In his attempts to reconcile a lounge singer with his mistress, a hapless talent agent is mistaken as her lover by a jealous gangster.
Danny Rose hustles talent - if you can call a parrot act, balloon folders, and a blind xylophonist talent. He's a small-time theatrical agent with big-time aspirations. He's been stepped on, swindled, cheated, double-crossed, and used. Yet through it all, he perseveres, catering to his clients like a devoted family member, bolstering their confidence and refining their routines, all while pounding the pavement in search of their big break...and his own. No matter how tough it gets, Danny never gives up, and his infectious optimism and good heart pulls him through his darkest hours.
On the surface, 'Broadway Danny Rose' seems like a trifle, a lightweight blip on Woody Allen's cinematic radar, combining mild slapstick with the writer-director's affection for New York, trademark ethnicity, and knack for creating interesting, eccentric characters. But delve deeper, and you'll find bittersweet warmth, boundless humanity, and an aching sensitivity pervading this strangely romantic and lyrical production. Though his films play well on initial viewings, the true genius of Woody Allen can't be fully appreciated until one takes a second look. That's when the nuances and rhythms of his priceless dialogue shine through, his humor becomes more pronounced, his deceptively simple shot compositions resonate, and the performances of his actors truly strike a chord. Meticulous construction demands serious attention, and though 'Broadway Danny Rose' isn't a serious film per se, it's a serious piece of work.
As the movie opens, a bunch of old theatrical cronies sit in Broadway's famed Carnegie Delicatessen trading anecdotes. Someone casually mentions Danny Rose (Allen), and after a few minor reminiscences, we're treated to "the best Danny Rose story of all." And so begins the chronicle of the fateful day when Danny's prize client, Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), a conceited lounge singer who "once had a song on the charts for 15 minutes," gets a breakout booking at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the chance to audition for Milton Berle's television spectacular. A successful opening night would fuel both Canova's sputtering career and Danny's reputation, but when Lou asks Danny to escort his mistress to the show, all hell breaks loose. Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow) is a loud-mouth wild card, a tough yet tender dame who gives as good as she gets, and her mercurial nature and impulsive attitude turns everyone's world upside down. Before they can blink, Danny and Tina find themselves on a memorable Jersey and Big Apple odyssey as they frantically try to escape the clutches of a couple of vengeful Mafia hitmen, while an insecure Lou hits the bottle full throttle. Whether Lou will sober up and get to his gig, and whether Danny and Tina wlll live long enough to see it is anybody's guess. Yet throughout this madness, Danny manages to maintain both his sanity and sensitivity. Living by the code of "acceptance, forgiveness, and love," he keeps a bright perspective on his less than gratifying existence.
Allen's Danny is, as usual, simply an extension of himself, but he builds on his stock character, imbuing him with the constant nervousness and fidgety energy that define the stereotype of a frustrated agent. And though he's undeniably funny, delivering neurotic one-liners, self-deprecating quips, and blunt observations with typical deadpan aplomb (a close encounter with a leaking helium tank is especially hilarious), his quieter, melancholic moments are undeniably his best. Toward the end of the movie, there's a scene where Danny (metaphorically) gets kicked in the teeth, and his reaction stops the film cold. Allen's understated, yet potent acting instantly moves us; we can feel his shock, disillusionment, and pain. Juggling comedy with tragedy is no easy task, and not many could do it successfully. Charlie Chaplin could, and here, Allen evokes The Little Tramp, as 'Broadway Danny Rose' brilliantly mixes revelry with heart.
Mia Farrow is a revelation as the New Yawkish, take-no-prisoners Tina. I've never considered Farrow much of an actress, and feel many of Allen's films have suffered because of her involvement - oh how many times have I pondered how much better Diane Keaton would have played Farrow's parts! - but she takes the bull by the horns here, surprising everyone with her free-wheeling, utterly captivating performance. Lively, raucous, yet strangely insecure and introspective, Tina is another in a long line of colorful roles Allen has written for his leading ladies, and Farrow embraces the gift, letting go of her inhibitions and filing arguably her finest performance. Nick Apollo Forte is just right as the egocentric, Andrew Dice Clay-like Lou, and Allen finds all sorts of memorable character actors to fill out an array of minor parts, some of which consist merely of a simple, fleeting reaction shot. Such moments, however, greatly enhance the film and help beautifully convey its distinctive mood.
The knockout ending evokes 'Manhattan,' but is more poetic, and stands as a perfect coda to a delightful, heartfelt production. Despite the hijinks that characterize most of the plot, 'Broadway Danny Rose' seems like one of Allen's most personal, intimate films, brilliantly mixing comedy, romance, and a little drama. It's laugh-out-loud funny one moment and supremely touching the next. And the beauty of it all is that it's so deceptively simple. But that's the genius of Woody Allen, who somehow manages to encapsulate the human experience into wonderfully composed cinematic packages that, whenever opened, yield unexpected rewards.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Broadway Danny Rose,' part of Twilight Time's limited edition of 3,000 units series, arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. An eight-page booklet, printed on glossy paper and featuring an essay by film historian Julie Kirgo and several scene shots, resides inside, along with the BD-50 dual-layer disc. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
'Broadway Danny Rose' was filmed at the end of Allen's late 1970s-early 1980s black-and-white period, which encompasses 'Manhattan,' 'Stardust Memories,' and 'Zelig.' All were photographed by the esteemed Gordon Willis, a frequent Allen collaborator, and this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Twilight Time faithfully renders his beautiful cinematography, which juxtaposes the grit and grime of the New York City streets with plush interiors and warm, telling close-ups. Grain is critical to the film's distinctive look, adding essential texture and putting a naturalistic spin on the far-flung story, and thankfully, no attempt has been made to lessen its impact. As a result, the image might not appear as sharp as some viewers might hope (certain scenes exhibit an intentional gauzy quality that's highly effective), yet clarity and contrast are never compromised. A marvelous sense of depth - an Allen directorial trademark - distinguishes the picture, and it's augmented by a widely varied gray scale that also helps highlight background elements and define fine details, such as rain and snow, which are strikingly crisp. Shadow delineation is quite good (crush is never an issue), and patterns, such as plaids and polka dots, remain rock solid throughout and resist shimmering.
Unfortunately, a fair amount of speckling prevents this transfer from achieving a higher score. White marks are evident on Allens' customary white-on-black title sequence, and they continue sporadically throughout the rest of the film. Though not terribly distracting, they're visible enough to rankle those of us who expect such imperfections to be removed. Brightness levels also vary a bit, with some exterior scenes looking a little washed out - an interesting phenomenon, considering Willis' penchant toward darker exposure. Such minor detriments, however, never diminish our enjoyment of the film or appreciation of Willis' stellar work. Nitpicks aside, this is a pleasing effort that will surely gain the approval of the movie's fans.
Anyone familiar with Allen knows he's not a fan of multi-channel audio, so don't expect any bells and whistles on the 'Broadway Danny Rose' soundtrack. The straightforward DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track, however, supplies good-quality, nicely balanced sound that manages all the competing components well. The all-important dialogue is always clear and easy to comprehend, and the accordion music selections and Nick Apollo Forte's vocals are enhanced by excellent fidelity that allow them to fill the room with ease. Accents, such as gunfire and the whistling of helium gas, are vital and distinct, and a wide dynamic scale keeps distortion at bay. This certainly isn't a track to show off your sound system, but it hits all the right notes and complements the strong video transfer well. For those who wish to savor all the audio nuances, an isolated music and effects track is also included on the disc.
Typical of Woody Allen-directed films on home video, this disc includes almost no supplemental material. The movie's original theatrical trailer, which runs just over a minute, and a promotional trailer celebrating MGM's 90 anniversary are the only extras offered.
Funny, warm, and surprisingly lyrical, 'Broadway Danny Rose' stands as one of Woody Allen's most underrated films. Though this madcap chronicle of a struggling theatrical agent's misadventures with a cheap floozie may seem simple and shallow on the surface, it brims with humanity and features some of Allen's most finely drawn and colorful characters. What begins as a rousing slapstick comedy ends up a touching, Chaplin-esque ode to perseverance, faith, and love that's exquisitely scripted and beautifully filmed by arguably America's most talented writer-director. Twilight Time's Blu-ray presentation features strong video and audio transfers that highlight the movie's understated artistry, but only the slimmest of supplements. If you haven't yet seen this Allen gem, you're in for a treat; and if you have, you'll enjoy rediscovering it in the splendor of high definition. Highly recommended.