danny Rose is all about and if you remember that, you might just get a sandwich named after you at the Carnegie Deli.

You can talk about this film and others at the Film Friday Facebook page. You can check out past Film Friday columns here.

image courtesy of ACE/INFphoto.com

 

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