Broadway Danny Rose marks the end of Allen’s fascination with European cinema, and marks a film that is very much his own. It’s a small story – and a short one – but Allen’s story is full of heart and he creates two of his best characters. It also marks the first knockout performance by Mia Farrow in a Woody Allen film.
Woody Allen stars as Danny Rose. The character’s name has become a character archetype – a naive but lovable talent agent, who would do anything for his acts. In a great chequered suit, Rose represents all that Allen loves about show business. In fact, despite not being a funny film, it’s Allen’s love letter to comedy.
It opens with one of Allen’s best, most memorable scenes. A group of aging comedians are telling old war stories at the legendary Carnegie Deli. These real comedians start trading stories on Danny Rose, and his hapless luck over the years. One of them has the best Danny Rose story.
Told through flashback we meet Lou Canova (played by Nick Apollo Forte). An old time crooner down on his luck, and only Rose believes in him. They plan their way back to the top, but Canova’s mistress Tina (Mia Farrow) enters the scene, and throws everything into chaos.
Farrow is wonderful as the ballsy mafia broad. Deliberately wearing big glasses to hide her mousey features, she plays it big, crazy and confident. It’s the perfect foil for Allen’s Rose, who is all nervous hope. It’s her first great role for Allen, one of many to come. Allen is great too, and the reaction shot of him before he chases Tina out the door shows how great and subtle he can be.
Parts of it are quite funny – the shoot out with helium baloons, or the advertising man dressed as a superhero. But it’s the drama that really clicks – we love Danny Rose, the underdog, and we want him to win so badly. Gordon Willis returns as cinematographer, and gives everything a rustic, urban look – a far cry from the glamour of NYC in Manhattan.
This film breezes by. It’s 84 minutes, with only three main characters and no sub plots to speak of. Most of the story is set over one day, and mostly around the same area of New York. It feels slight in ways – Rose’s crazy acts, and the old comedians, deserve more screen time. But it also means there’s no fat in the story. Allen has something to say and says it, then gets out.
And it’s hugely affectionate. Allen’s writing about people he’s met in life, and the types of characters he’s met. He’s always had a huge respect for the generation of entertainers before him, and never has it been more present than here. He also abandons any European influence on his film making, telling a pretty straight New York story without any clever tricks.
Broadway Danny Rose is great. It isn’t as ambitious as his other works, but there is plenty to love.
(The film ends with the comedians laughing about how Carnegie Deli has sandwich named Danny Rose. After this film, the deli named a sandwich after Woody Allen.)