Judge Jason Panella likes the Carnegie Deli, but he wishes the sandwiches could be a little bigger.
"I thought this was a funny story. It's terrible!"
Often overlooked, Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose is a gem.
Facts of the Case
Danny Rose (Woody Allen, Manhattan) is a small-time talent manager based out of Manhattan. Rose is loyal to his entertainers to a fault, including the has-been crooner Lou Canova (singer Nick Apollo Forte in his only film role). Surprisingly, Lou's career takes off—and the singer demands that Danny drop a smokescreen to obscure the singer's affair with Tina (Mia Farrow, Rosemary's Baby). So Danny poses as Tina's boyfriend, and Tina's mobster ex-boyfriend—in typical mobster style—sends some skull-crackers after the hapless agent.
The setup for Broadway Danny Rose is brilliant. Some real-life comedians are grabbing lunch at Carnegie Deli in Manhattan, downing coffee and sandwiches as they swap stories. Their topic eventually shifts to Danny Rose. Who? You know, they say, Danny Rose—the "talent" manager of some third-act acts. Like the blind xylophone player and the balloon artist. There are a lot of Danny Rose stories out there, but—as one comedian promises—only one of them is the best Danny Rose story. The rest of the comedians lean in: this story is the one they need to hear, especially considering how miserable things are for a New York comedian in the 1980s.
Allen's film is that story. Broadway Danny Rose, like many of writer/director/actor's late-'70s and '80s productions, is as sad as it is funny. Still, it's an often silly film, and the playfulness nicely balances out the introspective aspects.
In Broadway Danny Rose, Allen plays the titular character as yet another variation of the "Woody Allen" persona: uptight, neurotic, jittery. But he's also caring to a fault and deeply concerned with his "family" of awful performers he keeps under his wing. Danny Rose, like Allen, cut his teeth working the Borscht Belt comedy circuit, and one of the film's best running gags is how Rose falls into his stand-up routine in casual conversation. His amiable nature makes him well-liked in the business, but other show-biz types wonder why Danny doesn't climb the ladder a few rungs and pluck some better acts. The answer is simple: he's loyal.
So loyal that he gets himself into a lot of trouble for his only talented (albeit moderately) act. Lou Canova has been asked to open for Milton Berle and will only perform if his mistress Tina attends. Which, or course, isn't easy—Lou is married, and Tina is on the outs with him anyway. Broadway Danny Rose really picks up the pace once Danny meets Tina—Farrow plays her as a live wire, and the non-stop verbal sparring between the two (who were a romantic item at the time) is fantastic. The slapstick material brings in some of the elements of Allen's older, pre-Annie Hall work while still encapsulating the jokes in a melancholy pill. The humor is also peculiar, in some ways—many of the lines are more amusing than hilarious, which works in the context. But the film is tightly written regardless, and drops a number of knee-slappers by the end.
Allen's screenplay wades into some thoughtful territory. The relationship Rose has with his stable of performers seems pitiful on the outside, but there's something more there—love and friendship. This Danny Rose story is also part myth about and part love letter to the world of show business. As a result, there are some atypical elements in the film that potentially make this one of Allen's most joyful films. But only potentially—how cynically you interpret the film is up to you. No matter how you look at it, it's an entertaining, well-made movie that often gets overlooked in favor of the giants in Woody Allen's repertoire.
Twilight Time's release of Broadway Danny Rose (Blu-ray) is limited to 3,000 copies. The 1.85:1/1080p transfer lovingly renders the black-and-white work of cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather). There's a lot of natural grain here, which adds warmth to the overall clear picture. There's a remarkable variations of gray on display that look great with this transfer. The mono DTS-HD Master Audio track is also strong—it's clear, appropriately loud in the right spots, and well-mixed. There aren't a lot of extras, though: the film's original trailer (1:07), an isolated music and effects track, and a nice four-page essay from Twilight Time's film historian Julie Kirgo.
If you're an Allen fan and haven't seen Broadway Danny Rose, you need to watch this pronto. Twilight Time's limited-run Blu-ray is also a nice entry for Allen novices. Recommended.
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