| Dir: Woody Allen
“I promise you, he’s cheating with you. He’s got integrity. He cheats with one person at a time.”
“I thought this was a funny story? It’s terrible!” says an old time comic in a New York delicatessen about half way through being told the supposed best story about Danny Rose, a legendary (for all the wrong reasons) Broadway theatrical manager. He’s not the only one there; several (including Allen’s longtime manager Jack Rollins) have seated themselves among food and liquour for a late night reminiscence about anecdotes from their glory days. This is such a simple cinematic device to tell a narrative, constructed in an impressively spontaneous and non-contrived manner. For the third film out of their last four collaborations, cinematographer Gordon Willis shoots in vibrant monochrome capturing the romantic nostalgia and affection that Allen has for this era of variety showbusiness. The comic soon learns that his comment was premature, though. Because this is indeed a great, charming story told by a great storyteller in Woody Allen.
Allen of course play’s Rose, a talent agent with an apartment adorned with personal photos alongside Judy Garland and Tony Bennett – except he’s slightly out of frame in them. While he may not be the top choice for an up and coming talent, what some performers would give to have an agent this devoted. His energy and unconditional love in selling dead end novelty acts as if they were his closest family member is heartwarming. As Danny says himself – “It’s personal management I’m in. It’s the key word, personal.” He’s not merely a manager to these clients or a professional consultant. He cares for their kids, he picks their wardrobe, he choreographs their act, he has them all around to his apartment for Thanksgiving frozen turkey TV dinners and he handles their personal affairs at the expense of his own. He even manages their love life, which is the famous personal affair being told here.
This late night tale-turned-adventure involves Danny trying to escort the mistress (Mia Farrow as the brash Tina Vitale) of one of his clients Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte, a singer who had never acted before this and has never acted since) from Jersey to an important show at the Waldorf in Manhattan. While chasing after the impetuous Tina, Danny lands them both unintentionally on the run from the local mafia while trying to keep Lou sober enough to perform and earn them a big break.
There’s such wonderful energy between the tough Tina and the talkative Danny. Their clash of personalities creates a myriad of wonderful situations and exchanges, all zipping along on a silly breeze of comic potency. Farrow is cast against type as the reckless and brazen Tina, modelled after Harlem Italian eatery hostess Annie Rao, and she’s excellent. She’s almost unrecognisable, hidden behind those huge sunglasses for all but one scene. Yet despite this performance hindrance of not being able to act with her eyes, she reads on the screen just as big as her beehived blonde hairstyle. Equally, loveable lowlife Danny is a departure for Allen in being by far the most likeable and kind-hearted character that he’s played. It’s an exaggerated modification of his time tested act; a larger than life personality, but with subtle layers of depth. Beneath his own flamboyancy is a man of fragility weighed down by abandonment, constantly afraid that the next act he discovers and nurtures is going to leave him.
This loss of friendship, family and fortune is exactly where the film is building up to before the last act. Like all his best clients have done before, Lou seeks greener pastures with a more connected agent and leaves Danny – with motivation from Tina. As Allen walks towards the camera and stops framed in close up to receive this news, he gives his most affecting performance in reacting to and rationalising it all. I was actually dreading this moment coming, based on how moved I was upon my first viewing. The final confrontation between Danny and Tina at Thanksgiving is just as big a punch to the gut. These moments, and the final act in general, are surprisingly dark and upsetting. But while it’s a very interesting and correct direction for the story to go in, it’s sadly rushed in terms of narrative beats.
Yet, and if I may interject just one statement here, this is the entertaining and hilarious film that Allen fans had wanted since Annie Hall. It combines the pure fun and comic inventiveness of his early capers with the richer character journeys established since his 1977 hit. There’s so many tremendous jokes that I struggled to choose one to open this review: “I let you have her now at the old price, okay. Which is anything you wanna give me, anything at all.”; [when his hypnotist act can’t reawaken a woman] “If your wife never wakes up again, I promise you, I’ll take you to any restaurant of your choice.”; “Take my aunt Rose, not a beautiful woman at all. She looked like something you buy in a live bait store.”; the physical comedy of Tina and Danny wriggling to escape being tied up as an allegory to an orgasm an climaxing; a chase scene resulting in shoot out in the presence of a helium tank. And perhaps the best joke that Allen has ever written for the screen:
“Some guy shot him in the eyes.”
“Really? He’s blind?”
“He’s dead, of course. ‘Cause the bullets go right through.”
One of Danny Rose’s philosophies of life is acceptance, forgiveness and love. It’s an accurate philosophy for being a fan of Woody Allen. You accept every single film he releases each year, you forgive the duds, because you love the majority. Broadway Danny Rose is an example of why hes earned this unconditional love, just like that which Danny has for his clients.
Part of Woody Wednesday. Second viewing.