“Broadway Danny Rose” opens at the famed Carnegie Deli located in midtown Manhattan, known for its huge Pastrami and Corned Beef sandwiches and as a well known show business hangout for many of the old time Borscht Belt comedians of yesterday. At one table dishing out old show biz stories are comedians Corbett Monica, Sandy Baron, Jackie Gayle and Will Jordan among others all playing themselves. Also in the group is Jack Rollins, Allen’s long time producer. The tales go around, back and forth, names come and go until Sandy Baron announces he has the best Danny Rose story ever. We flash back to a time not too long in the past.
Danny Rose (Woody Allen) is a fourth rate theatrical agent whose client list is filled with some of oddest acts in show business including a one legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind Xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. Danny is a good hearted loser who believes in his clients worth no matter how bad they are. He is willing to go to the extreme to keep his acts happy and get them jobs. It’s this dedication that gets him in trouble when he becomes involved with his top client’s mistress and some unfriendly gangsters who mistake Danny as her lover.
Danny’s big act these days is Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), a has been lounge singer in the mode of Sinatra, Dino, Jerry Vale, Tony Roselli, Buddy Greco and Al Martino, only Lou isn’t anywhere nearly as good. He’s a one hit wonder who after twenty-five years is attempting to make a comeback. Lou also has a drinking problem and is cheating on his wife with TIna Vitale (Mia Farrow), the former girlfriend of a now dead gangster. When Lou gets his big break, a gig at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Milton Berle is going to see the show in order to consider Lou for a TV special, Lou wants Tina there in the audience. Danny is sent out to New Jersey to bring Tina back. When Danny catches up with Tina, it turns out to be at the estate of her former boyfriend’s “family.” One misunderstanding leads to another and Danny quickly finds himself in the middle of Soprano land with a contract on his head. Danny not only finds himself on the run from the mob but he is also losing his rising star of a client when Tina tells Lou, now that he is back in the big time, he needs to get a better agent than Danny.
Allen creates a nostalgic world filled with the lower levels of New York’s show business community that he knew so well from his early days as a writer and standup comedian. There is a colorful Damon Runyon like quality to most the characters. Allen himself plays his classic Woody character, a more modern version of one of his childhood heroes, Bob Hope.
Mia Farrow is practically unrecognizable as Tina Vitale, filled with padding and makeup along with a cheap blonde wig and an endless supply of cigarettes. Farrow proved herself a comedic talent with a character who was “Jersey Shore” material twenty five years before the show existed. Having seen the waif like Farrow in many films prior to this, her performance here as a hard edged, tough Italian broad is delightfully unexpected. The character came about after a visit to Rao’s Italian restaurant in East Harlem, a well known dining spot for celebrities and the well connected. With only, eight tables, the place is booked months in advance. The owner’s daughter-in-law was a constant smoker who wore large dark sunglasses and had a mile high blonde bouffant hairdo. Farrow mentioned one night ,when they were dining there, she would one day like to play a character like this colorful woman. Taking this as a cue, Woody set about writing the story that would become “Broadway Danny Rose.”
While looking for someone to play Lou Canova, the third rate Italian singer, Woody’s casting director Juliet Taylor was browsing through the LP’s at the famed Colony Records store on Broadway, which can be quickly viewed in the film, and came across a self produced album by Nick Apollo Forte, a part time singer and part time fisherman. Nick had been singing for years, even writing some songs like “Agita” that would be included in the movie. After considering actors like Robert DeNiro and Danny Aiello Woody went with the inexperienced Forte for Lou Conova, a one hit wonder whose career has been in the dumps since that hit slid off the charts some twenty five years earlier. Forte’s career in the big time did not last long. His only other appearance on film was in “The Ellen Burstyn Show,” a sit-com that last 13 weeks or sadly, about as long as Nick’s career at the top. Today, Nick still performs live and still has a couple of CD’s out there available for purchase.
One of my favorite scenes is in the beginning of the film when the roundtable of comedians at the Carnegie Deli are discussing Danny. One of them mentions how Danny started out himself as a standup comedian and we flashback to Danny performing in a Catskills nightclub doing his standup routine, “I drove up here today,” he says. ” I love driving. You run across so many interesting people.” The scene plays out nicely as a small reminder that Woody himself was a standup comic early in his career performing in clubs in New York’s Greenwich Village as well as other spots across the country.
As with many of Allen’s films there’s a strong romantic, nostalgic feel to it, a longing for the past. We see it in “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Zelig,” “Radio Days,” and even his latest “Midnight in Paris,” all have that same touch. Like most of Allen’s film the romantic imagery is expressed in long shots, a walk along a pier, or as in the final scene on Thanksgiving Day when Danny runs after Tina. Yet, the film has a gritty visual quality to it that fits the era of a New York not yet recovered from years of high crime and financial pain. This is thanks to Gordon Willis’ evocative black and white photography.
Despite Danny’s “bad luck” with clients he always remains upbeat. Even after being stabbed, figuratively speaking, by Tina, he is still there for his clients come the following Thanksgiving Day, gathering all his odd clientele in his rundown apartment for a holiday meal of frozen turkey dinners. Though the scene plays out as humorous, it is also very touching. Danny cares and does take care of these loveable losers. The film’s ending reconciliation between Danny and Tina is tender, sweet and well after spending an hour and a half with him, you know it’s so Danny Rose…and Woody Allen.
John, may I interject a concept at this juncture? For the longest time, the only way I’d ever seen BDR was on the odd weekend afternoon broadcast in pan and scan and chock full o’ commercials. When I finally got the DVD I fully appreciated the hilarity and sentiment of the script–as you mention, that Thanksgiving scene certainly is touching. It’s no surprise that Allen used the holiday again in Hannah and Her Sisters, as the Autumnal vibe of that most time of year coincides with Allen’s love of earth tones in his films. As I watch his entire body of work, I catch on to little touches like this.
I was a bit surprised by the Best Director nomination Woody received for BDR, however, not that it was undeserved; I just thought it an eccentric touch on the Academy’s part. I’ll have to check what the other nods were prior to the Oscars.
I thought of the Thanksgiving scene in HANNAH also. I have actually come to appreciate this film more with each viewing. Mia Farrow gives one of her best performances and Allen character is pure Woody!.
I love this movie and I’m glad to hear that other people feel the same way. So few movies have a good helium chase scene!
“So few movies have a good helium chase scene!” LOL! Can’t argue with that statement. Glad you are a Woody fan!
John, having known quite a few Danny Rose types and their clients from the years when my late dad hung around with local entertainers and semi-Sopranos types, my mom and I absolutely adored BROADWAY DANNY ROSE from the very first time we saw it together! Your blog post had me smiling as much as the movie itself did! Wonderful post, as usual! 🙂
Thanks Dorian, sounds like your dad had an interesting life. Glad it brought back some memories.
John, “Broadway Danny Rose” is one of Woody Allen’s gems and you’ve captured its charms well. It brims with humor and warmth as well as some surprising performances. I’m not a great fan of Mia Farrow, but she nails her part in this one – beautifully. And much as Lou Canova seems a perfect role for Danny Aiello (and would’ve been interesting casting with DeNiro), Nick Apollo Forte is priceless as the 3rd (or 4th) rate lounge singer. Love this movie, thanks for spotlighting it, John.
I like Farrow in some roles, this one, HANNAH and Rosemary’s Baby. there are other times where she can be somewhat dull.
I’ve seen most of Allen’s films, but this is one that had escaped me. I’d love to see Mia Farrow playing a Jersey Shore-type woman.
If you are a Woody Allen fan, you will love this!
John, a nicely evocative post on one of the first Allen films I ever saw, on the big screen when it first came out. It may not be one of his greatest films, but it is one of the sweetest and most natural-feeling, maybe because he was dealing with a milieu he was so familiar with and had fond memories of. I must say that this is the most interesting performance I’ve ever seen by Farrow, who was a delight in a full-blown character part miles away (or was it really? there was a kind of innocence to her character) from the waif persona she usually projected, even in other Allen movies. I wish she had done more work like this. It and the semi-documentary scenes with the veteran comedians (I’ll never forget the shoe-box anecdote!) are the things about the movie I recall most vividly.
R.D. – For Farrow I think this was one of her best roles, she’s a delight. The scenes with the comedians at the Carnegie Deli are a treasure, real old time Broadway. It’s one of Woody’s film I never get tired of watching. Thanks!!!
Wonderful piece on a wonderful Woody Allen film that, often, gets lost in the shuffle when standing toe-to-toe with his other “more important” films.
I have never bought into the argument that any of Allen’s films are less important than the ones that have come before. With Allen, the work is an exploration into the mind of the film-maker and stands as a working through of ideas and theories the director has about important subjects that both embue and nag the man. With BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, the great director is taking on subjects like trust and responsibilty and how the moral code of every human being of every kind has a moral responsibility to those they effect both directly and indirectly. With this heavily plotted little gangster tale, Allen is commenting on how actions taken will, eventually, ripple through the lives of even those that are not immediately present in the narrative and the horrible burden that coincidence and lack of a moral code bring.
I’ve discussed my feelings about this film with the author of the above essay, at length, over at Sam Juliano’s WONDERS IN THE DARK on WordPress, and I’ll repeat some of my feelings here.
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE really was the film (along with, to a certain extent, ZELIG) that really brought Woody Allen back after almost five years of defacement to his adoring fans with films like STARDUST MEMORIES and the deathlike MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT SEX COMEDY. Many had lost their faith in a funnyman that, seemingly, didn’t wanna be funny anymore. Lost were his off-the-wall plots, buckets of razor sharp one-liners and gleeful anarchy that made slapstick comedies like BANANAS, LOVE AND DEATH, EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX and SLEEPER so memorable. We all thought that Woody Allen had become too wrapped up in his own self analysis. While this WAS true, to a degree, DANNY ROSE came in and totally debunked any fears that one of the five greatest comic gifts to the big screen had lost none of his steam. Here, in this little black and white quickie, Allen combined his late 70’s soul searching with the rapid-fire machine gun timing and plotting to stand with even the most acidic of his earliest films.
In a way, DANNY ROSE is one of Woody’s most important films. He proves here that the art of commentating on the troubles of humanity can be presented within the realms of absurdist humor and made entertaining to boot. I saw this film 1984 when it was first premiered in NYC and I remember every member of the audience embracing it as a comic gem. Most spoke of the one-liners, the crazy plot and bizarro characterizations but, a few like me saw it as much more. DANNY ROSE is one of the Wood-man’s warmest films. It’s a movie that reminds us that the lives of every person in the world is inadvertently touched by every other life that walks and breaths. It reminds us that our existance on this big blue marble is part of every other existence around the globe and that the actions of one can greatly effect the actions of the masses.
As a technical achievement, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is one of the tightest films in the directors canon. Using the notion of stand-up comics convening at NYC’s famous CARNEGIE DELICATESSEN after a nights sets in front of a microphone, Allen effortlessly weaves visual representations of the adoring stories these clowns relay while jabbering over coffee and pastrami on rye. The comics act as a moral chorus to the action of the story that unfolds and, like Howard Cosell commenting on the actions and theories of a televised football game, they make plain and simple the inner workings of the protagonists mind as he’s leveled upon the anarchy of the bizarre tale. At no point does the back and forth between present day and days-gone-by, in a story that we’re all laughing and crying over, ever intrude on the narrative and the addition of this “chorus” becomes one of Allen’s most ingenious plot presentation devices ever concocted. For me, the device of the comics was also welcomed as it gives an additional glimpse into the life of the filmmaker himself. Always one to use his own experiences as fodder for his little plays, I have no doubt that what we see in the diner was once a part of Allens early climb into the big time. I have no doubt that Woody once sat in one of those same chairs under the harsh florescent bulbs of that restaurant in the wee small hours of the morning back when I wasn’t even a thought in my parents minds.
The black and white photography has often been criticised. What was Allan’s need to have the film shot in same way he lovingly shot the intellectual upper-crust of his earlier MANHATTAN? Well, it’s really quite simple if you think of Martin Scorsese and RAGING BULL. Like that seminal work of 1980, Allen uses black and white, and it is the absolute right choice for DANNY ROSE, as a way of adding a gritty reality to the polar opposite of the characters he feels so at home with in his other works. Allen has often been accused of turning his back on his roots, but here in DANNY ROSE, he is turning the spot on the seedy, often sad, people that were once a part of his life before he started rubbing elbows with is mentors and influences. DANNY ROSE reminds us in its plotting and visual representation that Allen was once a child of the means streets of NYC and that it was a striving, along with hard work and a whole lot of belief in his god-given talent, that allowed him to rise to the top of the bottle. Danny, like the city he photographs in MANHATTAN, is a character that can only be seen in black and white. Danny is a romantic set loose in a world that no longer embraces romantics and the choice of not using color in the cinematography works as a representation of a romantics journey through the darkness to be heard, seen and, finally appreciated. Danny Rose is on a journey, and like the adventurers that dot Greek mythology, he must battle great, gritty and dark monsters on the way to being heard.
Allens use of music, as always, and maybe even a little more here, is spot on and totally adds to the flavor of the piece. With the songs sung by Nick Appolo Forte, Allen is commenting on the state of where we were going in the 80’s as far as taste and quick entertainment is concerned. This was a time of financial comfort, money was something that most of us didn’t worry about too much and we all seem to have had it in our heads that we were owed a night out. With this turning into a mass rush for anything that would divert us away from work and a weeks bills, the entertainment business was booming and trying deperately to accomodate all walks and classes. The music of BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is a joke in and of itself and, while beautifully performed, reminds us how truly bad it really is. That Danny is trying so hard to help out an act that will, inevitably, be laughed off the stage in the end adds to the flavor of the desperate story of understanding. We all have, from time to time, stakes in things that nobody else really understands. The music in this film only confirms the essence of the story and, thus, is a perfect accompanyment for the antics that present themselves. It’s music for losers that are grasping at that one hope among hopes.
As for the performances in the film, Allen is blessed with three that stand as some of the finest in his prolific career. First and most important is Allen himself. As the title character, gone is the tidy and well-to-do worrying nebbish that he perfected in ANNIE HALL and welcomed, in preference, is a slovenly little worm of a man whose whole life is surrounded in bad taste in clothes, music and all housed in an apartment falling apart from neglect and populated with piles of old newspaper clippings and photographs that his face is, inexplicably, cut out of in lieu of a clearer shot of a big personality. With hands flying at all times to punctuaute the ever absurd tales that he relays about his extended family, Allens creation is a modern spin on the bumbling harlequin that he played in EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX. Danny is a dreamer who just cannot get it right. He’s a nice little guy who sees the big time, if the big time is not having to fumble for change to pay the corner hot-dog vendor and, as played by Allen, is a tiny tour-de-force of detailed characterization. Frankly, it’s probably Woodys very best performance.
As the antagonist, the Gorgon, Nick Apollo Forte is the burly bear with a smile that is really the nightmare of nobody’s choosing. Self centered to the point of Narcissicism, and with nothing else but the talent to sing, this brainless boob is a thorn waiting to take a poke at Danny’s side. What I love most about the turn is that the man is so truly brainless that he is totally open to any temptation that will profit his appetites for money, success and, even more than those, sex. Lou Canova, as played by Forte, is hapless schlub of a guy who thinks that he never missed the boat but rather the boat won’t sail without him and the actor brings a perfect kind of aloofness to the role that a professional, seasoned actor would have dropped to the floor. It’s a perfect turn that compliments Allen’s bravura work as an actor in this film.
However, the real fire comes from Mia Farrow.
The least of all of Allen’s leading ladies, and a far cry from the effortless talent of Diane Keaton, Farrow comes into DANNY ROSE with guns ablazing. As Tina, the gim cracking, chain-smoking, interior-decorating gun moll that is the apple of Lou’s eye, Farrow is a whirlwind of bee-hive hair-do’s, sunglasses and capri slacks. Reminding me of Karens impressions of the the wives of her husbands friends in GOODFELLAS, Farrows performance is one for the time capsule. Basing her perfromance on a Little Italy resataurant owner that she and the director knew, Farrow is all about the quick pay-off and wacthing out for numero-uno. I love the way she rips through the cupboards and drawers in her apartment in a fit of aggrevation over finding out Lou was seen at Yankee Stadium with a cheap blonde (Tina, herself, is the very definition of a “cheap blonde”). What’s revealing about the character, and also impressive about the performance, is that the object of her search is not for a gun or a knife to do away with her “lover-boy” but a pack of Benson and Hedges that will quickly sedate her the moment she takes a drag off the first cigarette and move her on to seeking out solace to make HER feel OK. Tina is in it for herself, doesn’t care who she steps on in the process and is only as good as her next sexual conquest that will bring her more financial stability. In the end she cares nothing for Lou and Farrow’s performance is a wonder of self congratualating contradictions. I’ve never gotten over the fact that Farrow wasn’t nominated for the Oscar for BEST ACTRESS IN A LEAD ROLE for her turn in BROADWAY DANNY ROSE. It’s the finest perfromance of her career and stands tall with her breakout role in Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY.
In the end, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is a film that most will discover, if they haven’t already, when assessing Allen’s career through streaming viewings on NETFLIX. It’s the kind of little “did you see this one” film by a master film-maker that quickly climbs to the top 10 or 15 films of the auteurs canon when finally discovered. For those of us in the know, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE was one of the corner-stone films from a decade that probably saw more great films from this legend than his so-called “important” period.
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is one of a dozen or so films by Woody Allen that can truly be labeled a masterpiece.
“Always remember your three S’s.
Dennis Polifroni (From WONDERS IN THE DARK)
May 17 2012
I am stunned by you fabulous comment here. As you mentioned we had a long discussion of this film over at WitD and I do appreciate you reposting your thoughts here at 24frames. Like yourself, Allen is in my pantheon of film directors. His career i have followed since his days as a stand up comic and seeing him in his first film, WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT, which he wrote but was directed by Clive Donner. In this film, the Woody character in already in development and would soon bloom a few years later in TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN.
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is pure Woody. As for the B&W photography, I agree, it adds a nice touch of grit to the film that is part love story and part gangster film. I do need to re-read your thoughts here, there so much to digest. Thanks again!!!
Is it possible that I could add anything after reading a great review, and this spirited comment section with a spectacular response here from Dennis Polifroni? Ha, I don’t think so, but I will say it’s a mid-period gem from the Woodman that exhibits his musical affinity, dazzling use of flashback, and great use of location. I’m sure you have eaten in the Carnegie Hall Deli, John; it’s known for serving the best corned beef and pastrami sandwiches in the city. I’ve been there a number of times over the years-it’s a celebrity magnet, with walls of photographs of famous actors, politicians and sports figures who have broken bread there. Photos of Allen himself are generously adorned.
Woody was really in his element here.
I saw the movie as Woody’s love affair with the New York show business world he started in filled odd characters and goodfellas. Dennis’ comment, really a full length review, is stelluar, a tribute to his love and passion for Woody films. Top notch!
Wasn’t nuthin’… Actually, it was John’s infectious essay that sparked me off a bit here. To be honest, I was thrilled that someone other than myself saw this film as much more than the “little quickie” so many others have labeled it. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE was Allen’s return to form after almost five years of personal and professional defacement before an audience of adoring fans. It reminded those that were really watching the master closely that he had lost none of his comic touch or his talent for heavily plotted situations. In all honesty, I think BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is one of Allen’s least talked about films that is also one of his most important in terms of quality and his growth as a visual story teller and actor. I have never made any bones about it; DANNY ROSE saw Woody’s most intricate plot and his very best performance.
I’m elated that so many here are rejoicing over this often neglected gem.
here, here, Dennis! This film gets better with age! thanks again for your passion!!!
I’ve always been a Woody Allen fan and I’m trying to catch up on the movies I’ve missed. Watched BDR last night and I’ve been googling about it since. Glad to see so many fans out there; I truly feel his talent isn’t appreciated.
Welcome Rob! Glad you are a Woody fan. I will be writing about MANHATTAN within the next few weeks or so. If you are interested, I also have reviews of MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY and PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM posted from a while back. Here are the links…
I love this movie and I relate so much to Danny. I think is the most lovable character Woody plays, his good nature, his willingness to forgive… It is also so funny. One of my favorite Woody Allen movies! Such a shame that it is so under-rated. Even among fans, many haven’t seen it or see it as second-rate.
Danny Rose is one of Woody’s most sweetest male characters. At you say, he is lovable and cares for his third rate clients like they are his kids. A terrific film. Glad to hear your thoughts here.