Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

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Woody Allen stars alongside Mia Farrow; her first knockout performance in a Woody Allen film.

Broadway Danny Rose was written, directed and starred in by Woody Allen himself. His storytelling work of art was released to American movie theatres in January of 1984, before it finally aired in Europe at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival in France later that year in May.

Allen created a fresh, yet sentimental atmosphere in his mid-town Manhattan world of charm, fame and calamity tale. The perfect combination for an authentic street-level, Broadway point of view, it portrayed what it really was to live and perform in the midst of a chaotic downtown New York City in the late 1960’s. “New York City looks great in the movie, scenes on the street, in traffic, real New York, not some blocked-off Hollywood version” (Alex Belth).

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Broadway Danny Rose ends where it begins.

So what better setting to begin a tragicomedy saga than the famous midtown sandwich shop, ‘Carnegie Deli’. Well known for it’s celebrity pull and business stomping ground, Carnegie Deli creates the opening scene featuring a bunch of wise-guy comedians discussing their favourite pastimes and exchanging stories back and forth. That is until the legend of Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is brought up in conversation and thus the narration of his wacky account kicks off, as we flash back in time to the not so distant past.

The narrative then commences to characterize Danny Rose’s personality and hectic lifestyle on Broadway. Danny is a theatrical agent who some how or another manages to acquire the rejected artists, through no fault of his own. To paint a clearer picture, Danny’s performers consist of a blind Xylophonists, a one legged tap dancer, a stuttering ventriloquists and a woman who plays music from glasses filled with water. However, what Danny lacks in talented clients, he reconciles with an overflowing abundance of effort and enthusiasm as he strives to do almost anything to make them happy. Regardless of their obvious shortcomings, “Danny is fiercely loyal to them all. You might even say he loves them–despite their propensity for leaving him as soon as they experience the slightest success.” (David Zahl).

One of Danny Rose’s odd job clients, Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), who is a washed up lounge singer, attempts to make a comeback in the music business; twenty five years after his one hit wonder burst onto the scene in New York.

Not only does Danny have to somehow rejuvenate Lou’s fading singing career, but there’s also other minor issues to deal with, such as Lou’s alcoholism, not to mention his love affair with an ex-girlfriend of an Italian mobster, the brash blonde, Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow).

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Tina Vitale, the opposite of a neurotic, literate New Yorker.

After Lou gets asked to perform a show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, he desperately wants Tina to be there in the crowd to support him, especially because Milton Berle, a famous TV show host, wants to consider Lou for a role in a TV special. Lou orders poor Danny boy to travel out to New Jersey to fetch Tina and bring her to him before the night of his big break. Of course, being the person pleaser that Danny is, he endeavors to do so. Completely unaware of the sincerity of the situation, Danny drives out to New Jersey to bring Tina back to New York. In doing so, he stumbles across the estate of Tina’s former Italian partner and his entire mob family. Danny, in the heart of the confusion, accidentally finds himself being accused of being Tina’s new lover and soon there is a price on his head for his life. In-between Danny’s attempts to bring Tina to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in time for Lou’s big night and surviving death from a chasing mob gang, the amusing adventures of the Danny Rose merry-go-round come to life.

“We’re into a definite type of situation here” – Danny Rose.

The amusing fast paced music Allen used within the clip shown above, and in fact throughout the entire movie, could perhaps be compared to the silent movies of the 1920’s; where melodies were key to emphasizing specific slapstick moments on screen. At least, I could certainly imagine Charles Chaplin running around and creating scenes of madness and mayhem to the soundtrack of Broadway Danny Rose. The music is very effective in how it adds amusement to already humorous scenes throughout the film; and if we were to take away that music, I doubt Allen’s desired outcome would still be the same. The classic pantomime melodies also give Broadway Danny Rose it’s added vintage feel and forces the audience back to the point in history that the narrative is being told.

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Cheerfully working together in cool black and white.

Considering Allen had created a habit of writing narratives told from the present about a certain moment in the recent history, his choice to shoot the film in black and white was no coincidence.  Allen had already expressed his love for shooting his films in black and white, especially narratives that were story told about the past, such as Stardust Memories (1980) and Zelig (1983). Woody Allen’s unique production style of filming without color during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s was not highly popular amongst other directors, which perhaps made his unique work stand out even more from others. Allen’s cinematographer Gordon Willis described working with this medium as managing “to do exquisite photographic work in some very unlikely places… even the swamps of New Jersey look beautiful” (Gordon Willis). Black and white films were traditionally associated with the term ‘Film Noir’,  which was seen as a type of melodrama genre;  brimming with “fear, mistrust, bleakness, loss of innocence, despair and paranoia” (Tim Dirks). Ironically, Broadway Danny Rose achieves the complete opposite effect with it’s nostalgic yet upbeat style, capturing the city as Allen saw it at ground-level; the real heart of the place. He confirmed this in an interview with famous American author Eric Lax, when he said, “For some reason I saw it in black and white because I wanted to make a 1950s Italian movie. And Gordon Willis understood instantly. He said, “It just feels better to me in black and white, too.””. The filming style alone could perhaps be compared to, and was maybe influenced by Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948); considering the black and white filming, the Italian link, and also the street-level imagery displayed in both films.

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“…even the swamps of of New Jersey look beautiful” – Gordon Willis

 

Regardless of any technical elements Allen may have used within Broadway Danny Rose, the most enlightening and, I believe, the most important element is the charm and grace in which Allen’s picture presents worldly morals and principles. Perhaps Danny Rose’s virtues come from Allen’s background of Jewish heritage, but only he can answer that. However, as The Guardian wrote in their critique of the film, “what other culture would see the heroism in such an apparently inconsequential failure of a human being?”. How many times do you see in a motion picture, a character who has been totally worn down and defeated, to then show grace and love towards those who have so despicably abused his innocent good nature. It could have been very easy for Danny Rose to quickly turn to rage, yet through all the transgressions laid upon him, he miraculously manages to find compassion and kindness for those around him. For me, this is the main focal point of the movie. Too often these days, films coming out of Hollywood are dominated by hate, anger and revenge; it’s not every day that we hear the words, “acceptance, forgiveness and love” (Danny Rose). There’s something we can all learn from Broadway Danny Rose.

 

 

 

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