Broadway Danny Rose (1982)

“Life’s short; you don’t get any medals for being a boy scout.”

Synopsis:
A down-on-his luck theatrical manager (Woody Allen) pins his hopes on a singer (Nick Apollo Forte) who he hopes will soon make the big time; but his plans become complicated when Forte refuses to sing in front of Milton Berle unless his moody mistress (Mia Farrow) is there, and Allen is tasked with convincing her to attend.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that this Woody Allen comedy about “a former Borscht Belt comedian turned down-and-out Broadway agent for some of the least talented acts imaginable” “never reaches the hilarious heights of Allen’s classics”, but possesses a “truly sweet oddball character” in the title role of Danny Rose. Indeed, Danny is possibly Allen’s most likable alter-ego, given his endearing devotion to “all his clients”, even “a stuttering ventriloquist and an elderly couple who make balloon animals”. The running “joke” of the film — that Allen’s clients inevitably shift to another agent once they’ve achieved any level of real success — demonstrates that Danny’s loyalties may be somewhat misplaced, yet one can’t help cheering him on in his comedically hopeless endeavors. The storyline (efficiently, humorously scripted by Allen) remains enjoyably wacky and fast-paced throughout, as “Farrow and Allen have an exciting adventure together”, and Allen (mistaken for Farrow’s lover) eventually becomes “wanted” by her mob connections.

Though Allen does a fine job playing such a sympathetic character — and Forte is completely convincing in his debut role (he wrote his own songs as well) — Farrow’s performance is the true surprise here: she’s literally unrecognizable at first in her “blond wig and dark glasses”, using a “convincing New Jersey accent”; her character’s cynical, self-preserving approach to life functions as an effectively stark contrast to Danny’s eternally helpful optimism. Meanwhile, Allen’s use of a flashback structure to frame the storyline — involving a group of stand-up comedians who reminisce in a diner about Danny Rose — perfectly establishes the film’s tone and milieu, allowing Allen to pay homage to the performance medium that gave him his start in show business. One may question why DP Gordon Willis chose to film the picture in (admittedly gorgeous) b&w (perhaps to evoke an era of nostalgia?); but while I believe the film could have worked just as well in color, I won’t begin to quibble.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Woody Allen as Danny Rose
  • Mia Farrow as Tina
  • Gordon Willis’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as one of Allen’s (many) “best” films.

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One Response to “Broadway Danny Rose (1982)”

  1. A must, and one that holds up well on repeat viewings.

    Peary’s comment that this film “never reaches the hilarious heights of Allen’s classics” is troubling. On the one hand, it suggests that Allen should be happy being pigeon-holed as a certain kind of writer (which, of course, was Allen’s main motivation in giving us ‘Stardust Memories’). On the other, it implies that the best comedies need to reach “hilarious heights”. At any rate, it’s a rather useless observation. As I tend to say, each film needs to be accepted (or rejected) on its own terms. And, at least in his films up to 1987, Allen was usually more intensely interested in redefining for us what he thinks is funny.

    With ‘Zelig’ coming before and ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ following, Allen gives us three wonderfully comic character studies in a row, each containing a certain bittersweet quality. Obviously, ‘BDR’ is the most realistic of the three since it comes off as a tale that could actually happen.

    Unlike, Radio Days’ (and until it was brought out in the assessment), it was less apparent to me that Allen was, with this film, paying homage. But that does seem to be quite true. (I probably didn’t consider that since, whereas my generation grew up largely with radio, much fewer of us entered adulthood in the immediate company of stand-up comics.) I imagine that’s why black-and-white was chosen for the story: for those who went through them, the glory days of that lifestyle were on-screen in black-and-white.

    I’ve seen this film a number of times and, as noted, it is “fast-paced throughout”. The main cast is small and there’s not a lot of ground to cover, so keeping it short (84 min.) and to the point is a strength. The plot elements are few but they are marvelously constructed. (In a nice touch, it’s engaging and energetic when Allen first meets Farrow and we’re subjected to sequences involving overlapping dialogue; it’s fun keeping up.) In a number of his films, Allen gives walk-on characters memorable one-liners, but here he gives most of his cameo performers memorable visuals instead (my favorite being the musical talents of the woman who plays the water-filled glasses).

    Allen is endearing here – and esp. in the latter part of the film. Farrow is indeed a “true surprise”, as we’re given a clear example of what she was capable of under Allen’s guidance. (A variation of this character would, of course, appear in Farrow’s ‘Radio Days’ performance.) And Forte is the perfect lounge-act singer (he’s especially good when he appears lost without his manager’s constant help).

    In short, this is simply a lovely film in all respects.

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